the Little Red Reviewer

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Posted on: March 4, 2019

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

published January 2017

where i got it: borrowed from a friend

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I’d thought this book came out way more than two years go?  I got quite the surprise when I flipped to the copyright page and saw that Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology came out in 2017.  When the book came out, I remember seeing tons and tons of hype, gorgeous cover art, and being so buried in Marvel Thor movies that the last thing i wanted was more Thor fiction.

 

When my friend lent me his copy of Norse Mythology, I ran my hands over the embossed cover, tried (and failed) to find constellations in the scattering of stars, and thought to myself “yeah, I’m finally ready for some Thor fiction”.  Thing is, and and I’m so pleased to say it, this is not “Thor fiction”. This book is literally what is says on the tin – this is not reimagining of Norse myths, or retellings, or modern takes on them.  Gaiman studied the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, read the commentaries, and dug into the dusty, cobwebby corners.  He sought to understand where these stories may have come from, how they may have evolved over the centuries, he mourned what has been lost because it was slowly forgotten through the oral tradition and never written down. This volume is a selection of Norse myths, told in Gaiman’s signature style of deceptively simple prose that pulls you in, and just keeps pulling.  His introduction alone is a brilliant piece of writing.

 

If you have ever read Edith Hamilton’s famous Mythology (ok, so it isn’t Norse), and wished for something a little easier on the eyes, something that didn’t assume you had already studied for years, something that was a joy to read, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is for you.

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Told as short stories, Gaiman starts you with the birth of the Gods and Goddesses, and takes you all the way to Ragnarok. The stories happen chronologically, so once Thor is gifted with his hammer, he has it in future stories. Once Frey gives up his sword in payment, he never has it again. Once Balder is dead, he’s dead.    Once it becomes known that Loki has other children that Odin didn’t previously know about, those children become part of the mythology for the rest of time. Once Loki loses the trust of his fellow immortals for the last time, there is no escape for him. And Thor is . . . nowhere near as smart as certain movies would have you believe.

 

This was the perfect bedtime book.  None of the entries are very long, they functioned perfectly as something to read to calm my brain down. Keep in mind tho, that due to the stories being in general chronological order, it’s best if you read them in order.  Treat this book like a mosaic novel made up of various smaller, interlinked stories (wait a minute, is this a fix up novel? lol!).

My favorite stories were “The Treasures of the Gods”, in which we learn how Thor got his hammer; “Freya’s Unusual Wedding”, in which as usual, someone wants to marry Freya, and Loki gets forced to help her avoid the wedding that must take place; “The Children of Loki”,  in which Loki’s children are given dominion over parts of the world, leaving me to wonder if those areas would not exist at all in the stories if Loki had not been father to these children; and “The Death of Baldur” because it is so absolutely tragic.

 

As Gaiman explains in the introduction, Loki is, well, complicated.  He’s the guy who starts all the trouble, he’s the guy who manages to get people out of it.  It’s like he’s playing the biggest ever game of “go big or go home”. It’s like Loki knows that not one of us gets out of this alive, so he’s going to make sure he has an interesting life, god damn it..  His complexity means I can’t stop watching him. He’s the Uther Doul of this story.

 

Loki is married to Sigyn, but he has three children by the giantess Angrboda.  His monsterous children are brought to Asgard, where they are revealed to be a serpent, a wolf, and a morbid little girl.  The serpent becomes Jormungundr, who encircles Midgard, the little girl is Hel, who is given dominion over the land of those who died in unworthy ways, and the wolf is of course Fenrir.  A test of strength ends with Fenrir promising to kill Odin. In a way, everyone has the opportunity to meet Loki’s children – his serpent child shows the boundaries of the land of the Gods, if you die of illness or old age you will spend eternity as a ward of his daughter, and everytime Tyr shows up and you see how his arm ends in a stump, you know why Fenrir feels so bitter towards the norse pantheon.

 

In the end, when Loki finally has no favors left to give, nothing left that he can bargain, when he’s been responsible for the death of Baldur, when he’s screwed up one to many tiems,  when the other gods and goddesses are finally sick of him, they hatch a plan to imprison Loki until the end of time. Sigyn is invited to this “ceremony”, and she’s asked to bring a bowl.  Their sons Vali and Narfi are brought in, and Loki and Sigyn are forced to watch one brother murder the other. Loki is bound. When Sigyn asks “what about me?”, the other gods tell her that they don’t care what she does.  However tragic I ever thought Loki might have been, Sigyn is a million times more tragic. Oh, you’re intrigued by Sigyn too? You may enjoy this Loki and Sigyn guest post from author Alis Franklin.

 

So anyway,  Norse Mythology isn’t a novel.  If you’re looking for another Ocean at the End of the Lane, or Graveyard Book, or even American Gods, this book is not that.  But it’s well worth the read, and if you read it before bed, you’ll have fantastic dreams. In fact, i might read it again, cover to cover, before giving it back to the friend who lent it to me.

 

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18 Responses to "Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman"

Yep. Just a great book. I loved that it was so straightforwardly just Norse mythology and not a Norse-flavored Gaiman novel or a retelling with a twist. Just beautiful.

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I think that’s why I’d avoided this book when it came out – i thought it was going to be a Norse-flavored novel, or some kind of modern retelling or something. I should have read this back when it came out, it’s exactly what I was looking for back then ! (and now!)

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I fancy reading this one and have for a while. I’m waiting for a nice quiet spell. I must confess I also thought this was going to be a retelling so it’s interesting to learn that it’s so straightforward. I think the only thing that probably stops me picking this up is I don’t really do that well with short stories, but then, it’s Gaiman so I’ll just have to get over myself.
Lynn 😀

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what’s nice about short stories, and these short stories in particular, is that you don’t have to wait for a quiet spell. you can read this 5 minutes at a time, even if you only pick it up once a week to read one story. It’s very straightforward, and when you finish one short story there’s no pressure to start the next one. I liked that alot of the stories ended with something along the lines of “and that’s how Thor got his hammer”. it was a very satisfying ending!

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Great review of this book. It is exactly how I felt after reading it but you put it so much better than I.

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thank you! i was surprised how hard it was for me to put my thoughts together on this one. You’d think what is in effect a short story collection would be easier to talk about . . . but somehow no.

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I love your review! Neil Gaiman writes in such an amazing form and manner, I believe that he has something which no other author has. This book itself proved it. Follow my blog: https://eatlovebooks.wordpress.com/

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Thanks for stopping by! I always enjoy reading Neil Gaiman. 🙂

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You’ve put it perfectly. 🙂
I read this a couple of months back. In one of those wonderfully serendipitous moments I had also just started playing God of War on the PS4, in which Baldur shows up. Not that you know it’s him at the beginning … unless you’d just read Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, of course! Mwah-ha-ha-ha! 😀

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it’s funny you should mention a serendipitous moment, as I had one too that involves Gaiman’s Norse Mythology – shortly after reading it, I picked up the Kevin Hearne Iron Druid book where Atticus goes to Asgard . . . climbs Yggdrasil and meets Ratatosk, steals some apples, as one does.

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Ha! Awesome! Don’t you just love it when this happens? 😀

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I have this on my list to buy from Amazon.

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I’m so late to comment, but I love love loved this book! Yeah maybe Baldur’s death was tragic, but Loki was just sick and jealous of all the attention he was getting. Personally, I think the punishments that Loki got were way too extreme for the crime. Lips sowed shut and his children murdered while he watched? Poor Loki, man.

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So happy you loved this books as much as i did! I’m happy you found your way to this post. 🙂

I agree! Loki was a trickster jerk, but the punishments meted out were over the top. like, they couldn’t have just turned him into a mute goat or something? or cut his hand off?

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Great blog post. I did one similar to that! Would love it if you would follow me: https://eatlovebooks.wordpress.com/

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thanks for letting me know about your site, i’ll check it out! 🙂

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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