The Faraway North is a collection of traditional Scandinavian ballads introduced and translated by Ian Cumpstey. It’s a huge and frankly impressive undertaking, and it’s obvious from the list of references that an enormous amount of work went into the translations. The introductions are clear and sometimes entertaining in their own right due to to the author’s wry sense of humor, and the topics are pretty much what you would expect if you’re familiar with the subject matter – warriors battling trolls, rescuing maidens and collecting hauls of gold.
I enjoyed the translations quite a bit – while as an English speaker I can’t talk with authority about the quality of the translations, it seems to me that effort was made to keep the metre true to the original works, although in some cases this can result in a little bit of awkward repetition and rewording. However, from the extensive notes included I’m confident that every effort was made to remain as faithful to the source material as possible. It’s also worth noting that a lot of the ballads are honestly great fun to read, and if you have an interest in the subject it’s very cool to get an idea of the influence of Christianity and the outside world on medieval Scandinavia.
The introductions were nicely done, and gave a good amount of context to each following ballad while leaving them open enough to a little interpretation from the reader. One thing I will say is that I understand Cumpstey’s choice to keep it focused and somewhat objective from a purely academic viewpoint, but I’d perhaps have liked to get a more personal look at his interpretations and general excitement about the subject matter. In the moments that his personality comes through, the book really shines.
While it’s not a fantasy novel in the regular sense, I had a good time with this one. I think that if you enjoy the Sagas and the Eddas and you’re already interested in the subject, this is an easy 4 stars and something rather lovely to dip into.