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Thank you to Smith Publicity for sending me the book Epic Continent for review purposes. All opinions are my own.
Although I frequently receive offers of books to read, for review purposes, I rarely accept. Honestly, I just don’t have the time to read that I once had, as I build a business around my blogs.
Occasionally, however, a book catches my attention and my keen interest. Such is the case with Epic Continent, by Nicholas Jubber.
These words intrigued me:
What can the classics tell us about today’s turbulent Europe? Award winning travel writer Nicholas Jubber presents a fascinating modern day travelogue through the epic poems of Europe.
Epic Continent documents Nicholas’ journey across Europe, from Greece to Iceland, tracing the enduring poems of old to discover the connection to Europe’s roots. That beautiful combination of travel, discovery and literature drew me in.
This is my review of Epic Continent.
Travel Writer Nicholas Jubber
Nicholas Jubber is a writer and traveler, with a passion for history. By his own admission, he is fascinated by storytelling, nomadism, exploration and the connections…or misconnections…between past and present. He is a graduate of Oxford University and the author of four books. (See his books at the end of this post.)
Epic Continent presented itself as an idea during a family road trip across Europe. Jubber’s three year old son pointed out a mural of the hero Siegfried slaying the dragon, from the medieval tale Nibelungenlied.
Jubber kept thinking about that epic story, and others like it, and the influence they had on future tales and authors such as JRR Tolkien. He shares that what drew him into his own epic journey was the symmetry of the motifs and plot strands in those stories, that “stitched the continent together in a patchwork quilt of storytelling”.
A few months after his family trip, Nicholas headed out again on a solo trip. He selected six epic poems, all composed during or after times of great change in Europe. He desired to follow the stories, and their characters, across the continent.
Epic Means “To Say”
Nicholas was especially drawn to stories with an oral background.
Epic derives from the Greek word epein, which means “to say”. To be truly epic, says Jubber, a story must be sayable. Words spoken aloud have great power. The ancient Greeks used the word kelethmos, which translates to “enchantment”. I immediately connected with this, as enchantment is my word for the year.
The six chosen tales weave that powerful and far-reaching enchantment. They sunk deep roots in Europe, becoming part of the culture of the continent while at the same time, helping to form it.
Nicholas set out on his journey, seeking answers to three questions:
- What did the stories do to create Europe?
- Are they still worth reading?
- And can they help us to understand Europe today?
These are the epic stories and the regions that Jubber journeyed through:
Odyssey – Greece and Turkey – One of two ancient Greek poems by Homer, about the hero Odysseus and his journey home after the fall of Troy.
Kosovo Cycle – The Balkans – Serb poetry about the events before the Battle of Kosovo in 1389.
Song of Roland – Western Europe – Poem based on the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in 788, during the reign of Charlemagne.
Nibelungenlied – Central Europe – This German poem tells the story of dragon slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, and the revenge of his wife, Kriemheld.
Beowulf – Britain & Scandinavia – Heroic poem about Beowulf, who comes to the aid of the king of the Danes, who is under attack from the monster Grendel.
Njal’s Saga – Iceland – Thirteen century saga that tells of the events between two friends, Njal and Gunnar, from 960 to 1020.
The book is divided into sections that match the epic stories and regions. A summary of each story is written at the beginning of the corresponding chapter. Jubber traveled through 18 countries as he followed these tales, tracing the plotlines of the stories.
My Thoughts About Epic Continent
Nicholas Jubber writes in such an engaging way. He honestly shares his journey and the impact the tales have on him and on the people in each region. For these aren’t outdated stories. We discover, with Jubber, that the stories are alive throughout Europe, celebrated and expanded upon.
From a refugee camp in Chios to a puppeteer in Sicily to medieval churches in marshy East Anglia, Jubber trekked across Europe, ending his long quest in Iceland. As he explored the influence the stories had on European culture, he talked to people, asked questions, listened, walked everywhere, and slept where he could find a spot to claim for the night. He experienced Europe, country by country, as viewed through the lens of these epic poems.
Savor Epic Continent
The book created in me the desire to revisit those ancient stories. And it cultivated appreciation for the influence they’ve had on other authors, such as JRR Tolkien and Michael Crichton, and the countless retelling of the tales in other books and movies.
Epic Continent is a book to savor with a cup of hot tea. It is one to enjoy, while pondering the continuing enchantment of ancient tales. Nicholas is himself a gifted bard, a wandering storyteller, weaving his own magical tale with the epics as a backdrop. And it is a tale worth reading.
Did Nicholas get answers to his questions? He did. I’ll let you discover them in the book.
Pick up your copy of Epic Continent below, along with Jubber’s other books:
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