“‘Treacherous Odin!’ called the wolf. ‘If you had not lied to me, I would have been a friend to the gods. But your fear has betrayed you. I will kill you, Father of the Gods. I will wait until the end of things, and I will eat the sun and I will eat the moon. But I will take the most pleasure in killing you.'”
Ever since I was a kid I have always loved mythology and all the unique captivating tales the genre offers as explanation for happenings in the world. When I was younger this was primarily through Greek mythology, but as I’ve gotten older I have made efforts to expand and diversify my understanding of other cultures’ mythologies as well. When reflecting on Norse mythology, I realized that my knowledge of it was pretty much limited to Marvel movies and the most recent God of War game (as of 2018), and while I don’t doubt that said creative properties’ teams were committed to producing well-researched content in regards to their source material… I decided that I should make an effort to learn more about it myself, and this was the perfect book to do that with! Told as a series of short stories adapted from various classic Norse/Icelandic/Scandinavian tales, poems, songs and legends, this book offers a glimpse into some of the most entertaining and fascinating Norse myths that have not been lost to time through a more contemporary narrative style. Neil Gaiman was able to take a subject matter which can at times be very dense with information and necessary historical context, and managed to make it easily accessible to modern readers without sacrificing the quality of its content. This was a very engaging and educational read!
There were several gods and creatures whose stories I had never heard of until reading this book, from Bragi: the god of poetry, to Jörmungandr: the gigantic sea serpent… and while many of their tales were very interesting, the focus was definitely on Odin, Thor and Loki overall, deservedly so in my opinion. They’re stories tended to be the most exciting, and they all had great distinct characterizations from one-another, but Loki was without a doubt the star of the show. Knowing him primarily for his title of “trickster god”, I expected him to get into a considerable degree of nonsense going into this book but I didn’t anticipate just how likable, and at times sympathetic, he would be. Yes, he was conniving, mischievous and selfish, but he could also be smart, resourceful and very humorous. He was just as likely to get himself and those around him into trouble as he was to get them out of it, and much like the other gods, it was easy as a reader to be woo’d by his charm and charisma even when you know you should know better. His children were fascinating to learn about as well, with Hel: the ruler of the realm of those who did not die nobly in battle, and Fenris: a gigantic wolf, being particular stand-outs.
A flaw I have occasionally found in mythology is that the grandeur and epic scope of the gods, at times, makes it feel as if all of their personalities sort of blend together, with them all being varying degrees of stoic and generically arrogant. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but I appreciated Gaiman’s choice to add very human elements of humor and vulnerability to the god’s personalities, as this made them much more relatable and likable (which is especially impressive considering that the gods across several cultures’ mythologies are somewhat infamous for being…well…assholes). I was also caught off guard but just how often this book had me laughing at loud, which was especially prevalent in my favorite of these short stories titled “Freya’s Unusual Wedding”. After Thor’s hammer is stolen by an ogre named Thrym, the ogre says that he will only return it if Freya marries him, and when she refuses to take part in this bargain what ensues is a hilarious story in which Thor gets dressed up in drag as Freya, and him and Loki have to attempt to keep up the charade until they can swipe the hammer. My only complaint is that I wish that story could have been longer!
“Your hammer has been stolen by Thyrm, lord of all the ogres,” [Loki] said. “I have persuaded him to return it to you, but he demands a price.”
“Fair Enough,” said Thor. “What’s the price?”
“Freya’s hand in marriage.”
“He just wants her hand?” asked Thor hopefully. “She has two hands, after all, and might be persuaded to give up one of them without too much of an argument.”
“All of her,” said Loki. “He wants to marry her.”
My only actual complaint with this book, and it really is quite minor, is that I wish that some of the other god’s personalities could have been fleshed out a bit more, as while they’re stories were still interesting, they were noticeably less enjoyable then those centered around Odin, Thor and Loki. Despite this, I still loved this book! It could be epic, clever, thought-provoking, hilarious and dark, and it makes me eager to go out and find more novels of its kind that translate mythology for modern audiences. Definitely pick this up if you want a super entertaining read that will teach you something along the way! 4.5/5