From Asgard to Valhalla by Heather O'Donoghue is a truly fascinating look at Norse myths, and the ways they have influenced culture and creative artists from William Blake and Richard Wagner to JRR Tolkien and Neil Gaiman.
Reviewing the book in his article "The Eternal Lure of Guys and Trolls" (published Sunday in the London Observer), Peter Conrad writes: "The attraction of Norse lore, as O'Donoghue remarks in her summary of its development and its adaptation to the modern world, lies in its disrespect for the gods. Christianity and Islam have a mortifying reverence for divinities who are, after all, nothing but our inventions, or the projections of our cowardice. At least the gods of Olympus were no better than us, merely longer-lived and more powerful, more easily able to indulge their all too human vices.
"The Norse myth-makers actually deride their deities: Thor is a stupid blusterer, who in one of the poems collected in the 13th century Edda loses the hammer with which he confects the thunder and has to cross-dress in the feathery togs of the goddess Freyja to get it back. This is why Wagner took Norse myth as the source for his Ring, which concludes with the twilight of the moribund, powerless gods....The Ring treats the saga as a Freudian family romance, which concludes with the destruction of the paternal deity." (Read the full article here.)
The paintings above come from Arthur Rackham's remarkable illustrations for Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung. You can see the rest of Rackham's Ring illustrations on the Art Passions website. The sculpture below, by my Tucson studio-mate Beckie Kravetz, depicts "Sieglund and Sieglunde" from the Ring Cycle. Visit the BK Sculpture Studio website to see many other wonderful works based on Wagner's Ring and other operas.