- Norse Mythology.
- Neil Gaiman.
- 293 pages.
- Fantasy / Historical Fiction / Retellings / Fiction / Short Stories.
- My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
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 received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Norse Mythology is a collection of tales, these are not Gaiman’s stories merely his interpretation, his rendition of a collection of some of the classic Norse myths. He holds true to the history taking us on a journey from the very beginning of the world and the creation of everything through to Ragnarok and the end times, the rebirth. The stories found within the pages are an eclectic and varied mix ranging from humorous in nature through to the tragic and serious.
Norse Mythology starts with a short introduction by Gaiman regaling us with how the actual book came about. It’s a good way to start and for me, I always find it nice to read about the authors motive and reasons behind writing the book I’m about to read. After the introduction we are then given a cast of the main players to feature with Gaiman giving us his descriptions of Odin, Thor and Loki. Finally featuring a total of 15 short stories as well as the introduction, players and then the glossary found at the end.
After reading, I realised that I had four favourite stories from the collection. Firstly, The Treasures of The Gods, which tells us how Odin and Thor received their illustrious weapons, the Spear Gungnir and the Hammer Mjollnir and also showcased Loki’s deviousness and penchant for mischief. Secondly, The Master Builder, a straightforward tale where the gods want to build a wall around Asgard, a lone stranger offers and if he can succeed then he will get his price. The ending will make you chortle, just don’t tell Loki! Thirdly, Freya’s Unusual Wedding which is one of the more jocular tales included, involving Thor, Loki and a wedding that involves a bride who isn’t who it seems. And fourthly, the tale, Ragnarok: The Final Destiny of The Gods, the final myth in the book and the culmination of events, the epic last battle.
Gaiman has crafted a rich and detailed world full of various locations with each god having their own distinct personality and each tale its own added depth. I’m not going to go into further detail about the collection of myths included, I don’t want to spoil your own chance to witness first hand the majesty of Gaiman’s arresting retellings.
The mountain giant saw the hammer getting rapidly bigger as it came hurtling toward him, and then he saw nothing else, not ever again.
The writing by Gaiman found in Norse Mythology is often sparse, it’s straight to the point and at times can seem rather brusque, this however is not detrimental and after the fairly slow start it aids in moving the book along at an ample pace with no clutter and dispensable words bestrewn across the pages. Yet Gaiman is also surprisingly vivid often showing that you don’t need a paragraph to be descriptive when a mere sentence will suffice, always painting a picture of what’s going on. Gaiman is also the master of the poetic passage and sprinkled throughout the book you will find many. Mention also needs to go to the humour, Gaiman has a predilection towards the dry wit with an occasional smattering of sarcasm and it works well, having the desired effect of making you smirk and smile.
“Good Lord,” he said. “It’s an invasion of tiny toddlers. No, my mistake. You must be the famous Thor of the Aesir
The book is short in length, the total page count comes in at just under 300 pages. It’s a quick read that I truly wish was longer. There are a bountiful abundance of Norse myths and while Gaiman includes a stellar assortment, I feel that even at twice its length, Norse Mythology wouldn’t have out stayed its welcome.
I don’t normally mention the cover of the book I’m reviewing in my reviews but for this one, I feel it deserves a mention. Being a fantasy fan I often come across books with some wonderful covers, the UK covers for Joe Abercrombie books have a stunning aesthetic as do the covers for John Gwynne’s The Faithful and the Fallen series. Sebastian de Castell’s The Greatcoats series also have quality covers, understated but with a refined design.
And Norse Mythology has a cover worthy of mention too! The matt black background of the front and back features a small scattering of stars and on the front you have both the book’s title and authors name in a simple but elegant gold coloured font. The spine in contrast is reversed with a metallic gold background and black writing. The only image on the cover is the truly stunning depiction of Mjollnir, Thor’s hammer, perhaps one of the artifacts most synonymous with Norse Mythology. It’s a simple but breathtaking cover layout with an absolutely striking design that immediately draws the eye.
I shall tell you how it will end, and then how it will begin once more. These are dark days I will tell you of, dark days and hidden things, concerning the ends of the earth and the death of the gods. Listen, and you will learn.
I’m a fan of Norse mythology, I’m by no means an expert but along with Greek mythology it has always been something that has interested me. Add into the mix that I’m also predominantly a fantasy fan (yes, I’m just oozing geekiness today) and due to that (quite a lot of fantasy is often steeped in either Norse, Greek or Celtic myth) I knew a lot of the various terms used and names and locations mentioned. Some of you will only know the characters of Thor, Odin, Loki and Heimdell due to the Marvel films and will think only that Ragnarok, is the upcoming new Marvel Thor movie title. But for anyone, no matter your prior knowledge of the Norse legends there is a lot to like here and you will find Norse Mythology easily accessible and enjoyable to read.
Norse Mythology was my first foray into reading Gaiman and as such I can’t comment on how it stacks up with his own previous fictional work. However, I will say that it was an absolute delight to lose my Gaimanity with Norse Mythology, a wildly pleasurable and scintillating must read.
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