I grew up reading books full of folk and fairy tales, the Norse myths included, soaking them and their violence, their humor, their logic, their magic, into my soul. My major was inspired by folk lore and fairy tale, and part of my love for Neil Gaiman has always come from the way the structures of fairy tale weave through and warp in his works, and his incorporation of mythic figures from a full compendium of folk lore figures. Because of that, it was unlikely that I’d have any reaction other than adoration for his new book: a collection and retelling, in his own words, of the main stories of Norse mythology. So it was with little surprise but a lot of happiness that Norse Mythology was as good as I had expected, my first read of the new year as chilly freezing rain fell and my cat curled near my feet.
Neil Gaiman takes the Norse myths as we know them and retells them in his mysterious, careful writing. He has studied his characters carefully, and Thor’s strength and relative ignorance, Odin’s wisdom, and Loki’s trickery and desire for chaos, all emerge beautifully in this collection. He acknowledges in the introduction that it’s unfortunate that so many tales of the Norse goddesses have been lost, but gives strength and complexity to the female goddesses and giants who appear in his works. The Norse mythology is reborn in a magnificent storytelling voice that makes your heart ache over tales you already knew and jump through tales you hadn’t yet heard. Gaiman knows how to write folklore, and without lengthening the tales, he makes the gods both terrifying and familiar, the stories haunting and funny. He has done his research, but most of all, he just knows how to tell a story, and that’s the most important piece of passing down mythology, something born through oral inheritance over the centuries. Neil Gaiman’s newest literary masterpiece comes out on February 7, 2017. I recommend you pre-order. (As a side-note, it’s also one of the best smelling books I’ve ever held in my hands, and the book design is stunning.) I received this review copy from @wwnorton in exchange for an honest review, and this truly is an honest and happy review.
“The Norse myths are the myths of a chilly place, with long, long winter nights and endless summer days, myths of a people who did not entirely trust or even like their gods, although they respected and feared them.”
“Before the beginning there was nothing—no earth, no heavens, no stars, no sky; only the mist world, formless and shapeless, and the fire world, always burning.”