Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
W. W. Norton & Company (February 2017)
304 pages; $13.66 hardback; $9.32 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
Norse mythology has always been a strange beast. Its tenets reach around what most readers know from Greek, Roman, and Christian stories, delving into the darker but wackier side of the tales passed down through our Jungian collective. Whereas most other cultures took themselves a little too seriously for the most part, Norse mythology dances with the devil, tosses him in the air, tosses back a few, and laughs into the great beyond.
What better author to spin these tales than Neil Gaiman, whose writing voice is perfect for such an undertaking. With American Gods, both the novel and the series, it’s apparent he doesn’t deem unthinking reverence too high on his list when compiling his entertaining yet dark myths. When Norse Mythology opens, lean back, guzzle a massive mug of mead, and let the man take you away. Some stories will whisper in your ear or walk you around the trails with their tales. Neil has always been the friendly guy in the pub who never has to pay for his drinks, and in this collection, you can see why.
Sure, Thor is here, but he’s not the guy depicted in the comics or movies. Bumbling, not so bright goof with warrior skills is more like it. Odin is always present but rarely seen as a bloodthirsty titan. Loki is and will always be the best part of Viking tales. In this book, he’s the ever-present trickster but utterly creative, except for when he does that thing with a horse. Maybe Thor in drag should be mentioned, or the folly of building a wall to keep out undesirables. Of course, there’s the golden apples creation tale that’s just a little familiar in a garden, but it’s Ragnorak which drops the reader deep into the darkness.
There isn’t a bad tale within the collection, mostly due to Gaiman’s writing style, which flows easier than beer from a fresh tap. The rhythm and word choices are as apt and clean as Joe Lansdale or early Clive Barker.
The stories sort of tie together but can easily be read and enjoyed out of sequence. Prediction: Gaman’s new book will be a fixture in universities in no time.