The Norse Myths that Shape The Way We Think

Professor Carolyne Larrington will talk about her new book – a fresh look at the stories at the heart of Norse mythology, exploring their cultural impact right up to the present day.

The heroes and villains of Norse mythology have endured for centuries, infiltrating art, opera, film, television and books, shape-shifting – like the trickster Loki – to suit the cultures that encountered them. Through careful analysis of the literature and archaeology of the Norse world in her book, Carolyne Larrington takes us deep into the realm described in the Icelandic sagas, from the gloomy halls of Hel to the dazzling heights of Asgard. She expertly examines the myths’ many modern-day reimaginings, revealing the guises that have been worn by the figures of Norse myth, including Marvel’s muscled, golden-haired Thor and George R.R Martin’s White Walkers, who march inexorably southwards, bringing their eternal winter with them.

This sophisticated yet accessible guide explores how these powerful stories have inspired our cultural landscape, from fuelling the creative genius of Wagner to the construction of the Nazi’s nationalist ideology. Larrington’s elegantly written retellings capture the essence of the original myths while also delving into the history of their meanings. The myths continue to speak to such modern concerns as masculinity and environmental disaster – after the inevitable, apocalyptic ragna rök, renewal comes from the roots of Yggdrasill, the World Tree.


Professor Carolyne Larrington teaches medieval English literature at St John’s College, Oxford. She studied medieval English language and literature at St Catherine’s College, Oxford and has a DPhil on Old Norse and Old English wisdom poetry. Her research interests range widely. She primarily works in Old Norse-Icelandic and Arthurian literature, but Arthurian literature in particular is a European phenomenon and so she writes about romances composed in Old French, Middle High German, Italian, and Old Icelandic-Norwegian. She has a number of recent publications on the subject, including the popular guide The Norse Myths from 2017.

Carolyne also writes on medievalism and folklore, in 2015 publishing The Land of the Green Man. A BBC Radio 4 series based on this was broadcast in 2015 and can be heard here: . With Dr Fay Hield of the University of Sheffield, she was Co-Investigator on an AHRC-funded research project ‘Modern Fairies and Loathly Ladies’. This involves working with creative artists – musicians, poets, painters, photographers – to produce new mediations of tales from British folk traditions about fairies. Also in 2015, Carolyne wrote Winter is Coming: the Medieval World of Game of Thrones, exploring the historical inspiration behind the fantasy phenomenon. You can hear a short talk she gave at the Ashmolean Museum on the book at:  Her most recent book on Game of Thrones, All Men Must Die: Power and Passion in Game of Thrones was published in January 2021.

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