Ever since I was a kid I’ve always loved ancient mythologies, particularly Egyptian and Greek, but my favourite has always been Norse. Stories of Thor and Odin, of the Nine Realms connected by Yggdrasil, of giants, dwarves and elves. I’ve often eagerly searched for sources to learn more, but most media outlets these days only loosely portray the myths, instead taking the characters and putting them into different settings to suit the modern world. Think Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even the comics version is very much out-of-context.
When I learned Neil Gaiman, the mind behind American Gods, Stardust, and Coraline, had compiled a great handful of stories from Norse mythology into a book, I had to read it. Admittedly, it took me some time to get around to it, but eventually I picked up a copy and instantly devoured it. Thus follows my review of Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. All opinions here are mine alone. I have avoided spoilers as I would recommend you go out and read the book for yourself.
Gaiman has taken many of the more well-known stories and put his own artistic spin on them, without detracting from the generally accepted accounts. He has sought guidance from experts and consulted the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, both considered to be the authority on all things Asgardian. The first few stories deal with the creation of the worlds and the birth of the gods. Initially, they felt like something taken out of a history textbook. They are very factually written, as if Gaiman is giving a straight account of what is considered to have happened. I’ll be honest, whilst they were interesting, I didn’t find myself particularly hooked on what he was writing – it would have been cheaper to read Wikipedia!
It was with the story of the creation of Mjölnir, and other treasures, when I really became enraptured. As well as explaining the myths in a very matter-of-fact way, Gaiman has turned them into stories to be told at bedtime or around a campfire. He has littered them with his own created dialogue, which only serves to improve the stories, making them much more wondrous. He has also injected them with the perfect amount of humour, playing on some of the natural hilarity of the old viking tales.
Reading the book whilst knowng many of these tales already made it quite easy to digest, but seeing his take on things made me realise myths are not set in stone. They can be exaggerated or toyed with to make them seem much more magical. Having said that, there were some stories in the book which even I didn’t know! Stories such as Thor’s journey to Jötunheim, or the Stranger building a wall around Asgard. It was fun to learn new stories, and also to see the ones I knew so well come to life on the page.
My only criticism is it could have been longer. There are stories which Gaiman has not included, such as the romance between Helgi Hundingsbane and Sigrún, queen of the valkyries. Nevertheless, I do realise if Gaiman had truly wanted to compile every story from Norse mythology, he’d still be writing it!
All in all, I give the book a solid four stars out of five. How would you rate it?