The easiest way to talk about Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H. R. Ellis Davidson is to talk about it in relation to Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs by John Lindow. Both books cover much of the same ground and serve as solid guides to Norse mythology, but while Lindow’s book is organized more like an encyclopedia, with entries for everything from gods and goddesses to giants, objects, and events, Davidson’s book addresses Norse mythology through chapters (“The Gods of Battle”) that gather together related topics (“Odin, Lord of Hosts,” “The Germanic War Gods”) as subheadings. As a result, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe is easier to get into than Lindow’s book; it’s smoother, provides more context, and approached purely as a piece of non-fiction, is more enjoyable.
Lindow and Davidson both double back to the same source material, and both books have a high degree of credibility. Though Davidson’s is the better read, the two works complement each other well. Additionally, Davidson does a fine job of sketching the cults of the Norse pantheon, and includes some fascinating commentary about the arrival of Christianity, and why the loose, more individualistic religion of the Scandinavians had no defense against it.
Despite being easier to access, I would still file Gods and Myths of Northern Europe under the heading of scholarly non-fiction, as it’s several steps away from the tales of gods and magic that initially piqued my interest in Norse mythology as a teen. As an adult looking to revisit the pantheon, though – with an eye to adding additional depth, context, and meaning – I enjoyed Davidson’s work immensely, and would gladly read more. As I did with Lindow, I purchased the Kindle version, for ease of reading, as well as facility with notes and highlighting.
Next up: the Edda!