I have to admit, I’m a bit obsessed with the Norse. Since I first discovered the protagonist of my own novel, a Norse princess turned pirate back in December 2014, I’ve been trying to read anything I can get my hands on that might prove to be worthwhile for research. Add into it my love of everything Neil Gaiman writes, and it seemed like a perfect fit.
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, incredible strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki – son of a giant – blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.
Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman – difficult with his beard and huge appetite – to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir – the most sagacious of gods – is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.
Prior to doing any sort of research for my own story, the bulk of my Norse mythology knowledge came from watching the Thor Marvel movies. Not the greatest source of information, I’ll admit, but not the worst. I’d been looking all over for a comprehensive and easy to read book about the Aesir and Vanir, the two families of Norse gods, but had yet to find anything that really fit the bill.
When we first got word at the store that Gaiman was writing his own tome on the subject, my coworkers and I got very excited. I even more so when the books finally came in and I found the one signed copy the publisher had sent in! I started reading it straight away. Back in February. It’s July, and I just finished it.
Admittedly, I was going through a reading slump, but trying to get through Norse Mythology felt like slogging through the world’s densest bog. It has been the biggest chore of a read that I have undertaken in quite some time, and it’s not even 300 pages of prose. When I thought back on it, though, I realized that I actually don’t really like Gaiman’s writing. I love his stories and world building, but I don’t love his style.
Gaiman recounts the tales of the gods with prose that reads similarly to how a person would reasonably tell a story – the stories were oral traditions, and Gaiman clearly made a point to try to continue to honor that medium in print. As such, though, there are often times sentences and phrases that are clearly asides meant to be mentioned to those listening in the middle of a story – emphasis on the verbal component.
While I have not yet listened to the audiobook of Norse Mythology, I’m guessing that my review would read differently – it would probably be more favorable as then I would be hearing the stories in the manner in which I believe Gaiman actually intended – I would have been listening and not reading.
Rating: 6 out of 10 stars
Edition: Hardcover • $25.95 • 9780393609097 • 304 pages • published February 2017 by W. W. Norton & Company • average Goodreads rating 4.13 out of 5 • read in July 2017