I’m back with another book review, and I’m opening up the month of May with “Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:
“Neil Gaiman, long inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction, presents a bravura rendition of the Norse gods and their world from their origin though their upheaval in Ragnarok. 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.
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. Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose, these gods emerge with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.”
A quick disclaimer before I dive into the review: I have little knowledge of actual Norse mythology and so I never knew many of the original stories. I feel like this would be a bit more enjoyable to read had I known the original myths/stories beforehand, and so I’ll be rating this a bit easier with that in mind.
All of the retellings were understandable and interesting to read. I am familiar with a few of the stories, mainly the one involving Freya’s almost-wedding, and I thought they were retold quite well! I love how all of the gods were given their own personality and sharpness, but stayed true to how I’ve known of them depicted in the original myths. Freya and Freyr were two personal favourites of mine to read in the retellings, out of all the gods presented.
I’ve read books by Gaiman before (specifically “American Gods” and “Neverwhere”), and it’s clear his writing style really shows with how he uses the description and how he writes the dialogue. It helps refresh these myths into something new, and it especially helped with Freya’s almost-wedding. That particular story became my favourite to read out of all of the ones in the book as a result!
However, given how these are almost-literal retellings of the Norse myths, I imagine that they can feel a bit stagnant to read at times, especially if you don’t know the original very well. I feel like in order to properly enjoy this, you should at least have some grasp on who the Norse Gods are as well as the popular myths surrounding them before reading this. Thankfully, there is an index or glossary at the back of the book that gives us clear definitions of who is who and what worlds contain what, so that is really helpful to have on hand when reading!