Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman takes the old Norse texts, the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, as his source to tell the tales of the ancient Norse gods and goddesses, made so familiar by Marvel's Thor. Odin and Loki and Baldur and the rest are here. Gaiman picks and chooses the stories he wants to retell and has wound up with an overall narrative from the Norse creation myth (the nine worlds connected by Yggdrassil, the world tree) to the Norse apocalypse (Ragnarok, the great battle that ends the lives of just about everyone, gods and humans). But not quite everyone dies, so the ending isn't so grim--it suggests a cyclical nature to the mythology's history.

The individual stories are interesting, though some have more charm and memorableness to them. I especially liked "Hymir and Thor's Fishing Expedition" where Thor (who has never fished before) goes out with a giant and tries to catch something for dinner. Thor is a bit clueless and brutal though he is willing to try anything, because he's Thor. Loki features in many stories for good and for ill. He has a large roll in Ragnarok, especially as the father of many of the evil creatures fighting against the gods.

My only complaint about the book is the style of writing, which vacillates between having the voice of an ancient and otherly narrative and the voice of a very contemporary speaker. Such a juxtaposition works well in something like Anansi Boys, where ancient gods live in modern times, but here it is ill-advised and much less satisfying. Otherwise the stories are excellent.


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