Sunday, October 21, 2012

A book on runes

Boydell and Brewer sent me a notice about this recent book on the Scandinavian runes. Here is what the author, Michael P. Barnes, has to say about it. 

For those of you too busy to click through, Prof. Barnes basically says that there's almost nothing in print about runes except mystical interpretations. Barnes, on the other hand, taught runology from 1971 to 2006 at University College London, treating them as a practical means of communication. If you've always had a desire to read and use runes, this might well be the book for you.

The rest of the Boydell and Brewer newsletter is here.


  1. The paucity of serious material on runes is confirmed. In UofT's 9 million volume library there are only two books on the subject --- one published in 1884, and a modern one called "Runelore: A Handbook of Esoteric Runology", which sounds from the title like one of the flaky ones Barnes complains about.

    I would have imagined that there would have been some serious work available on this significant topic --- runic alphabets, all very similar in appearance, were used over much of Eurasia, from Western Europe to Mongolia. There re early Hungarian and Turkish runes, for example. The shapes of the letters were clearly adapted to carving on wood or birchbark, but can be reproduced easily enough on stone, but would offer no advantage writing on parchment or paper. This probably explains their eclipse and survival only on stone monuments.

    It is quite surprising that there is so little available on something so significant. The same library has twice as many books about medieval belt buckles.

  2. Thank you for that link.

  3. Anonymous2:56 pm

    My stock reference for runes is the work of the late Raymond Page, and his little handbook on them was reprinted in the US at least once, so I'd have said that to say there is no work in this field is to go too far. That work is probably the 'extremely brief' one Barnes refers to, but Page went into more detail in his excellent Chronicles of the Vikings. Nonetheless, he's dead, his work's out of print, and if there's only one voice in a field and that silenced there's obviously room for more. It's still peculiar that he doesn't merit a mention, though, because Barnes actually published a book with him in 2006, The Scandinavian runic inscriptions of Britain.