Whether you grew up with the stories of the Norse gods or just heard their names occasionally, Norse Mythology will bring you back to a time where people drank mead and sword fights were won and lost. It’s written in the style of traditional oral storytelling, making it feel as if someone is telling the stories around a campfire dressed in wolf fur.
Gaiman’s new book invites the reader back into Midgard and the nine worlds connected by Yggdrasil’s branches. He re-tells the stories about the Aesir, the Vanir, the giants, the elves and the other mythological creatures.
Norse Mythology consists of sixteen short stories that can all be read independently just like any mythological tale. It is recommended, though, to read from beginning to end in order to be able to see the greater picture. Gaiman has created a timeline which makes the mythology easier to follow and appreciate.
It starts with an introduction of the gods that will play the most vital parts in the stories that follow, and then dives straight into the creation story on its way towards Ragnarok. The road between the mythological beginning and its end is where all the adventure happens. For example: the time when Loki’s mischief lead Thor to Mjollnir; the creation of the Midgard serpent, the Fenris Wolf and Hel, the goddess of the underworld, who will all play critical parts in Ragnarok; and the story about Balder, the most beautiful of all the gods, and his destiny that involved all living things.
These are stories about trickery and betrayal, of the gods outsmarting and being outsmarted by each other and their enemies, of love and friendship and everything that makes human interaction hard but also enjoyable, with the strength and power of the gods.
Gaiman’s storytelling creates a distinct voice that makes it easy to forget that one is reading and not listening to the stories. He has adapted a simple and fluid narration, mimicking the oral tradition in which the stories were first born. He makes the tales easy to understand for any age while keeping the brutality and carnage true to the Viking times. It is not an easy task to introduce old stories to a new generation, when many have heard the stories since childhood, but he does a marvellous job at sorting out the legends and facts which have been questionably used in previous adaptations. He does not try to add layers to fit the stories to our times but knows that by letting the stories speak for themselves one will find the most pleasure and understanding of Norse Mythology.
For someone who has previous experience of the adventures in Midgard, Gaiman’s introduction should not go unread. Not only does he make one nostalgic about the dark freezing winters and the never setting sun in the summers, but explains the decisions he has made in his writing process. One will also be pleased to know that Gaiman has done thorough research before tackling the stories. But in the end his literary genius and imagination works constantly towards the mythology’s reconstruction.
Norse Mythology: Neil Gaiman. Bloomsbury, 2017.