I was excited when I heard that Gaiman was doing a book involving Norse myth. Going full force with the assumptions, I thought it would be an extension of his work along the likes of American Gods and Anansi Boys. I was mildly disappointed when Audible finally dropped the audiobook and I begin listening, but got over that quickly. There was none of Gaiman’s signature fantastical imagination behind the stories, but his wit and love for telling a good story permeated each tale in the book, and that was more than good enough.
If you’ve never read them before, the Norse myths reflect gods and goddesses very close to the humanity that worships them. They love, hate, laugh, grow old (if they’re not careful) and sometimes die (if they’re really not careful) just like us. They are capable of great sacrifice and equal pettiness. The Prose Eddas, the go-to collection of Norse myths compiled in the 13th century by the scholar and historian Snorri Sturluson, tells the story of the Norse dieties, from their carving of the worlds out of the great void Ginnungagap through to the apocalyptic end/beginning of rebirth at Ragnarok. This is the material that Gaiman weaves his renditions out of. The Norse myths, while a fascinating read for lovers of mythology and cultural anthropology, can run a bit dry. Scandinavian pragmatism being what it is, the Eddas focus more on what the Norse dieties do than what they say and how they say it. Gaiman breathes life and character into the gods and goddesses of the Norse, giving them depth and character not immediately gleaned out of their myths. Odin shows his wisdom, Freyja shows her strength of character having to deal with the oft-times yutzes she’s surrounded by, Loki shows his cleverness (Loki is a bit of a murder hobo at the end of the day, but he does it with such style.). Tyr’s sacrifice of his hand in order to bind the great wolf Fenris is written with such tension and dignity that the moment comes to life. Gaiman’s conversations between the dieties and other beings in the myths are filled with wit as well, a great departure from the myths.
Again, these stories are the completely true to the myths that they come from, with none of the modern fantasy elements that Gaiman is known for. This should not deter you from the book. By his own admission in the prologue the Norse myths are one of the sources of inspiration for what he writes today, and the care and attention he gives to the stories in Norse Mythology are as good a tribute to that love that anyone could ask for.
Norse Mythology can be purchased here.