For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the Greek myths. What began as a school assignment quickly turned into a passion as I began to learn more and more about the classical world. I dabbled a little in other mythologies (mostly Egyptians and Romans), but as far as I was concerned, nothing could match the beauty of the Greek stories.
My preference is still for the Greeks, but I’m now finding out that the Norse myths are alot of fun too.
As you could probably guess from the title, Norse Mythology is a collection of some of the best known Norse myths as told by one of the world’s greatest living fantasy authors, Neil Gaiman. According to Gaiman himself, his main sources for this project were translations of the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, the two ancient Icelandic documents from which we derive nearly of our knowledge of Norse mythology. He then took those stories and rewrote them in his own words.
I suppose I should mention now that my knowledge of Norse mythology effectively ends with this book and Bulfinch’s Mythology. I have no idea how true or untrue Gaiman is to the original Eddas, nor can I tell you how this book measures up to other retellings. All I can tell you is what impression the stories themselves made on me.
So this book has been on both New York Times bestseller list and Amazon’s Top 100 Books list ever since its release in February. It’s been a huge success, and I think there’s a good reason for that, one that doesn’t have to do with Gaiman’s notoriety as an author or the Marvel Cinematic Universe; whilst the world of the Norse myths can be very dark and harsh. there’s also a thread of hope that runs through these stories. No matter what king of harrowing adventures these characters get into, the good guys always win and the bad guys always lose. I know I’m not the first person to observe that our entertainment had gotten dreadfully cynical as of late, full of anti-heroes and ambiguous villains. There’s something to be said a for a good anti-hero or a complex villain, but every now and then, you want to be reminded of brave warriors and heroic courage, to steal a line from C.S. Lewis. This is what myths and legends are for, and this is why no matter who you are, how old you are, or where you’re from, these stories will resonate with you.
In addition to being rolllicking fantasy tales, the Norse myths can also be very funny. For some reason, I was under the mistaken impression that Norse mythology is dark and serious all the way through, so I was surprised when I found myself laughing – hard and loud – at 1 o’clock in the morning over some of these stories. It’s not a type of humour that everyone will necessarily enjoy. Some of it is a little dark and most of it was crude. But I laughed nonetheless.
Another thing that surprised me in the book was the narration. I anticipated that the tone in these readings that Gaiman uses in his adult fiction. Instead, the vocabulary is simplified and there were less of that sense of mystery and suspense that you sometimes see in Gaiman. But because this book is intended for all ages, I can understand why he would choose to adopt a more straightforward writing style.