Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology by Neil GaimanNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Published by W. W. Norton & Company on February 7th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 304
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
four-stars

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 think the biggest take away for me for this book is that not everything is American Gods. I thought that this book would be Gaiman’s take on Norse myths. And for the most part besides some humor and dialogue here and there, Gaiman plays this pretty straight from beginning to end. There are some passages here and there that moved me and some that made me smile. I am happy to have read this, but this is not going to be something that I re-read again and again like The Graveyard Book though.

There is an introduction by Gaiman and then the book proceeds. Pretty much we start at the beginning (as one does) and go the whole way from the beginning showcasing the Norse gods and goddesses, giants, etc. that inhabit this world. Eventually everything leads to Ragnarok, the end of these same gods and goddesses. But as we all know, every ending leads to a new beginning.

Gaiman tells the creation story of the Norse gods and goddesses and focuses on Odin (or Wednesday). We get to hear a bit about these figures that some of us may be familiar with. I have read various books about the Norse gods and goddesses so this made a breezy read for me. I was familiar with most of the stories that were included except for “Mimir’s Head and Odin’s Eye,” “The Master Builder,” “The Mead of Poets,” and “Hymir and Thor’s Fishing Expedition.”

My favorites chapters/stories in this one were: “The Master Builder,” “Freya’s Unusual Wedding,” “Thor’s Journey to the Land of the Giants,” “The Death of Balder,” and “Ragnarok: The Final Destiny of the Gods.”

I thought Gaiman did a good job of developing the characters. Though I can say that for the most part, the giants did not seem to be that smart. I did have to laugh at Gaiman’s take of Thor. He made him seem like not the brightest star in the sky. This Thor was all about eating, drinking, and throwing his hammer and smashing things.

Freya was my favorite of the goddesses because she didn’t allow herself to be bullied by even Odin in being forced to marry someone because of whatever madness had happened due to Loki.

Loki sucks. Frankly one wonders why in the world it took the gods and goddesses so long to just take that guy and exact the punishment they eventually get around to. Though the whole Loki horse thing gave me pause. That is not a story I recall reading when I read about the Norse gods before.

I think Odin could give Zeus a run for the money on who is the worse father there too. The chapter involving Balder was pretty messed up when you see how Odin went about punishing the one who was to blame for his death. (view spoiler)

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I do wish we had gotten into other female characters a bit more in this though.

I thought the writing was quite poetic at times. And part of me could see certain scenes in my head acted out.

“I can see further than you can, Loki. I can see all the way to the world-tree,” Heimdall will tell him with his last breath. “Surtr’s fire cannot touch the world-tree, and two people have hidden themselves safely in the trunk of Yggdrasil. The woman is called Life, the man is called Life’s Yearning. Their descendants will populate the earth. It is not the end. There is no end. It is simply the end of the old times, Loki, and the beginning of the new times. Rebirth always follows death. You have failed.”

The flow of course works because Gaiman just follows along for the most part with how most Norse myths are told.

The setting of the Norse gods and goddesses seems like a colder and more brutal one than the Greek/Roman gods and goddesses inhabit.

I did love the ending and how we get to see that there is no true end. Just a continuation of a never ending dance.

four-stars

2 Comments

  1. I think the reason it took so long for them to do something about Loki is (and if I wasn’t being lazy I’d grab the book and quote it directly) that he often benefited them all, sometimes even when he was trying to trick them.

    I personally was hoping for the story of Freya’s cats, and one or two other tales that weren’t included, but I was familiar with the story of Slepnir. I think what I’ve always liked about Loki is his fluidity. There are stories about him going and living as a mortal woman, marrying, having kids, whole nine yards, just because he could.

    Of course, as you mention, Odin is a piece of work (actually, they’re almost all a piece of work). I mean, if you read it a lot of the whole Ragnarok conflict comes about as direct result of Odin’s actions

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