An 18th-century manuscript of Snorri Sturluson's Edda
March 4 – April 29, 2015
Wednesdays 5:45 pm – 7:45 pm
9 class sessions

Newberry Library
60 W Walton St
Chicago IL 60610

Registration rates
$264 General Public
$237.60 Students & Seniors

Norse Mythology Classes in Chicago

Discover the relationship between the tales of Norse mythology and the cultures that produced them. Participants will learn how the powerful myths preserved by Icelanders in the thirteenth century relate to religious beliefs and practices across the pre-Christian northern world. Particular attention will be paid to the role of women in Germanic culture.

Students participating in this course will supplement in-depth exploration of the Norse myths with in-class examination of archeological evidence and reading of excerpts from both primary sources and scholarly works. Participants will build an understanding of the relationship between Norse mythology and religious and cultural concepts over a 4,000-year period.

"Grove of the Semnones" by Carl Emil Doepler (1905)
Weekly reading assignments have been carefully selected to provide a coherent and understandable path through the texts. I will help students to understand the poetry, which is often obscure and references a plethora of other sources – many of which have been lost. Students will learn to evaluate the version of Norse mythology presented in Snorri Sturluson’s Edda, a multifaceted yet problematical work.

We will place the myths in a wider context of historical events such as northern Europe’s conversion to Christianity. We will relate seemingly fantastic mythic elements to religious ritual – including magical practices (as described in saga literature) and pre-Christian Germanic rites (as recorded in Roman sources). The class will discuss the role of sexuality in the mythology and examine the evidence for changing roles of women in Norse society.

Click here to register on the Newberry Library's secure website.




The roots of The Hobbit – Art by Brothers Hildebrandt
February 19, 2015
Thursday at 7:30 pm

Wheaton College
Marion E. Wade Center
351 E Lincoln Ave
Wheaton IL 60187

This free event is
open to the public.
No tickets or reservations are required to attend.

A Lecture on The Hobbit's Mythic Sources

For the second printing of The Hobbit, author J.R.R. Tolkien insisted that the cover blurb be altered to include this line:
The Hobbit has riddles, runes, and Icelandic dwarves; and though its world of magic and mythology is its own, a new land of lore, it has the atmosphere of the ancient North.
Tolkien's original art for the first edition of The Hobbit (1937)
When the novel was first released in 1937, reviewers immediately recognized its roots in Norse mythology, Icelandic saga, German legend and Old English literature. In The Horn Book, Anne Carroll Moore described The Hobbit as
A refreshingly adventurous and original tale of dwarfs, goblins, elves, dragons, trolls, etc., in the true tradition of the old sagas… It is firmly rooted in Beowulf and authentic Saxon lore… There is sound learning behind The Hobbit, while a rich vein of humor connects this little being, described as smaller than a dwarf, with the strange beings of the ancient world and the world we live in today.
The Swedish edition of The Hobbit (1962)
Art by Tove Jansson (of Moomintroll fame)
A great number who now read The Hobbit are unaware of the literary heritage that stands behind the novel. How many American children in today's public schools have read Snorri Sturluson's Edda, Icelandic sagas, the Nibelungenlied or Beowulf? As our temporal distance from 1937 grows ever greater, Tolkien's novel is increasingly considered a completely original creation. Its roots have been covered over and largely forgotten.

This multimedia presentation will show how The Hobbit leads readers on a tour through the age of Northern European myths and legends with Bilbo Baggins as an anachronistic stand-in for the person of today. Gandalf's description of the hobbits in The Quest for Erebor can also be understood as a description of those of us who live in the modern world:
They had begun to forget: forget their own beginnings and legends, forget what little they had known about the greatness of the world. It was not yet gone, but it was getting buried: the memory of the high and the perilous. But you cannot teach that sort of thing to a whole people quickly. There was not time. And anyway you must begin at some point, with some one person. I dare he say he was ‘chosen’ and I was only chosen to choose him; but I picked out Bilbo.
Georg von Rosen: Odin the Wanderer (1886)
In like fashion, Tolkien "picked out Bilbo" to travel with us into the half-forgotten heritage of northern myth and legend. With Bilbo, we meet Tolkien's versions of the Norse god Odin, dwarves of the Eddas, trolls of northern folklore, dragons of saga and many other legendary characters and creatures. We discover ancient runes and riddle-contests, mystic armor and Mirkwood. Without realizing it, we are introduced to the myths of what Tolkien called "that noble northern spirit."

This lecture will uncover The Hobbit's mythic sources for the audience and, hopefully, encourage those who attend to further explore the wonderful prose and poetry of the past that Tolkien himself so greatly loved.

This lecture is co-sponsored by the Marion E. Wade Center and the Wheaton College Tolkien Society.



Tannhäuser illustration by Willy Pogany
January 28, 2015
Wednesday at 7:30 pm

Crown Plaza Chicago Metro Downtown
733 W Madison St
Chicago IL 60661

$5 members, $10 guests
No tickets or reservations are required to attend.

A Lecture on Tannhäuser's Musical Subtleties and Mythic Sources

This guided tour through Wagner’s Tannhäuser views the opera through several lenses and from multiple perspectives. Methodology from musicology and mythography intersect with literary, historical, psychological and philosophical approaches.

Wagner himself used manifold methods when discussing his own work, and there are correspondences between his written theories and his musical output that often go unnoticed by today’s operagoers. However, Wagner was not the most transparent of poets, and his various philosophies don’t always smoothly sync with one another. This necessarily leads to conflicting concepts and mixed messages. At the very least, this presentation will hopefully convince you what the opera is not about: Catholic conceptions of sin and salvation.

Wagner in Paris for the 1861 Tannhäuser performances
This lecture will feature a close reading of selected musical excerpts and passages from the libretto. There will be in-depth discussion of Wagner's own statements about the work, of his literary and mythological sources, and of his responses to reviews of the opera. We will trace the Tannhäuser legend and examine the correspondences between Wagner's poetry and that of the historical Minnesinger who inspired it. Connections will also be drawn to Wagner's other works, particularly Der Ring des Nibelungen.

For those especially interested in Norse mythology, we'll also discuss Freyja, Holda, Wotan, the Wild Hunt, Jacob Grimm's Teutonic Mythology and Wagner's stated "enthusiasm for the genuine heathen legends."