Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…

The Nibelungenlied

A lone rock thrust forth from the bowels of the earth in the midst of a solitary landscape. In the distance, a sea of ice churning in a violent dance. In the foreground, a lone figure, tattered bear-fur cloak ripping in the brutal, unforgiving wind; craggy hands gripping a notched and bloody sword; a grim jaw set in defiance of fate and the gods. No hope, no light from the sky of unrelenting grey. Only firm, resilient determination in the face of annihilation.

This is the vision I get from reading the great epics of Northern Europe. The Eddas, Beowulf, and the Volsung Saga all encapsulate the same chill of the northern world, the romance of the shimmering ice, and the thrill of bravery in the face of a hateful and certain destiny. In other words, poetry and literature to make men. I know the story of Sigurd the slayer of Fafnir from the Volsung Saga, and was eager to read the Southern German version of the story from the later medieval epic, the Nibelungenlied. So I opened the book to read...

Lush, green, fertile hills. White castles filled with ladies in waiting and knights in shining armour. Fair damsels dancing around a maypole on a sunny summer day. And feasting. Lots of feasting. Where am I? I went into this bundled up for a cold Beowulf and found a warm Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It doesn't bother me. Sir Gawain and Beowulf are my top two favorite works of literature of all time, but they have a very different atmosphere. I'm not sure how this more chivalric and romantic setting is going to affect the storyline, but I'm quite pleasantly surprised to see how a different culture can tell the same story in such a delighfully distinct way.

And so, as spring arrives, I settle in for a good spring read, and possibly will post more on the Nibelungenlied as I feel the urge.