On TBF today is a book that is special for quite a few reasons and I’ll explain them all in the review below. The book in question is Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman from Bloomsbury Publishing.
I bought this book last year when it was still hot off the press simply because it contained the words Norse and Mythology in one title. I’m a huge, HUGE mythology fan and Norse Mythology is on of those lesser known gems that have not yet been completely discovered and talked about as much as Greek or Egyptian Myths. To me, the fact that this was one concise guide to another beautiful, obscure culture and it’s roots was more than enough an incentive to buy it.
Norse Mythology is a collection of stories that explain in detail important concepts and foundations of the North Germanic people. Although with the uprising of Christianity, most of the literature and scriptures have been lost but a few passed on works have still survived through the concealment of the Gods as kings and princes so as to appease the Christian rule. Neil Gaiman has taken the stories from the poem called Edda and put through the situations through a little fictional magic of his own.
He goes on to explain the conception of the world according to Norsemen and how the use of pagan symbols and worship slowly formed a full fledged religion. The importance of the world tree Yggdrasil is understood as it marks the centre of the Norse Universe, stemming 9 realms from it. The Gods are born of a giant called Ymir and it’s his sons, Odin, Vili and Vè who later on slay him to create the remainder of all in existence, including Asgard and Midgard. The beginning also marks the existence of the end, Ragnarok. The Norse Universe exist on this very phenomenon that one day, the fire demon Surtr will bring the Norse Universe to an end with his flaming sword as it will slash through gods and mortals alike to lay it all to ruin.
The myths of Thor, Loki, Balder, Heimdall and other gods are presented through stories and narratives also highlighting all the important incidents such as Odin becoming an All-Father, how Mjollnir became Thor’s weapon, the creation of beasts and Hell and Valhalla, etc.
My main fascination was with the differences between the actual myths and the ones portrayed by pop culture. The following are the major points of differences:
- In the Marvel universe, Loki is referred to as the adopted brother of Thor but in reality, he is the blood brother of Odin instead.
- Hela is shown as a beautiful creature that rules the darkness and is the firstborn of Odin but infact, Hel is one of the offspings of Loki with the giantess Angrboda and is half corpse and half alive. It is Odin who sends her to rule the land of the underworld where she takes care of all the souls who didn’t die in battle and greatness and go on to Valhalla, the Norse Heaven.
- Thor is handsome and built and strong, is good at heart even if impulsive. However, unlike the suave Chris Hemsworth, he is also, to put it politely, dimwitted.
- Fenris the wolf is not a pet adopted by Hela/Hel but is one of the 3 monster children of Loki and Angrboda.
The fact that you get to meet another set of Gods according to a culture that basically thrived and flourished on battles and plundering, it is not astonishing to see that they are not perfect. The stories often drip of betrayal, jealousy, hatred and cunning which were obviously very essential qualities for a culture such as that. The Gods aren’t picture perfect and show through their own human traits which is what makes it as engaging and realistic as it is.
This was my first ever Neil Gaiman book and Needless to say, I am spellbound. The manner in which the stories are narrated actually feels like an age old storyteller, sitting in the woods in front of a bonfire to speak of the Gods and their long forgotten tales of valour, humour and cunning.
Often when a culture and it’s myths are retold, there remains the risk of either overdoing the creativity or understating the actual facts. This book was the perfect example of what literary and creative restraint look like. Gaiman made sure you got all the facts, a laugh and then some but without disturbing the credibility of the actual mythology. He has tried every possible way to maintain the sanctity of the culture without making it too factual and boring.
If you aren’t a non fiction lover and would not want all the extra information but would like to skip over to the stories, you can simply skip over the first 20 or so pages but don’t. YOU NEED ALL THE INFORMATION FOR IT ALL TO MAKE SENSE!!!
A 5 star read that actually made me smile and laugh after so long. Definitely a read worthy of all the hype.
Until next time!