December 7, 2017

Review: Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman





Title: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

Date of Publication: February 7th, 2017

Number of Pages: 299





Summary

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.

Review

There is no better way to begin this review than stating that I love mythology and fairy tales. Indeed, I grew up with all those Greek myths with the 12 gods. Also, Celtic fairy tales are among my favourites. Curiously enough, I had never read anything concerned with norse mythology, although I was aware of Odin, Thor, and Loki. So, you can imagine that I was excited that Neil Gaiman's latest book would be a collection of such myths. Plus, Gaiman's take on these myths would certainly be interesting.

Loki, from an Icelandic manuscript
First of all, I have to comment on the order of the stories. Yes, there are 15 stories in this collection, but they are placed in a -sort of- chronological order. Even though I am a complete beginner to norse mythology, I was able to witness the creation of the world and by the end of the book its end. Of course, in between those two narrations there are plenty of adventures that made all those gods so famous. I was even able to witness the creation of Thor's famous Mjolnir, his warhammer, as well as other artifacts that the gods use.

But being a beginner in norse mythology also has its downside. Not being familiar with those myths, I couldn't actually find out if those retellings were in fact close to the core that they should have. I mean, if a book dealt with greek mythology (I'm looking at you Mythos) I could easily tell if the feel was right. I don't mind for certain things and actions to change in a retelling, but I am always looking for the things that made them distinctive. So, in this case I can't really be the judge of the fidelity of those myths to the original ones. I will only refer to the enjoyment of these adventures, although I do have a hint that the original ones might be slightly darker.
Thor, fishing for Jormangandr

Having made my position clear, I can finally say that these stories are pure fun! We see where the world came form, and we have a bunch of guys that seek knowledge, in Odin's case, adventure, in Thor's case, and even mischief, in Loki's case. There are adventures here, like all of the long gone heroes have to boast about. There is fighting and scheming, hidden plans and causes for celebration, there is hope, and despair, there is form-changing and what-are-you-even-doing-Loki moments, there are gods, frost giants, dwarves, and all of those creature! And there is plenty of mead!

It's funny to think that every Thor's venture came from something that Loki had started. In fact, their whole relationship is better described by Gaiman's own words:
"There were things Thor did when something went wrong. The first thing he did was ask himself if what had happened was Loki’s fault. [...]. So he did the next thing he did when something went wrong, and he went to ask Loki for advice."
BUT let's get things straight: Loki is Odin's blood brother, NOT Thor's (I'm sorry Marvel fans).

One thing that I'm not sure about in Norse Mythology is character development. Apart from the relationship between Thor and Loki, and a little bit of Odin, we don't really get to find out the true colours of each one of the characters. And there are many of them. Nevertheless, it's not a common thing in mythology not to dig into human psychology, and so this could be something forgivable in this context. Although I can't hide that I was a tiny bit disappointed by this. In the end, these are retellings - you can go wild!

All in all, Norse Mythology is a very enjoyable read. These are stories to satisfy every fantasy fan, even the ones that aren't familiar with mythology. They trigger the imagination, like every myth should, so for me the retellings achieved what they ought to. I might not be familiar with the original myths, but now I feel like I have an idea about what norse mythology is about.

2 comments:

  1. Wahoo! I really enjoyed this book as well! :) Great review

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice review, I'm looking to reading this myself.

    ReplyDelete

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