Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology: A masterclass in storytelling
By: Kristin Milks, OverDrive Collection Development Analyst
Gods, heroes, drinking, battling, and a lot of clever brutes. Thus is Nordic mythology. Literature is informed by oral traditions of long ago like Homer’s works, religion, philosophy, and histories of the ancients. Most of us know a bit about Greek/Roman mythology due to the empire created by those peoples and the impact they made in the centuries they ruled, but what of the Norse? Other than some of D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths, I was relatively unaware of the Norse gods until I fell in love with JRR Tolkein and started finding familiar strains within his work to that of those old Norse tales. It was at that time that I dove into Padriac Colum’s Nordic Gods and Heroes. I never looked back, but instead found that these tales of the mighty and ultimately ill fated gods wove their way into other books I loved. Because these stories came from an older tradition, the books that pointed to these myths became more rounded in my eyes.
When W.W. Norton announced that Neil Gaiman was creating a new version of the Norse myths, the world stopped. Did you feel it too? Gaiman already has the chops as a master storyteller and so he is the perfect fit for the myths of the old vikings whose stories were passed down and (thankfully) collected on the page. Gaiman’s voice as storyteller does the glorious dance between present on the page (reminding the reader that someone is telling you this story) and passive (you are part of this story as it unfolds). Where Padriac Colum broke his volume of mythology into more individualized stories, Gaiman weaves the stories of Thor and Loki in Jotunheim, Loki’s underhanded doings and how he weasels his way out of them, and many more into single chapters. The best part of these myths is they don’t need to be read in a sitting. Because of the oral tradition these originate from, Gaiman has made sure that the chapters remain individualized while coming together to make a beautiful picture.
If you don’t know much about Nordic mythology, you are welcome to come feast with the gods of Asgard and open your horizons. Once you’ve consumed this mythology, you’ll find it hidden throughout literature. If you, like me, are already fond of these legends, let the Valkyrie bring you back to Valhalla where you will witness the gods play out their story for you once more, but with a different teller of their tales.
This book comes at the perfect time. Rick Riordan recently introduced kids to Magnus Chase, which is all about the gods of Asgard. So this is a perfect book for the budding fan of the Norse. Reader beware: Nordic gods and their tales are harsh. Strength, battle and cunning are undertones to all these myths, so make sure the uninitiated are prepared.
My only complaint is that many of the stories of the Norse gods are lost to history, so Gaiman is unable to write about them. What I would give to know more about Odin and the goddesses of Asgard. Please read this book. Debate if you prefer Gaiman of Colum and pass on the brutal, brilliant tales to a friend.