REVIEW: Fate and the Twilight of the Gods: The Norns and an Exegesis of Voluspa (2018)

A book by Gwendolyn Taunton

Fate and the Twilight of the Gods: The Norns and an Exegesis of Voluspa (2018) is an interesting little book that is comprised of two scholarly essays by the author Gwendolyn Taunton. I used this as a quick refresher between two much larger books I was reading; a palate cleanser of sorts. The book is comprised of two Essays that are about 50 pages each – one concerning the Nornir of North European mythology, where they came from and what they symbolize; the other was a look at the Ragnarok material found in The Volupsa. Both halves are very well researched, and the book is heavily footnoted and referenced. I’ve read other essays by the author in a Journal that I purchased a while back, so seeing more by her was a nice treat.

Fate and the Twilight of the Gods: The Norns and an Exegesis of Voluspa contains two sections, the first of which elaborates on the Norns (Nornir) and the concept of fate. […] The second half of the book examines Ragnarok, and provides an exegesis of Voluspa – the prophecy which outlines the inevitable destruction of the world, and the ‘Twilight of the Gods’.

– Amazon Sales Page for the book

The first half of the book is very interesting considering the author’s attempts to fill the gaps in from the void of historical references to the Norns left after the ancient Christians attempted to erase their existence (as well as everything else not Christian). For example, The three principle Norns of Urd, Verdandi and Skuld are referenced quite a lot in various scriptures, sagas, and poems. There are, however, other norns that are mentioned in texts that seem to be more general that not much information is known about specifically.

To hopefully flesh them out, the author does this extrapolation by referencing similar ideas found in Hindu scriptures and relating them to the Teutonic pantheon as well as talking briefly about the Fates of Greek and Roman mythology. This makes sense as Germanic religions likely came from the same proto-religion as Hinduism.

There were, however, times I felt there was too many references to Indian Gods and religion. A counter to this would be a previous book I read called The Hanged God Óðinn Grímnir in which a similar task was done trying to piece together traditions of ritual hanging, but the author used items such as Arabic accounts of such rituals in Uppsala as well as Slavic traditions that were similar. I understand, this was likely impossible on something as specific as Nornir for this essay, but concentrating on India made this feel more like a comparison of Indian and Northern fate deities.

The second half of the book is a broad overview of the story of Ragnarok and how it relates to other apocalyptic fiction, as well as the causes and aftermath of such an event. This section is less exploratory than the one on the Nornir, but is a solid base for those that may have never read the Voluspa, and would like to know what the true story of Ragnarok entails.

The book itself is very small, just over 100 pages and can be easily read in an hour or two depending on your reading speed. For this, I quite enjoyed it, but I would actually have enjoyed a bit more substance for the price I paid – I see the book is currently starting to become rare with scalpers jumping onto the scene gouging the prices even further – be careful!

All-in-all, this was a solid read despite my quibbles, and even with the issues I will say it was VERY informative. For those looking on information on both Ragnarok and the Nornir, you really can’t get a better “starter resource” than a book like this – its full of footnotes and has a detailed bibliography for further reading. I will definitely have to check out more from this author in the future.

If you would like a copy of this for yourself, I have provided a purchase link HERE.