I wanted to like this book. I love Sagas of Icelanders. I was ecstatic over the Poetic Edda. Snorri's "Prose Edda" was frequently mentioned in my other reading, and I decided I would have to check it out. What a disappointment.
I must clarify that by saying that the Prose Edda is an EXTREMELY important book of immense value to students of Medeival literature (specifically Scandinavian / Norse / Icelandic.) It is the single most complete record of Norse mythology which we have today, and along with the Poetic Edda, constitutes practically the sole source of material for all books which re-tell the mythological stories. But the Edda is, unfortunately, a book to be read only for the value of the information it contains; not for entertainment. All of the interesting material in the Edda is re-told (in much more readable ways) elsewhere. Snorri himself, in the course of this book, re-tells "Voluspa" (from the Poetic Edda) and gives a brief synopsis of the Volsunga Saga.
Edda was written as a handbook for poets and scholars, to aid in understanding ancient Scandinavian poetry, which was thick with mythological allusions. Edda also provides guidelines for composing new poems using traditional forms. It was written two or three centuries into the Christian era of northern Europe, when old pagan lore was already nearly forgotten. Snorri's book kept his ancestor's cultural heritage from disappearing completely. He treats the old myths very kindly, but is careful to throw in the obligatory Christian warnings about "false religion." According to "Gylfaginning," (the first and most interesting part of the Edda) the Norse gods - the Aesir - were originally a tribe of people who migrated to the North from Turkey. They were veterans of the Trojan War (!) so cultured and technologically advanced that they were regarded as gods by the ignorant folk in the lands they conquered and settled. According to Snorri, most of the mythological stories are analogous to episodes from the Iliad.
The second section of the Edda is called "Skaldskaparmal" and it is very tedious. It consists of a mythological discussion between Aegir (the sea god) and Bragi (the god of poetry) in which Bragi explains various kinds of kennings. A kenning is a poetic figure of speech in which a person or object is referred to by describing it in terms of another person or object. Then that secondary person or object can be referred to by yet another substitute, down to 4 or 5 levels of circumlocution, all of which has to be figured out by the listener to determine exactly what the poet is talking about. Kennings are like riddles, allegories, metaphors, and allusions rolled all into one. A fairly detailed myhtological background is required to make sense of them - thus, the reason for the Edda. A few stories are told which explain some kennings, but gradually Snorri loses track of the "conversation" that initially provided structure for this section, and the reader gets mired amidst interminable lists of poetic synonyms for swords, ships, gold, and so on. Quotes from old poems illustrate the use of many of the kennings.
The translator - for reasons which are certainly valid - opted to render all of the verse as prose, preserving its literal meaning [with allegorical meanings choppily inserted in square brackets,] but utterly detroying its power as POETRY.
The final section is called "Hattatal" and it consists of a few verse quotations and three original poems composed by Snorri himself in a different style for each verse, with sections of prose in between stanzas to explain the technical details (rhyme, meter, alliteration, etc) of each style. There's a total of 102 verses in the Hattatal, and the poetry here is actually somewhat interesting; more so, at least, than the nuts-and-bolts discussion of the fine points of skaldic composition. In this section, each verse is presented in the original Old Icelandic (with modernized spelling) with English translation underneath.
At the end of this volume, the translator has provided a handy eight-page summary that will tell you what you missed and/or forgot as you slogged in a bleary-eyed daze through Skaldskaparmal and Hattatal. There's also an alphabetical index of names so you can look up things and use the Edda for what it was intended to be: a reference book.
I'm glad I read it, I guess, since I am pretty "into" this kind of thing ... but I wouldn't recommend it for anyone who is just curious about Norse mythology. Sure, this book is "the Source" but you'll have more fun reading one of the dozens of more recent re-tellings.