Neil Gaiman is a man who needs no introduction. For years now, the Stardust author has been wowing fans all over the world with his unique turn of phrase and ability to draw readers into worlds other than the one they currently inhabit.
As a lover of Greek and Roman mythology, I had been looking for some time for the perfect introduction to Norse mythology and Gaiman’s offering on the topic ticks all the right boxes. Given that it was also my first reading of works by this particular author, I couldn’t go past the idea of killing two birds with one stone – as the case may be.
With continued success of Stan Lee’s Thor and the big screen adaptation of his adventures, society has become somewhat more versed in the exploits of this much-loved folklore. But what about the feats of Thor’s comrades and their enemies? How, for instance, did the Asgard come to be and what influence does Ragnarok have on the modern world, if indeed this has come to pass? What about one-eyed Odin, the surveyor of all? How did he bestow the gift of poetry upon the people? And what’s Freya’s real story?
In Norse Mythology, Gaiman seeks to go beyond that which pop culture has taught us, through the likes of JK Rowling and Stan Lee, to the original sources, to books such as Rudolf Simek’s A Dictionary of Norse Mythology and Snorri Sturluson’s 900 year old Prose Edda. But, as he reiterates, Asgar’s stories cannot be broken down to a finite science:
“There are so many Norse stories we do not have, so much we do not know. All we have are some myths that came to us in the form of folktales, in re-tellings, in poems and prose … All mistakes, conclusions jumped to and odd opinions in this volume are mine and mine alone … I hope I’ve told these stories honestly, but there was still joy and creation in the telling.”
What makes Norse Mythology so appealing is contained within those words. It’s a fan’s interpretation. As a child, Gaiman discovered Norse Mythology through the Marvel comics and made it his mission in life to learn everything he could about the myths and legends surrounding the characters upon which they were based. Even in the introduction, Gaiman’s passion for his subject is contagious and that is what makes this book great.
And yet, while the stories he relayed might not be as pure as those when they were first told, there is no denying that the tales woven within Norse mythology itself – as with all good mythology recounting – have a life of their own, and the skill with which Gaiman relays them can only be admired, as he unveils a world and characters with which the modern world is no longer familiar.
After all, mythology is all about the folklore of ancestors long ago – whose tales linger with a certainty and beauty rarely found in today’s literature. They’re for man and child, no matter the age, for interpretation and wonder. And once you’ve finished Norse Mythology, take up Gaiman’s invitation to, “make them your own, and on some dark and icy winter’s evening, or on a summer night when the sun will not set, tell your friends what happened.”