Title: Norse Mythology
Author: Neil Gaiman
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received a physical copy of this book from Bloomsbury Australia in exchange for an honest review.
When I think of Neil Gaiman’s writing, I think of the reinvention of myths, of age-old tales rewritten in timeless prose, of new surprises found in half-forgotten stories. From American Gods to Anansi Boys, from Sandman to Odd & The Frost Giant, it’s obvious that Gaiman’s relationship with myths is intimate and dynamic. Norse Mythology is no simple collection of outworn tales, it’s a reminder of the enduring power of stories – especially ones that can be retold.
To be perfectly honest, my interest in Norse mythology have always felt like an afterthought to my passion for the Greek pantheon, or the many deities of East Asia. It’s a collection of myths that seemed to value valour in battle and warriors above all – things my bookish self could not relate to. In this book, Neil Gaiman managed to capture the humanity in the gods of Asgard, while letting them retain their infuriating yet remarkable character and habits. Although it’s a slim volume, it was packed with enough content to whet my appetite to go exploring for more.
The volume retells some of the most famous Norse mythologies in Neil Gaiman’s inimitable prose. The writing is at times breathtaking, and at others humorous. We are treated to tales of how Odin lost his eye to the fate of Loki’s children. We witness the god’s capacity for pride and love, but also their avarice and envy. The readers are reminded that the Norse gods are far from infallible, in fact – they’re not even immortal – the coming of Ragnarok and the promise of the end weighs heavily on their consciousness. The final chapters of the book highlighted this, and it was here that Neil Gaiman’s characteristic narrative voice shined brightest within the volume.
In recent years, Hollywood and Marvel have shaped the public’s impression of the Norse gods, especially of Thor and Loki. Norse Mythology recalls the tradition and roots of these myths, where the gods are neither heroes or villains. The book especially excelled in its portrayal of Loki, the complicated trickster god who in Gaiman’s words ‘was of the gods but not of them’. His motivations was an endless source of intrigue within these stories, and his battle of wit against the rest of the gods was a constant highlight.
Alongside with Loki, Odin and Thor were also heavily feature within this volume. Unfortunately, the stories associated with lesser known gods and goddesses such as Tyr, Frigg, and Sif has become lost with time. As such, Norse Mythology lacked a certain dimension due to the scarcity of the source materials. It emphasised the crucial need to retell what’s left of this tale before it’s forgotten by future generations.
With Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman not only retells the stories of an age long past. He seeks to engage a modern audience in the act of seizing these myths and making them our own. Stories all have power, but only if there’s a willing storyteller determined to ensure these tales will stand the test of time. With this book, Gaiman reminds us that our favourite stories will live on, but only if we are willing to share them on that fateful winter night.
Are you familiar with Norse mythologies? Which other myth or folklore would you like to see Gaiman retell? I would love to see a non-fictional account of American Gods and how immigrants and their stories have helped shaped the culture of America.