The lion roams the open plains, its head held high, its footsteps sure. Sunlight glitters off its golden fur, creating a radiance unlike any other. The heat is warm and welcomed. The lion treks through the grass and the dirt, lifting its head to watch the birds circling in the sky. It pauses, gives chase, and lingers for a moment as it considers returning home. But it does not. There is always a new chase, the lion knows. A new adventure, something exciting just over the horizon. The lion tips its head back in a roar. And then it steps forward.
The badger pokes its head from the entrance of its burrow. The morning air is edged by the sharp chill of last night’s frost, but the badger does not feel the cold. It continues out of its hole and into the small field of frozen grass and flowers. There’s something beautiful about them, the ice glittering along the petals, their stillness as they’re frozen in standstill. The sun will come soon, the badger knows, the sun will come and the ice will melt. Then, their beauty will be different, but neither better nor worse. Beauty it knows, is an evolving thing, and there is no one way for an object to show it. They will still be the flowers it knows and loves, they will still be beautiful. It digs its claws into the earth. And it waits for the sun to shine.
The eagle soars through the sky, held aloft by the drafts of air that ruffle its feathers. Up here, the air is cold, thin, but the eagle does not mind. Here is a place for thinking, a place where trouble is few and far between and answers are easy to find. The eagle scans the land below, trained eyes catching on the things that others would never notice: a flower blooming, the melting of snow, a cricket beginning its song. From up here, everything is so small, so trivial, so simple. Everything is merely a single piece, a little part of the world. Up here, the eagle feels as though it can truly understand. And so it flies onward.
The snake slips through the shadows, unnoticed by the ones who pass it by. The scales on its back shift as they’re dappled with with different arrays of light, and the snake allows itself to rest for a moment in a patch of sunlight. Somewhere nearby, it can hear water running, the soft gentle hiss of shifting pebbles and hidden currents. The sun beats against its back, and it finds that it enjoys the peace of the moment. The warmth, the running water, the concrete moment in time before a future where everything can change. But then…the snake is no stranger to change. It sheds its skin, it moves from light to shadows. For all that it loves this warmth, this peace, it knows that change will only make it stronger. Wind rustles through the trees above its head. And it slips away.
He has sipped the mead of poetry, conversed with Mimir, and cavorted with norns. There are no other rational explanations, because otherwise Neil Gaiman might actually - secretly - be a god himself, and I can only suspend my disbelief so far.
It isn’t difficult to argue that Norse myth is easy to present as a continuous story. Much of that reputation is the fault of Snorri Sturluson, the Icelandic poet and politician, who committed a selection of stories (known as sagas) to paper and codified what we now collectively refer to as the Nordic mythos. Retellings of these sagas are rare - you’re more likely to find translations of Sturluson’s work - and it is for that reason that this book is so special.
Gaiman brings his wit and strong character writing, as well as his unashamed love of the mysterious, to an enormously entertaining retelling of his favourite mythological universe. I should mention now: this mythos happens to by my favourite, too - so I’m perhaps, maybe, possibly 100% biased in favour of this book from the very beginning. Speaking of the beginning, that’s precisely where we start: a vibrant, expansive and imagery-rich opening sequence covering the life and death of the giant Ymir and the formation of the nine worlds.
From such lofty heights of literary prose one would, probably, if they were a pessimist, suspect that the writing would necessarily take a quality dip as more characters and events are introduced to the story. I am pleased to report that this is not the case - pleased because this has happened, previously, with other works on the same topic. Grand prose has a habit of giving way to the rote. Gaiman manages to strike the perfect balance between intellectual interest and joyous storytelling. His fiction background, naturally, has helped with this task enormously.
Best of all are the characterisations of the gods themselves. Thor is a bounty of hard-headed brashness and implacable optimism…when he has Mjollnir, anyway. Odin is a wise and steadfast figure, if perhaps prone to his own brand of trickery. Freya is an unashamed feminist, constantly berating the Aesir for their unthinking folly. Loki is a proud and egotistical problem-solver with delusions of grandeur. Each character, be they god or elf or dwarf or giant (or eagle or wolf or snake) are presented with unique character traits and mannerisms. And to top it off, these gods do not speak in thees and thous: instead, Gaiman treats the gods as if they were real people with extraordinary abilities and responsibilities, and they speak accordingly.
Gaiman collects the best known stories and a few lesser, harder to research myths, and presents them as one cohesive story with an ease that Sturluson couldn’t possibly have dreamed of, and which few academics have replicated. From the beginning to the Ragnarok, the reader is completely transported.
@neil-gaiman has given the world an incredible gift, and we are not worthy.
Should I buy this book? Yes, a thousand times yes. What do you rate it? 5/5 stars. Favourite part? Every single time Freya snaps at Loki.
Apparently the brown snake eagle has no gag reflex. Mine is kicking in just looking at this.
What’s on your menu for lunch? If you are a brown snake eagle, it would be an olive grass snake. We were driving through the bush in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, when I spotted a bird under a small tree. After watching for a few minutes, I saw the twitch of a snake tail, so I knew the eagle had its prey. It wasn’t long and the eagle ripped the snake in half and proceeded to slowly swallow the tail half. Unable to devour the entire section, the eagle flew off with 8 inches of snake still hanging from its mouth.
I was playing a homebrew game where the DM included a few of there own 5e races and classes. I was a Warlock (fiend patron) of one of the DM’s homebrew races. Lamia, as in the monstergirl style of woman from waist up and snake from the waste down.
There was a point where we wound up meeting with a celestial/fae being of the elvish pantheon, but before meeting with them we met with one of there upper level servants who first appeared to us as a 40 foot tall celestial eagle.
Me (OOC): huh, irl I know damn well that eagles eat snakes. Would Isea(my character) know this kind of thing as well and thus be scared?
DM: roll nature.
*rolls pretty well, not nat 20 but more than 20 after modifiers*
DM: you know there is a creature known as a Roc that is similar to being a colossal eagle and normally eats elephants. Sometimes they swoop down and carry off Lamias for their meals.
Isea (IC): I start vigorously searching for a way out of here, too panicked to speak in common and instead switching to my native tongue. “NOPE! NOPE! NOPE! NOPE! NOPE! GET ME OUT! GET ME OUT OF HERE NOW! GET ME OUT! GET ME OUT! GET ME OUT!”