Book review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
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.