Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman
There are few authors who successfully write in multiple genres as well as Neil Gaiman. The man is an absolute master. Gaiman’s writing style is thoroughly unique to him and translates easily to whatever genre he’s exploring. His narrative retelling of Norse mythology is no exception.
What’s the Book?
Norse Mythology is Gaiman’s narrative dive into the vast, complex, and sometimes outright confusing world of Norse myth. In his introduction, Gaiman presents a very honest take on the sparsity of chronicled myth and assures the reader that he will do his best to present the stories with honesty and a true writer’s effort. I believe he fully makes good on that promise.
This book retells the myths of the Vanir and Aesir and the vibrant world of Asgard. While ripe with well-researched knowledge, it never reads like a history textbook. This is storytelling, pure and simple. Even when he must take the time to unpack the vast cast that will weave in and out of the story, Gaiman makes his introductions poetic and memorable, causing the ready to slip easily into his words and trust the direction of the book. The episodic nature of the book weaves through some of the great tales of Norse mythology but also gives breathing room for some of the lesser-known ones. The characters are fleshed out with honesty, humor, and grit and with each passing story you find yourself seeing a little more of yourself and others in the players.
It should be noted that Norse mythology overall has some much more PG-13 content, and Gaiman doesn’t hold back on that score. Proceed at your own risk.
What It’s a Top Ten
The strength of Gaiman’s storytelling lies in the inviting way he presents his material. I have long been fascinated by Norse mythology but have often found written works on it lacking in the sweeping storytelling I’ve been hunting for. I’ve learned about these myths, yes, but I had yet to be allowed to simply be told the stories in such a way that I felt I was getting to know them. Gaiman offers that experience exactly.
I was surprised to find myself disconnecting from characters I had assumed as my favorites just because of their prominence in pop culture and finding other players with just as much depth and adventure. Where Gaiman could have just easily focused on the more prominent, well-known figures of Norse stories (which he gives plenty of stage time to. They are so prominent for a reason after all.) he does the greater work of remembering the players with just as much gumption, drive, and passion as the rest. As an author, he is unafraid of putting the spotlight on Norse mythology as a whole so that readers can experience the breadth of what is known of these fascinating tales.
While Gaiman makes room for the more lighthearted, campy episodes of the anthology (like the unconventional retrieval of Thor’s hammer Mjolnir), he does not shy away from the grit and fatalism that sets the Norse apart from other mythologies. At its core, Norse mythology operates on a grim understanding that the final battle is an inglorious, dark mess. The world of Asgard was always destined to fall in shadow and mayhem, and such knowledge certainly lurks in the corners of Gaiman’s singular storytelling. Yes, there is levity and hijinks, but there are moments of hardship and cost as well. The gods find themselves asking what prices they are willing to pay, and some are less than happy with the outcomes of their choices.
It’s a mark of Gaiman’s extraordinary talent that he is able to address both these facets of Norse storytelling, sometimes within the same chapter. His passion for creating this book is obvious and shows in a gripping, page-turning narrative that shines new light on familiar characters.