If, like me, most of your interaction with the Norse Gods, Thor & Loki, has been through the Marvel films or comics, then Norse Mythology will be a delight and a revelation. Neil Gaiman has taken the legends of the Norse Gods, found in sagas and poems, and retold them. Just as Phillip Pullman did with “Grimm Tales” (a collection of the Brothers Grimm European fairytales, which were foundation for Walt Disney’s classic animations).
The Norse Gods are fickle, impulsive beings. Stubborn, violent, proud and fun-loving. Some of the tales will fill you with laughter, others will make your blood curdle.
Gaiman has assembled these stories through diligent research of the remaining Norse sagas; a collection of myths, legends and pseudo-history. He estimates that around 20% of the original legends of the Norse Gods survive, but the picture still feels complete enough to build a new world.
And what a wonderful, weird world it is. There are wolves and serpents, shapeshifters and frost giants. There is a creation myth and an end-times myth. Stories of love and vengeance, hatred and fun. Ancient tales of morality, redemption, betrayal and salvation run through it.
There are tales reminiscent of the Greek and Roman Gods, of Christianity, of Hinduism. A reminder, perhaps, of their common roots, or that they might have evolved multiple times because of man’s need for stories that make sense of the world. Structures and echoes that can be seen in Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or other modern classics. And, of course, the foundations of the Marvel stories are here.
The foreshadowing of Loki’s downfall and of Ragnarok gives each fun adventure a pleasantly bitter aftertaste, and any student of literature and stories should relish the book for how it evokes a universe and a feeling without making you grasp for a dictionary.