Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (UK edition)

Title: Norse Mythology
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Mythology, Non-Fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (7th February 2017)

The Norse myths are woven into the fabric of our storytelling – from the novels of Tolkien to the worlds of comics and superheroes. They are also the inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s own award-winning, bestselling fiction.

Now Gaiman reaches back through time to the original source stories in an epic and electrifying retelling of the great Norse myths – thriling tales of dwarfs and frost giants, of treasures and magic, and of Asgard, home of the Gods: Odin the all-father, highest and oldest of the gods; his mighty son Thor, whose hammer, Mjollnir, was forged by dwarfs and makes the mountain giants tremble; Loki, wily and handsome, reliably unreliable in his lusts; and Freya, more beautiful than the sun or the moon, who gives short shrift to the gods, giants and ogres who seek to control her.

Gaiman’s gods are thoroughly alive on the page – irascible, visceral, playful, passionate – as he leads us from the beginning of everything to Ragnarok, the inescapable final downfall of the gods . . .

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3 stars)

NORSE MYTHOLOGY by Neil Gaiman is, I think, more non-fiction than it is fiction. It is a collection of surviving Norse myths retold to us by the charming Gaiman. This collection contains an introduction, outlining why Gaiman chose to write this book, a glossary and tells sixteen Norse myths. These myths begin with the Norse creation story, and conclude with the Norse take on the end of the world. The fourteen stories in between paint a picture of the Norse gods; of Odin and his son Thor, and of Loki Lie-Smith who in this version of the stories is Odin’s blood brother and Thor’s friend.

I went into NORSE MYTHOLOGY with high expectations. Having read most of the Norse myths in THE PENGUIN BOOK OF NORSE MYTHS: GODS OF THE VIKINGS by Kevin Crossley-Holland I was curious to see what stories Gaiman would pick, and how he would make the book his own. Honestly I was left disappointed. Although the stories are very well told, they lack the twist I was expecting that for me would have made them Gaiman’s own. I would have even been happy if at the end of each tale Gaiman had shared his thoughts on it, but alas that did not happen.

Having said that, I think NORSE MYTHOLOGY would be a fantastic place to start if you wanted to learn more about the Norse myths explored in Gaiman’s other works like The Sandman. Although the collection is by no means comprehensive, it would I think serve as a good starting point. I also really liked the fact that in the introduction Gaiman encourages his readers to “[r]ead the stories in this book, then make them your own”. (p. xviii) That was what I had been hoping Gaiman would do a little more of in this book.

The stories themselves are brilliantly told. I found them all really readable, and whilst I did get a bit lost with names I found the glossary really helped me to get who was who straight. Reading NORSE MYTHOLOGY helped remind me that I have a bit of a soft spot for Loki (no, not the Marvel Cinematic Universe one but the one of the myths). This book provided a really nice opportunity to go back to the Norse myths and enjoy them again. Whilst I don’t think it adds anything to them, and would therefore not necessarily be a good read for anyone who knows them well, I do think Gaiman does a good job with the storytelling.

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