May 3, 2017

[Books] Norse Mythology Review

Like most people, my first encounter with Norse Mythology was through the Marvel comic Thor. While the comic was never meant to be an accurate depiction of the original Norse myths, they certainly have all the primary characters involved and the usual villains as well but in the end these were different stories.

My first effort to better understand  this sphere of mythology was through Bulfinch's Mythology, as I'm sure was the case for many other people. I later tried tackling Northern Mythology, but the text was pretty lengthy and quite academic so I never quite worked through it entirely. It has made for a great reference book over the years.

So I wasn't quite sure how to receive the news of Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology, but more of those mixed feels were certainly positive ones. On the one hand, what else was there to do with these classic stories that other authors had not already tackled, right? But on the flip side, this is still Neil Gaiman we're talking about and he is certainly one of the best storytellers we have around these days. If anyone could breath new life into the stories, it would be him.

Synopsis: Norse Mythology is a collection of various Norse myths as researched and retold by Neil Gaiman. The book covers all the big stories that Gaiman was able to find but keeps the tone light and easy to approach.

It's hard to summarize the "plot" of this book as it is a collection of shorter stories. If one were to attempt a decent summary then at its most basic one would say that it is the Norse perspective on how the world began and ultimately how it will end. It covers the origins of many things in Asgard and in Midgard, that we know as Earth. It covers the adventures of the various gods and how they become so legendary.

A lot of times, they're also stories of Loki and how his mischievous ways bring both good things and bad things for our divine heroes. In many way Loki is often the villain in most of these stories but he's also the source of Asgards greatest boons and treasures. And how that works out is just one part of what makes Norse mythology so fascinating.

What I Liked: Neil Gaiman's easy-going storytelling style is great and breaking down something as remote and potentially archaic as ancient myths. You can tell that a lot of hard work went into researching these stories and finding a way to retell them, in a manner that is respectful of the source material but still accessible to current readers. How he balances these objectives fairly to ultimately come up with such a compelling work is an admirable feat indeed.

I've read many of the popular Norse myths over and over again but it's only in this book that I fully appreciated some of the events and ultimately got to appreciate the larger stories as a whole. And that is the magic of this book. Sure, they're not necessarily new stories. But Gaiman shows a love and a passion for these myths that helps make his writing feel all the more vivid and real and that is a gift.

What Could Have Been Better: I have read a few comments about how the tone sounds a little childish at times and I can see that. It's not quite as silly as The Hobbit felt like to me at times. Still, it is a bit of a dissonant part of the book as a lot of us are older readers expecting other things from Gaiman. But it's totally understandable - you can feel the effort put into making this a book for all ages.

The book also feels a little short, but Gaiman did mention in the beginning of the book that his researched revealed how a lot of the stories have been lost over time. So it's sort of a take it or leave it kind of deal. These are all the stories he felt best represented the Norse pantheon and this is all we'll get. And it just shows how well-written the book is that the downside is wanting more.

TL;DR: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is a wonderful collection of the Norse myths told in a most beautiful manner. It's an easy read but it's also a great read and one should enjoy it for what it is.. Thus the book gets a brilliant 5 heroes and villains of old out of a possible 5.


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