REVIEW: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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 an 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 – thrilling tales of dwarfs and frost giants, of treasures and magic, and of Asgard, home to 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…

“Because,” said Thor, “when something goes wrong, the first thing I always think is, it is Loki’s fault. It saves a lot of time.”

I couldn’t resist pre-ordering this book as soon as I heard Neil Gaiman was retelling the Norse myths. I’m not a complete newcomer to Norse mythology; I’ve read a couple of retellings such as A.S. Byatt’s Ragnarok and The Penguin Book of Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland. I’m also familiar with the myths through TV and film adaptations. I enjoyed Gaiman’s style of writing as it was humorous and accessible. It was a very spare style, without any unnecessary information. The stories were well-researched and seemed to combine a wide varity of sources to provide a comprehensive overview of the myths. 

“That was the thing about Loki. You resented him even when you were at your most grateful, and you were grateful to him even when you hated him the most.”

Gaiman’s greatest accomplishment is his portrayal of the main characters. His writing makes them seem more real than ever. We see the multi-faceted nature of each character, rather than their usual one-dimensional personalities. So Thor is both brave and slow-witted, whilst Loki is both hero and villain. Loki was definitely my favourite character as he was just so interesting even when he was doing something awful. His motivation seemed to be pure love of chaos, which made for some of the best stories. Side note – a great retelling of the myths from Loki’s perspective is Joanne Harris’ The Gospel of Loki

“It is not the end. There is no end. It is simply the end of the old times, Loki, and the beginning of the new times. Rebirth always follows death.”

Whilst I did enjoy Gaiman’s retelling, it is perhaps more suited to newcomers and younger readers who are looking for an introduction to the Norse myths. That said, if you’re wanting one book that collects all the myths together, then this is the perfect book. 

I would recommend this book to newcomers to Norse mythology – AND THE GAME BEGINS ANEW…

(Amazon | Book Depository | Goodreads

   About the Author

Neil Gaiman is the author of the New York Times bestselling The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Graveyard Book, Coraline, Neverwhere, The View from the Cheap Seats and The Sandman series of graphic novels, among many other works. His fiction has received Newbery, Carnegie, Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy and Eisner awards. Many of his novels, including Stardust and Coraline, have been made into major films and his bestselling novel American Gods will be a TV series airing in 2017. He has four children and one grandson. Originally from England, Neil now divides his time between living in the US and the UK.

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