I originally read Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman in November 2017, so it’s about time I get the review posted!
While I’ve read several books by Gaiman, this was a departure for both me and, I think, for him. While he has incorporated elements of this mythology into his writing before (think Odd and the Frost Giants), he has — to my knowledge — never before attempted to lend his own voice to stories that are not his own, in order to bring them to a new audience. This would be a tall order for anyone, even an author as skilled as him.
Luckily, Gaiman does a marvelous job bringing these myths to life. We meet figures both familiar and unfamiliar, such as Mimir, Odin, Thor, Freya, and Loki, and visit the Nine Worlds through their eyes. Tales such as that of Kvasir’s mead, Freya’s wedding, Balder’s death, and of course Ragnarok are all detailed here with Gaiman’s distinctive and engaging narrative voice. Yet he also remains faithful — as far as I know — to the tone and content of the original tales. The strangeness characteristic of so many mythologies is also clear here: we see mead made from blood, a wolf born from a giant, hair possessing magical properties, and a land of dwarves. None of these are necessarily realistic, but the lessons they teach certainly are. Through the Nine Worlds, we learn about our own hearts and minds.
One thing I have always loved about mythology is just that: how the stories people have told about matters such as the forces of nature, the origins of earth, and the supposed end of all life reflect what those societies believed and prioritized. Gaiman is clearly aware of this throughout his retellings, as he gives these stories — sometimes violent, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes amusing — a thoughtful depiction for modern audiences.
In the end, Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is an excellent look at some of the most important tales from Scandinavia, and it is accessible and enjoyable for even those who are completely ignorant of the subject. Take me for example: before reading this book, all I knew about Norse myths came from Marvel’s Thor!
Overall rating: 8/10