‘Before the beginning there was nothing – no earth, no heavens, no stars, no sky; only the mist world, formless and shapeless, and the fire world, always burning.’
In Norse Mythology Neil Gaiman invites us to pull up a seat by the fire with our friends and family and listen as we learn about the gods and how they shaped the world.
The book is Neil Gaiman’s retelling of 15 tales from the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, and it effectively transports the reader into the place of early Scandinavians, looking for meaning in the world; an explanation for why things are the way they are, and what qualities one should have if they wish to please the gods.
Each chapter is a separate tale, and can be read individually, or as a series of highlights in the massive timeline that is existence itself. The stories are clear to read and easy to understand for the modern reader, with a narrative style more similar to the Hobbit than the Lord of the Rings. Every detail given adds to the readers understanding of the world, the gods and their relationships, and gives clues as to the stories that we are not told, all without bogging down the narrative or leading to confusion.
Reading this book reacquainted me with stories that I read as a child. I half remember reading the stories of when Thor and Loki travelled to Jotenheim and were tested by the giants, and that Loki was somehow the mother of Odin’s horse Sleipnir, but I could never remember the details. Now, thanks to Neil Gaiman’s masterful retelling these stories are firmly fixed in my mind.
The stories this book tells have not only informed my understanding of the old Norse culture, but continue to inform my experience of more modern media, such as the God of War remake, and Marvel’s Thor movies. Having an understanding of source material allows you to better appreciate the creativity of the authors of these newer stories and interpretations, which I have found improves my enjoyment of these other media, although my friends and family might not appreciate the little ‘did you knows’ I now have at my fingertips when we watch Thor: Ragnarok…
There were parts of this book where I thought the writing was a touch over simplistic, explaining a bit too much, but in the same breath, these are stories you could read to children almost verbatim, and it would be enjoyed. There is always a balance to be struck with accessible storytelling, and I believe that Neil Gaiman has achieved that balance with this book.
If you have even a passing interest in Norse mythology, or the modern stories that have been influenced by it, I would recommend reading this book. It is a short, easy read that, that does not require you to be a linguist to enjoy.