By: Neil Gaiman
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase
Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.
In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, son of a giant, blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman, difficult with his beard and huge appetite, to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir, the most sagacious of gods, is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.
Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.
I was pretty excited when I heard that Neil Gaiman was going to tackle Norse mythology through his own narrative. Norse mythology is a fascinating body of work, the characters intriguing and powerful yet very human, and their concept of the world and its structure just intriguing. I’ve read the Elder Edda and some of the other works associated to Norse mythology but of course there’s so many different Eddas out there that as Gaiman mentioned in his introduction his take it just another voice to its body of tomes.
Gaiman’s Norse Mythology I think is a great introduction if you’ve never properly read any of Norse mythology outside what we know from popular culture (read: Marvel’s Thor). He starts by giving an introduction of the principal characters and the creation of the world and the Nine Worlds and the different creatures before delving into the stories. He doesn’t of course recount all of the stories in Norse mythology but covers the major ones. Some of it is familiar, some I’ve forgotten, but all is told in Gaiman’s signature style of writing and that odd quirkiness that he’s known for. Norse mythology of course has its moments of humour, which Gaiman definitely takes advantage of.
If there’s any quibbles I have about this book, it’s that perhaps he could’ve included a few more stories, but I guess he was going for the most complete of the stories out there, the most familiar (as he covers stories leading up to Ragnarok and what happens then). Or maybe it was my mood at the time I was reading that left me feeling as though something felt a bit incomplete from the collection.
Nonetheless I enjoyed reading this book and revisiting Norse mythology through Gaiman’s narrative. Definitely left me wanting to revisit The Elder Edda again as well as the Thor comics 😛