Norse mythology comes from the northernmost part of Europe, Scandinavia: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. The mythology of this region is grim, shadowed by long, sunless winters. But the darkness is laced with gleams of grandeur and sparks of humor. The myths depict a universe in which gods and giants battle among themselves in a cosmic conflict fated to end in the destruction of the world.

Norse mythology developed from the myths and legends of northern peoples who spoke Germanic languages. It shares many features with the mythology of pre-Christian Germanic groups. When some of these groups spread into England and Scandinavia, they carried their myths with them. As they converted to Christianity, their traditional beliefs faded. But Christianity did not take hold in Scandinavia until a later date, and the Norse version of Germanic mythology remained vigorous through the Viking era, from about A . D . 750 to 1050. Modern knowledge of Norse mythology stems from medieval texts, most of them written in Iceland. Descendants of Norse colonists in that country maintained a strong interest in their heritage even after becoming Christian.

A major source of information about Norse mythology is a book called the Poetic Edda, sometimes known as the Elder Edda. It consists of mythological and heroic poems, including Voluspa, an overview of Norse mythology from the creation to the final destructive battle of the world, called Ragnarok. The unknown author who compiled the Poetic Edda in Iceland around 1270 drew on materials dating from between 800 and 1100.

Around 1222, an Icelandic poet and chieftain named Snorri Sturluson wrote the Prose Edda, or Younger Edda, which interprets traditional Icelandic poetry for the audiences of Snorri’s time. Part of the Prose Edda describes a visit by Gylfi, a Swedish king, to the home of the gods in Asgard. There the king questioned the gods about their history adventures, and fate.