A few weeks ago, I posted a review for an online class that I had completed from a UK-based company called The Centre of Excellence. The class was a self-guided correspondence style class administered through printed text and short quizzes. When compared to more sophisticated classes (ones that use videos, for example) that are technically free through sites like Coursera and EDX, I felt that it fell a bit short considering the cost, but since I was able to get a steep discount through a coupon code it was alright. The class itself was VERY introductory, so I breezed through it, but as an introduction or even the basis for a High school or low-level college class, it would be great. Overall solid experience despite my hangups.
One thing that I did not discuss, due to it not being present for the review, was the fact that I also ordered a physical course material package when I ordered the class. This was fairly cheap, and even with shipping from the UK it was like $30.00 total. As you would imagine, this is literally just the material from the class edited into a book with a plastic spiral bound binder.
Everything is organized very well, and set up exactly like a number of college classes I have taken. You have your chapters to read, followed by a chapter test. Repeat that a dozen times, and that’s basically it.
The quality is pretty good, They could have easily just xeroxed a bunch of this and slapped it together, but it looks pretty professional and has a bit of color every once in a while. There are a few typos that were also in the original online class, but these aren’t too egregious nor do they ruin the experience.
All-in-all this is a good option for somebody that may not have access to their computer and would like to make progress with a class they are taking, or if they’d like to share what was learned to somebody else. The only issue is that, due to international shipping and Covid-19 slowdowns, I received this book WAYYYYY after I completed the class. Its a nice option to have, but its not wholly necessary or convenient.
Hel is perhaps one of the more unfortunately maligned deities in the entirety of the Germanic pantheon. Misunderstood due to her conflation with Christian ideas of “Hell” and what the afterlifeis in general, a lot of people look at her the same way we look at Satan in the Christian myths – a malevolent punisher god. Nothing in any of the many accounts of the Gods really paint this picture aside from one part of the Eddas, and this is perhaps due to Snorri Sturluson writing the Eddas from a Christian viewpoint. Ancient Germanic peoples did not see their afterlife in this manner, so attributing Christian notions to them is careless, but sadly the norm. There has been a serious lack of scholarship (that I have found at least), whether it be detailed monographs or journal articles on Hel, so when I saw this book I got pretty excited. Was this the sort of piece I was looking for? Sadly…..no it was not.
This book starts out okay, Bryan Wilton lays out his thesis for the book – Hel is misunderstood, and maligned by Christians. Sounds good; this could be interesting – right? Problem is, I had to read the first few pages a few times because the grammar was hard to understand or was organized in a weird manner. I figured I was tired and had misread some paragraphs, but sadly it wasn’t me. It was as if Mr. Wilton had composed this book using a text-to-speech program, and did minimal editing to finish it. There are some sections worse than others, and it largely does make sense, but its hard to read.
This is an example:
Not so long ago I was enjoying a profound discussion with a good friend of mine. His analogy of all roads lead to Rome really meaning that all roads lead to the door of death has stuck with me. Largely because it means we are going to need to discuss an ancient Goddess. Hel. Who, as she is described in the lore is most difficult to understand. But it is entirely in line with what a Christian would need people to think. For it was the promise of Jesus that there would be life everlasting. The first thing you need to do is to vilify death and make it a scary place.
This book is an attempt to rectify that. One based upon that conversation, an understanding of the lore and one magnificent idea which will shake the foundations of the world In those gray areas of change, those areas where we have been taught to fear the chaos held at bay by the constructs of our minds, we will find the truth.
Maybe it’s just not a writing style I like and I’m in the minority, but something seems off. For example, you have a one word sentence up there, with the rest of the sentence left as some weird fragment. (Largely because it means we are going to need to discuss an ancient Goddess. Hel. Who, as she is described in the lore is most difficult to understand.) We see Some sentences that seem out of place and a spoonful of gratuitous self-congratulatory nonsense are all in one page – This is also the Amazon blurb chosen to represent the book. I should have looked closer when I downloaded this.
My biggest issue isn’t the grammar, I’m not a giant grammar Nazi and it’s at least readable. I’ve seen far worse things on Amazon sadly. However, what we do have meanders a LOT. The entire book is basically a rambling essay that stops talking about Hel, herself, pretty early on, detours into the author’s opinion of modern politics (THE DREADED SJWs OHHHH NOOOO), swooped into a large section on why Loki is a bad guy (rambling about Lokean Heathenism as well) while supposedly talking about the death of Baldr to half-ass talk about Hel again- it’s a really garbled mess of a book considering what the topic allegedly was.
I mention the political thing because that really is a bugbear of mine – when discussing historical Germanic religion, I have come across a ton of authors that feel the need to go on lengthy asides about how much they hate liberal politics, usually bringing up “SJWs” and talking about weakening of male roles or some-such. This is always shoe-horned into a book where it has no business being present, like a translation of the Eddas, to fit their agenda. These authors will constantly mention how much they feel that left-leaning politics has poisoned Heathenry, then inject an equal amount of right-leaning politics into whatever they write. While, I’m honestly not a liberal and I find this nauseating. One of the many reasons I left Christianity was its political aspect, I don’t need that here as well.
The only tidbit I thought was interesting was the challenging of the typical appearance of Hel that we see in most art (and the actual lore, but okay) in that she is represented with a face split in half, one side shown very beautiful and the other very grotesque, perhaps with bones protruding. Mr. Wilton proposes that her divide is actually in such a way that her entire face is beautiful so you are invited into Helheim by a fair motherly figure to comfort you. I presume her whole back is a skeleton or something? This isn’t elaborated on. While this theory is interesting, it seems to fly in the face of the actual source material completely, and is not backed up by any citations. Thus the whole thing sounds like the sort of philosophy you hear at a bar at 3 A.M. This is why the book is subtitled “The Sun Facing Goddess” and his idea is represented by the books cover. Really this is the only “challenge” to our perceptions of Hel in this entire book.