Norse Mythology (Hardcover)
Neil Gaiman is an excellent story teller. Anyone who has read any of his books can confirm this. He is also extremely prolific He writes in so many formats and genres that he transcends the title of 'author' even. "I make things up and then I write them down," he says. Simple, and yet, not so. He not only makes things up and writes them down, he adapts, re-imagines, and re-creates classic stories and myths and re-introduces them to us.
The first of Gaiman's books that I read was "American Gods". It is a fantastic story, starkly luminous, a tale of mythic proportions and dark sensibilities. "American Gods" is a road-trip to the final battle, the no-holds barred, fight to the death between the old gods; those that traveled to America with immigrants from diverse lands, the titans of ancient creation; and the new, "...the gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon." It is a ripping good read.
In "Norse Mythology" Gaiman revisits one of my favorite characters from "American Gods", Odin, the All-Father, known as Mr Wednesday in "Gods". Mr Wednesday, who wandered America, "getting the band back together" as it were, recruiting what's left of the 'old gods' for the aforementioned final battle against all things wired and wireless. In "Mythology" he re-introduces us to Odin and the Norse pantheon on their own home ground, amongst the roots and branches of Yggdrasil the world-tree, from which the nine worlds are suspended.
Gaiman explains in his 'Introduction' to this fine book that his interest in the worlds and lives of the Norse gods first arose while reading of their exploits in Marvel comics and went on to discover their true stories, those that have been passed down through the millennia. My experience was similar and I still remember long afternoons as a boy, immersed in books of Norse mythology, reading about the courage of Thor as he battled the ice giants, the perfidy of Loki as he conspired against Balder and his own brothers and sisters, and not to mention, the fierce ambition of Odin as he hung from Yrrdrasil, risking death in his quest for knowledge. Even though I was generally familiar with the stories of Norse mythology, I was surprised that I was unfamiliar with those that Gaiman has selected for this collection. Rather than merely collecting and retelling the work of contemporary writers and scholars Gaiman went directly to the source material, translated from the Icelandic by Snorri Sturluson. These are known collectively as the prose eddas and poetic eddas, which comprise the written history, transcribed from traditional sources in Iceland 13th century, and chose those that he liked the best (he has excellent taste). He wrote that in many cases he combined and reconstructed the tales from both traditional eddas to recreate them more fully.
Even those these tales are ancient, and many cases predate the historic era, it goes without saying that they were told, collected shared and retold by modern humans, living with the same respect (or lack thereof) for archetypal morals that that we evince today. The same admonitions against overweening pride, disrespect for ones elders, deviousness and deceptiveness, and greed. Stories that will be relevant for every age and era. Gaiman tells them beautifully, humorously and intelligently, with great respect. He says himself, "I hope that I have retold these stories honestly, but there was still joy and creation in the telling," and further, "The joy comes in telling them yourself, something I encourage you to do... make them your own." So read Neil's book of venerable tales from a bygone era, share them with your friends and neighbors, they're all there, as are you and I, with all our graces and foibles.
Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.
In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin's son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki--son of a giant--blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.
Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor's hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman--difficult with his beard and huge appetite--to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir--the most sagacious of gods--is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.
Through Gaiman's deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.