In 2021, novels like Circe, The Silence of the Girls, and Daughters of Sparta dominated bestseller lists. Popular retellings of Greek myths like Stephen Fry’s Mythos and a new illustrated edition of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology made the year quite a successful one for all things “Greek myth”. But the Greeks aren’t the only ones with a fascinating body of legendary tales and marvelous heroes, so, now that it’s 2022, let’s bring some more monsters and miracles to light from other cultures and traditions. Here is a selection of mythologies from across the globe, all from primary sources and all currently available in-store:
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Norse mythology THE POETIC EDDA – translated by Carolyne Larrington, Oxford University Press, paperback, $16.95 Ever wondered what the vikings really thought about Thor, Loki, and all of their pals? This 13th century text, a compilation of various Old Icelandic poems, makes up roughly half of what we know about Norse mythology today. With undead priestesses, larger-than-life giants, an eight-legged horse and several giant wolves, these poems are a rare treat. Keep an eye out for a special section of The Seeress’ Prophecy (Völuspá) which contains the names of every one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits (and even Gandalf as well)! Available on our website here. See also: The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, another 13th century source, a prose treatise on all-things Old Icelandic (Jesse Byock, paperback, Penguin Classics, $18.00). Celtic mythology THE TÁIN – translated by Ciaran Carson, Penguin Classics, paperback, $17.00 Colloquially known as The Cattle Raid of Cooley, Táin Bó Cúailnge is an epic tale derived from several different Old, Middle, and Early Modern Irish recenscions, dating from the 11th, 12th, and 14th centuries. So famous it is known as “The Irish Iliad”, this fantastic myth follows the exploits of legendary adolescent hero Cú Chulainn as he leads the Ulster clan in battle, and fights the wiles of cunning queen Medb and her husband Ailill, all for the sake of one very important brown bull named Donn Cúailnge.
Mayan mythology POPOL VUH – translated by Adrian Recinos, University of O.K. Press, paperback, $21.95 This sacred text of the K’iche’ people of Guatemala, one of the Maya peoples, Popol Vuh was recorded in an 18th century manuscript, which in turn was derived from a 16th century source. Detailing the history of the K’iche’ people’s travels and preserving their creation myths, this “Book of the People” describes humanity’s creation from maize, how the heroic twins Hunahpú and Xbalanque squared off against the lords of the underworld, and much more. Keep an eye out for a frightening bird demon, and for Gucumatz, the K’iche’ Maya counterpart to Aztec Quetzalcoatl. See also: Dennis Tedlock’s translation (Simon & Schuster, paperback, $18.99).
Germanic mythology BEOWULF – translation by Maria Dahvana-Headley, paperback, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, $16.00 As bawdy as it is beautiful, this translation… is not your dad’s Beowulf. Or is it? This uniquely modern and charmingly coarse approach to the famous Old English epic is surprisingly faithful to its subject and bizarrely well-wrought. Beowulf tells the tale of the eponymous monster-slaying Geatish hero and his exploits in the court of Hrothgar, king of the Danes. If Dahvana-Headley’s tongue-in-cheek tone feels overwhelming, try the gold standard of Beowulf translations instead (Seamus Heaney, Norton, paperback, $15.95). Available on our website here.
Middle Eastern mythology
ARABIAN NIGHTS – translated by Hussain Haddawy, Norton, paperback, $17.95 Also known as 1001 Nights, these legends deserve their fame as they are a delight to read. The text opens with King Shahryar and his vizier’s daughter, storyteller Scheherazade. She is doomed to die at Shahryar’s hand, but this well-read woman has a plan in place to keep her cool and save her life. As narrator, Scheherazade’s clever wit paints a new picture on every page, each story more fabulous than the next. Dervishes and demons, women trapped in trunks, salacious splendor and vengeful kings, Haddawy’s translation of this 14th century Syrian recension is nothing if not entertaining, but reader beware, these stories are not kid-friendly. For an older edition, try Sir Richard Burton’s famous translation (Modern Library Classics, paperback, $17.00) Finnish and Karelian mythology KALEVALA – Elias Lönnrot, translated by Eino Friberg, Penguin Classics, paperback, $20.00 Have you ever wanted to sing so well that you could use your vocal talents to drown your enemies in a swamp? Probably not, but if you change your mind, let poet-magician Väinämöinen teach you the basics. Elias Lönnrot collected folklore from all across Finland and Karelia and preserved these samples of oral storytelling in what is known as the Kalevala, a great epic of Finland. As humorous as it is heartbreaking, the Kalevala features tragic heroes, foolish humans, conniving witches, and even a magical wife made of solid metal. With characters you will love to hate and hate to love, this unique collection of myths is a real gem and not to be passed over. Look for Kullervo’s tragic cycle, which inspired Jean Sibelius’ Kullervo symphony and portions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion. Available on our website here.