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 fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarfs, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.
Despite being an avid consumer of all things mythological and folklore-related, I didn’t actually know that much Norse mythology (unless you count the scraps of information the Marvel movies have fed me over the past few years). I’d always been more interested in Greek mythology, an interest fueled by my love for the paranormal romance genre which seems to favor this pantheon above all others.
So, after realizing that Tom Hiddleston’s Loki wasn’t going to teach me all that much about Norse mythology, I decided to embark upon a fantastical journey with the talented Neil Gaiman as my guide. I hadn’t previously read anything by Neil Gaiman (unless you count an uber short, maybe ten page story) so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but because this book had been receiving such positive reviews, I decided that I had nothing to lose (except fourteen of my well-earned pounds, which isn’t much in the grand scheme of things).
In the introduction, Gaiman stresses the fact that this collection of tales is his personal take on the more popular of the Norse myths, so there might be some discrepancies between the versions found in Norse Mythology and the versions readers have read or heard elsewhere. But that’s okay, right? I mean, it’d be pretty stupid to argue over whether or not bad poetry is a direct result of a particularly nasty fart straight out of the All Father’s ass. Myths are supposed to be fun. Myths arose (I literally just typed ‘arouse’) from the imaginations of our long dead ancestors who sought to explain what was then unexplainable. Why conjure a boring, half-assed explanation behind, say, the stars, when you can say that they’re the eyes of a dead giant instead?
I really enjoyed this collection of tales. A lot of mythology books that I’ve read read like university dissertations. They’re dry and they’re lacklustre. Neil Gaiman, however, has injected humour and life into these ancient, often forgotten stories and has brought each of the characters to life in a way that will have a reader greedily devouring each and every single word.
The characterization is fantastic. Each of the gods, goddesses, dwarfs and giants has their own unique personality. Thor, for example, is the typical all-brawn-and-no-brains character which makes for some hilarious one liners, while Loki is the mischievous, sly and annoyingly lovable rogue. These are characters a reader can believe in. They’re just as a real as the people we interact with on a daily basis here in Midgard.
Sometimes, when reading things such as fantasy, it’s all too easy to become lost among the lore of the fictional land you suddenly find yourself in and this was one of my initial concerns upon my decision to read this book. Would I need to do some background reading beforehand to be able to put these stories into context? Would I find myself completely and utterly confused by the names and terms thrown about the text like confetti?
The answer to both of these questions was “No.” Norse Mythology offers readers a gentle and easy introduction into an area of mythology that is often forgotten about and it does it in way that isn’t patronising or laborious to read. Everything – be it the reason why Odin only has one eye or why there are clouds in the sky – is explained in a clear, concise and fun way.
Overall, Norse Mythology is quick, easy and fun read and one I can wholeheartedly recommend to any mythology geeks such as myself.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Song: Two Steps from Hell’s Aesir (Two Steps from Hell are one my absolute favourites, you should definitely check them out!)
This book is available on Amazon in both paperback and e-book format.