The spooky season has wound down for another year, and now we are faced with the long dark of the winter—what I’ve come to know as a time for myth and a time for stories.
In my own mythology studies, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t struggle immensely with the transition from Greco-Roman mythology to Norse. In 2015, I discovered Jackson Crawford’s translation of the Poetic Edda, a work that truly made these stories accessible for curious laymen readers such as myself.
To date, Jackson Crawford, an instructor of Nordic Studies, and Coordinator of the Nordic Program at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has produced two translations that fit this bill: the aforementioned Poetic Edda, which contains many of the popular Norse myths we know today, and more recently, The Saga of the Volsungs, which covers the story of seven generations of a legendary family.
Currently, he is working on recording audiobook versions of both translations. I spoke with him about how this has differed from his previous publishing experience, his translation work, and how creating an audiobook contributes to the oral tradition of Norse mythology.
What finally prompted the creation of the audiobooks? What has your experience been with narrating your own work?
Blackstone made an offer to Hackett [the book publisher]. Hackett thought it sounded good and ran it by me, and I was more than satisfied. So I recorded the Poetic Edda in September and I’ll record the Saga of the Volsungs in November.
It has been really fun. I had no idea what it would be like, but I get to go to a studio in Boulder, Colorado, that has all kinds of fancy microphones and equipment and sound engineers making me sound better than I probably ever have.
One thing that’s nice in recording both these books is that even though I’m not the ultimate originator, I created the English so I’m completely comfortable with it. I know where I think I need to pause or emphasize. And of course, one big benefit to having me read it is I don’t have to teach myself how to pronounce about 800 Old Norse names.
How different has working with audiobooks been from your previous publishing experience?
Not too different. The book is already created; I just read it like a script. The sound engineers at Coupe Studios have been great to work with, as have the folks on the business side at Blackstone.
As you’ve revisited your translation of the Poetic Edda for the audiobook, have you found yourself thinking you’d make any changes if you could?
Yes. Now and then I talk with Hackett about the possibility of a second edition, though neither side has decided to move forward with that yet. (There are other projects on the docket before that anyway). One big possibility would be to add more poems from other manuscripts that have mythological content.
On a more personal level: In a roundabout way, do you think recording audiobooks is contributing to the oral tradition of Norse mythology? Do you find that your relationship with the text changes between reading it aloud vs. translating vs. reading to yourself?
That’s a cool way of thinking about it. I’d remarked to the sound engineers early on that this was originally oral poetry, so there was some poetic justice (as it were) in reading it aloud for publication as an audiobook. I do think my understanding of some parts of it has changed, especially the poems where you have mostly dialogue (Hárbarðsljóð, Vafþrúðnismál) or a large cast of characters talking (Lokasenna, Vǫlundarkviða)—I get a better sense of who’s speaking more sincerely or more sarcastically, who’s needling who.
Again, on a more personal level: In your research, have you had a chance to work with a manuscript version of the Poetic Edda? If you have, what was that experience like? Where was the manuscript located? Did it alter your choices for your translation at all?
I have seen and held the Codex Regius in Iceland. In fact, my translation is based on the manuscript itself, though I was working with photographic facsimiles. I think this made for a slightly different translation than others inasmuch as I gave that one important manuscript precedence over any published edition of it, though I was careful never to look at other English translations during the process of translating and I’ve barely looked at any since.
For those new to Norse mythology, are there any books you’d recommend that provide a solid cultural overview? I find reading into both in tandem really helps provide a 360-degree picture and contextualizes what you’re looking at, rather than just reading the mythology.
I highly recommend The Viking Diaspora by Judith Jesch. I’m not sure if the title really does justice to what this book is, which is (as far as I know) the most up-to-date book-length treatment in English of every aspect of Norse culture. It really gives you an excellently rounded idea of what it was like to think and act in this society, drawing on archaeology, texts, and linguistics.
You can preorder the Poetic Edda audiobook from Downpour by clicking here. (The audiobook will be released November 13.)
Side note: If you’re interested in reading more about Crawford’s work and research, make sure to check out this interview I did with him in 2015 for F! Yeah Norse Mythology. If you’re honestly not sure where to even begin with getting into Norse mythology, check out my recommended reading for beginners. (Spoiler alert: Crawford’s Poetic Edda is one of the books on that list.)