Norse Mythology (2017) Book Review
Simple prose and antics of the Gods make Neil Gaiman’s re-tellings a great starting point into the world of the Aesir.
Written by: Nia Bothwell April 14, 2017
I swear this wasn’t planned, but perhaps the Norns have a sense of humor. Coming down from my double-dose of vampirical adventures with the anime Diabolik Lovers and The Powers of Darkness novel it seemed like a good time to change things up, and after forging through the past with The Great Whale Road, Norse mythology it is.
With his intriguing new book Norse Mythology , fantasy, comic book, and general all-purpose creative polymath Neil Gaiman took on the task of re-writing many of the timeless legends of the Norse in novel form. Being somewhat familiar with the subject myself, I couldn’t help but dive right in!
Disclosure: my introduction to Norse Mythology stems from the introduction of Loki in the first Avengers movie (side note: I didn’t want to watch the original Thor when it first came out, so my first look of Loki was him attempting to take over the world). A few movies, comic books, fanfictions, and hours of research later I stumbled into the world of the Aesir. Heck, even on my YouTube page I’ve subscribed Dr. Jackson Crawford, an Old Norse Specialist teaching at UC Berkeley. Saying I’m a fan of not only the characters, but the subject matter they stem from.
Gaiman even states within the first few pages his first introduction into the subject came from reading the Mighty Thor comic book series. From here he began to notice differences between the Marvel versions of these beloved characters and their mythological Norse counterparts. He does his best to pay respect to these legends by creating a novelization of the stories, but sticking to the ‘root’ of where they originate from.
For the most part, Gaiman’s interpretations felt authentic from beginning to end. The myths about Loki, Thor, Odin, Sif, and the other Norse gods is told using simple words and being direct about the actions of each character. The style of how the stories were told reminded me of Aesop fables since the language is easy to understand and to the point.
The stories themselves are short and, as you’d expected, there were some I liked more than others. The description of Loki’s sons being punished and the binding of his wolf son, Fenrir, did make me feel pretty awful. Other times had Thor being less than diplomatic, barreling directly into battle with his choosing to ‘swing first and ask questions later’ attitude was hilarious and cruel. On the other hand, I understood these were the inspirations behind many of the Marvel characters I’d come to love for the last couple of years.
Even so, there were many stories – many involving Loki – I laughed aloud or giggled at the sheer antics of the gods. Thor mentioning to Sif in the first story that he always blames Loki first if there is mischief about (because it’s easier that way) had me grinning from ear-to-ear. Other times I had to roll my eyes at Odin seducing a giantess to drink the mead of poetry made from the blood of a beloved wise man. These characters were all at once courageous, powerful, clever, sweet, cruel, and in many regards, tragic. There were times I sympathized with Odin for the weight he held upon his shoulders concerning the future and others where it would have been satisfying see him interfere with the fates to change the outcome of the future.
My only complaint is the novel ended up feeling way too short and I just wanted to read more about the Norse Gods. There were many tales I recognized or had heard before, the binding of Fenrir being one I’m intimately familiar with and have read re-tellings of more than a few times. I can even name a few inspirations today based off the wolf Fenrir.
Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology ended up being a joy to read through and certainly stoked the continued interest I’ve long had with the subject. I even came away having learned a few new interesting facts and details about these familiar, yet often misunderstood characters. How cool was it to discover that Loki is the reason why Thor must use his hammer one-handed (and even the reason why the thunder god received Mjolnir in the first place)? Anyone interested in the subject should give Gaiman’s interpretation a read, it’s not long, easy to understand, and provides an excellent introduction into the world of Norse Mythology from a modern master.