I guess I’m in a mood for legends and lore lately. What with Song of Achilles, Beowulf, Gospel of Loki, and now this one – what’s a girl to do but indulge herself! There’s definitely something to be said for all of these larger than life heroes and heroines and the way they inspired the human race through the years. Aside from storytelling, it’s easy to forget just how much the gods have trickled down into our daily lives. After all, every Thursday is Thor’s Day!
Anyway, Gaiman’s version covers no new ground. It’s very old ground, to be honest, but his rehashing is just as good as anyone else’s. He takes us from creation to Ragnarok and all of the side trips in between. There are always differences in somebody’s version of familiar tales. Tomato, tomahto. Same stories, different days. I don’t have a lot to say about the actual content. All of the usual suspects are here: Odin, Thor, Freya, and Loki, to name a few. Unlike American Gods where Gaiman put old gods (of all kinds), in new, modern adventures and took creative liberty with how they would fit into the 21st century, Norse Mythology is pretty straight forward in the retelling of the Norse legends. Gaiman is entertaining nonetheless. He uses the character commonalities found in other versions to comedic effect in his storytelling – Freya is narcissistic (see what I did there?), Thor is not the brightest bulb on the porch, and Loki is still the conniving trickster everybody loves to hate.
It was an interesting listen, especially right after listening to The Gospel of Loki. You have a point of view from Loki, an unreliable narrator, in one, and, in Norse Mythology, you have Gaiman’s lyrical storytelling from a more neutral POV. Plus, if you listen to the audio, Gaiman reads the text and the experience is sublime!
Gaiman has an intro where he talks about his love for Norse mythology and how it influenced his early years as a reader. He cites Kevin Crossley-Holland, Snorri Sturluson, and Rudolf Simek as his preferred resources for inspiration although he does say he has many, many Norse tales that he loves. Interestingly, Gaiman unwittingly sparked a debate about who actually has final authority in retelling myths since there is difficulty in finding an authentic source for Norse tales in particular. This article from The Atlantic is insightful. The Washington Post article here reviews both Gaiman’s book and The Norse Myths by Carolyne Larrington, sort of a compare and contrast piece. NPR also has an interview with Gaiman here and a more personal interview about other writings and life topics here (from 2015).
This book is a great primer if you’re unfamiliar with the Norse god origins and a refresher for the things you may have forgotten.