I’m not a huge fan of Gaiman and I’m not big on mythology or fantasy of any kind so it’s understandable I wasn’t crazy about this book. Why did I read it? Because I do feel a kind of curiosity about the gods of my ancestors the ones the Christians essentially eradicated and replaced – although that took quite a while. Actually, I am so Norwegian I have a brother named Thor. – And I really WANT to enjoy good fantasy – like Ursula Le Guin and Gaiman and Tolkien and China Meiville, but …
Approached properly, the book is not entirely fantasy because Gaiman did NOT completely invent these – he read Snorri and other early interpretations to form his own retelling. That makes it kind of historical in a way – to me anyway.
by Neil Gaiman
2017/ 304 pages
read by Neil Gaiman
rating: 7.5/ fantasy
And “chronology” is, perhaps, the wrong word. The world of the Norse gods is not one of creationism or even a linear base. Rather, it’s the cyclical story of ultimate destruction and re-creation, one universe out of the ashes of the prior, but which is also ultimately destroyed to recreate, and so on. It’s kind of like the Big Bang idea is cyclical.
After a very informative introduction, Gaiman’s retelling starts with the Tree of Yggdrasil from which many worlds grow including the world of Asgard where the gods live. Also in Asgard, logs from the that tree of life are used to create the first humans. It ends with the Ragnarök – the end of the gods.
The book is composed of stories, some long enough to have chapters, which concern the same major characters – the gods plus an assortment of giants, trolls and a couple of humans. There’s the all-powerful Odin king of the gods and the ruler of Asgard, and his son Thor who is the strongest but maybe not the brightest of the lot. Then there’s Loki who is a tricky little god/giant creature. And there are the goddesses Freya and Idunn.
The narrative, after the first part and actually entering the realm of the gods, Thor’s wife’s golden locks have been stolen and Thor goes to Loki and demands their return or else! Loki is a bright but mean little cuss and generally up to no good – we get some background on Thor and Odin, their special objects, the hammer and the
And then there’s the time when the gods wanted a wall built around Asgard –
Except in rare moments, the characters never break free of the binds of cartoon images – that wouldn’t be so bad if there were some other overarching point of the book, a couple of meaty themes, perhaps, or a wonderfully literary writing. But no, it’s a fantasy and perhaps (!) a bit of history in that these are based on the closest thing we have to the originals from the years of pagan western Scandinavia.
I understand that Gaiman researched what is available and developed his own stories – that’s cool – but I think the original were really more grim and violent. This might be similar to comparing the Grimm story of Cinderella to the Disney version and I think the original transcriber changed them a bit, too.
Fans of Gaiman or fantasy in general might very well love this book. (I did read but couldn’t quite enjoy The Ocean at the End of the Lane – I gave it a 7 – also read Neverwhere but that’s been a long time ago and I think I remember enjoying it somewhat more.
I could probably stand to read it again and make sure I haven’t missed something but … (sigh) …
The only Norse mythology I’ve ever read is an old children’s edition by Roger Lancelyn Green published as a Penguin Puffin. I bet that was ‘cleaned up’ too because I don’t remember it being all that exciting… mythology needs a good bit of blood and thunder IMO!
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I’ve not really read any other version but I knew they were bloody – I’ve seen them around – comic books, etc. There’s some blood in this but it’s not nearly as bad as the serial killer crime books I’ve read.