Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman
“Before the beginning there was nothing – no earth, no heavens, no stars, no sky: only the misty world, formless and shapeless, and the fire world, always burning.”
A good read for a dark and stormy night, preferably in front of a roaring fire to keep the dark of midwinter at bay. The stories are darkly funny and violent, in that way that Neil Gaiman has. I read this book entirely because I adored American Gods, which was darkly funny and massively violent, and introduced Odin to me as a very underhanded and cunning god just trying to make a living in America. If you haven’t read it, you definitely should, as it is brilliant and obviously steeped in Norse mythology (among others). Now, while Norse Mythology is no American Gods, it is worth the read.
I didn’t think I knew that much about Norse myths when I started to read, but realized quickly that I was familiar, at least in part, with many of the myths. I knew of Thor and Loki, although almost entirely from the Avengers movies. I had heard of the Valkyries and Valhalla. And so many legends and myths are intertwined with myths from other cultures. The creation myths, of monsters that gave birth to gods, is very familiar with Greek myths, as is the murky underworld where unworthy souls are delivered over a river (Hel in Norse, Hades in Greek). And the gods are always getting into scrapes, as their immortal lives are full of fighting and screwing and conniving (if you’re Loki) and blundering (if you are Thor).
The gods themselves are really the reason to read, as they are so well defined in this reading of the myths. While all the gods are crazy violent, Thor is the craziest most violent of them all. He is kind of a lovable buffoon, and not the smartest of the gods.
“Tyr said to Thor, ‘I hope you know what you are doing.” “Of course I do,” said Thor. But he didn’t. He was just doing whatever he felt like doing. That was what Thor did best.”
And I am a fan of Freya, as she knows what she is about and I am here for it. Despite the many, many times the gods tried to marry her off to get them out of scrapes, she always held her ground. You know she was going to stir up some shit and never went along meekly with their half-baked plans.
"What kind of person do you think I am?” she asked very quietly. “Do you think I am that foolish? That disposable? That I’m someone who would actually marry an ogre just to get you out of trouble?" … The walls shuddered once again, and Thor feared the entire building would fall upon them.
Loki is really the star of the Norse pantheon of gods. Everything about him is complicated and compelling and sometimes evil, and by far he is the most interesting of all the gods. He saves them, then he destroys them. His plans cause havoc and then merriment, and Loki loves it all. He is fluid, bisexual, pangender (panspecies, really, since as a shapeshifter he can ...) Of course, his grand plan does include bringing about the end of the world (Ragnarok). And yet you can't help but like the apocalyptic scamp. Also, what would life be without an ending, and also a new beginning?
And the game begins anew.
It is a really a collection of short stories. If you are going to sit down and read them all together (as I did), it is a really quick read, and could even be done in one sitting. However, I think the book and these tales deserve more than that. They should be savoured and enjoyed one at a time, and would work well as stories to tell around the fire, one at a time. I might try this with my kids, when I don’t think they will give them nightmares.