Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Review by Kylie Thompson
Rating: 4 and a half stars
Genre: fiction/ mythology
The Norse myths have seen a resurgence of popularity, with Thor and Loki living large on screens care of the Marvel™ Cinematic Universe. It’s led to an upswing of people interested in learning more about the original myths. But the kennings and stories of the pantheon’s original, non-comic worthy mythology can be a little hard to follow at times, and if you’re not great at remembering names? It can be a struggle.
The Norse myths are a fantastic starting point to mythology- though they can be complicated to follow while you’re learning the language style (if you had difficulties with Shakespeare, for example, you’ll know that learning how older languages ebb and flow can take a little time), they’re also a lot of fun. Even though there are epic quests and tales of daring heroism, there’s a playfulness, even a silliness, to many of the challenges that arise for the Asgardians. And though the Marvel™ ‘verse alludes to the original myths, it ignores the wilder, more hilarious elements of the mythology, which is a shame. Marvel™ Thor in a wedding dress would be brilliant.
Though he can’t give you Chris Hemsworth in a dress, Neil Gaiman has decided to remedy the rest of that oversight. ‘Norse Mythology’ retells a selection of the old stories, the language modernised and made easier to follow. It keeps the heart and soul of the stories, and stays as close as possible to the feeling of the originals without the confusion that can sometimes arise. If you’ve ever wanted to know the stories, but baulked at the choice between academic field-day or children’s stories, this is an ideal middle ground to start from.
For those who know only the Marvel™ iterations, it might take some getting used to. Thor isn’t blonde, Loki isn’t Tom Hiddleston (sadly), and there’s not a lot of concern for psychological narrative or backstories in mythology. But that’s part of the fun, really.
There are certainly moments that harken back to the modern world’s political climate (wall building to keep the supposed riff-raff out, for example), and like all the world’s mythologies, there’s a hint of life advice scattered throughout the pages- though how helpful ‘don’t annoy Loki’ is as life advice in the modern world, I hesitate to guess.
This isn’t the first time Gaiman has revamped a classic tale: his ‘The Graveyard Book’ is a modern reimagining of Rudyard Kipling’s iconic ‘The Jungle Book’- with spirits replacing the animals, and Gaiman taking rather clear delight in ripping away the inherent racism of the original work. In ‘Norse Mythology’, though, Gaiman has stayed closer to the original texts, scaling it down to a simple, easy to follow narrative.
‘Norse Mythology’ is the sort of book perfectly capable of working magic. Gaiman, as always, has a flair for creating emotionally compelling worlds with small, simple details. If you like your myths and legends filled with humour and whimsy, this is certainly a great addition to your bookshelves. But if you’ve always thought myths would be boring, and avoided them like trigonometry, this is quite possibly the book to change your mind. Besides, it’s Neil Gaiman. You know it’s gonna be great.
‘Norse Mythology’ is published through Bloomsbury, and is available at leading retailers both online and off.