Unamerican Gods, or my review of Norse Mythology


Norse Mythology

By: Neil Gaiman 

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

Publication Date: February 7th, 2017

Format: Hardcover


Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.

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 fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

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4 star (griffin)

Anyone who has read far enough back in the blog archives knows that I am a *HUGE* fan of Neil Gaiman. And so, while his latest book isn’t exactly YA, I couldn’t help but read it…and then review it, of course. And, in my defense, it’s not NOT YA.

Anyone familiar with any Norse Mythology will already feel familiar with this book. Neil Gaiman has, in many ways, retold the Eddas in as genuine a voice as he can, with only a few minor adjustments to make it a Gaiman retelling. Since I’m not an expert on Norse Mythology, I can’t say whether his retelling was faithful to the originals. Although, as Gaiman points out, the ‘original’ eddas were written two or three hundred years after the height of Viking domain. I will say that Gaiman attempts as best he can to be faithful to these, although I can’t judge his efforts.

Despite my lack of knowledge of the Poetic and Prose Eddas, Gaiman’s Norse Mythology was an entertaining and informative read. Despite his seeming faithfulness to the original, he managed to create wry personas and snarky humor. Odin is the wise All-Father, not necessarily kind, but the sort of person who does what needs doing. Thor is a red-bearded idiot, Loki is (of course) a wry trickster. I was very impressed with how, through a few lines, Gaiman managed to give enough of an impression of character to stick with me.

Although this can’t be attributed to Gaiman, the stories are also delightful–light and humorous by turns (Loki becoming the mother of an eight-legged horse, Thor dressing up as a beautiful bride to get his hammer back), but with dark undertones and plenty of blood and gore. But Gaiman’s touch is deft, almost Tolkein-esque in how he treats these. Somewhere in reading these you get the impression of being told the story by a kindly old man with a beard and a voice that is expressive and grim by turns.

But there’s also something in how Gaiman recounts these stories–there’s a sense of time that is very unlike the stories we know today. To Gaiman, and presumably the long-ago Vikings, time is not something that is linear. Ragnarok could be on the horizon, or it could have already happened. And, although Ragnarok is the end of the Gods, it is not the end of everything. New life will arise from the ashes, and presumably the cycle will start anew, albeit perhaps altered. (If you want a story about what happens after, I’d recommend Joanne Harris’ Runemarks). There’s a surprising sense of peace that comes, from knowing that the worst will happen and life will still go on, that is evident in these stories.

These tales did subvert my expectations in one way: with American Gods being such a Big Thing nowadays, and with Odin and Loki (plus a few others) playing such a large role in it, I wasn’t sure if Gaiman might slip in some hints, or information, or something, about American Gods. But, to the best of my knowledge, he refrained from this. Although this is an excellent book to read if, for instance, you’ve just figured out who Shadow Moon really is but have no idea of why this is significant. Then (as Gaiman probably intended) this is the book for you.

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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.

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