Review

Book Review: Norse Mythology

norse mythology text

norse mythology

Blurb

Neil Gaiman, long inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction, presents a bravura rendition of the Norse gods and their world from their origin though their upheaval in Ragnarok. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, son of a giant, blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

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At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 4.10 out of 5

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Many gods and goddesses are named in Norse mythology. You will meet quite a few of them in these pages. Most of the stories we have, however, concern two gods, Odin and his son Thor, and Odin’s blood brother, a giant’s son called Loki, who lives with the Aesir in Asgard.

interlude

Hey. Do you wanna hear a story?

This book has a strange sort of meaning for me but first I’m going to have to take you back in time to 2008. Neil Gaiman was coming to Edinburgh’s International Book Festival. Tickets were still on sale but were selling fast. I asked my best friend if she wanted to come with me to Edinburgh and her response was, “I’m not sure, let me think about it.”

So she thought about it. I gave her a nudge. She was still thinking.

“Lovey,” I said (because that’s what I call her), “if you don’t want to come that’s fine, I’ll go alone but I really need to know because I need to buy tickets and I still need to buy myself one if I’m going solo.”

“Ok,” she said, still thinking.

In the end I gave up waiting and went online and what do you know? Sold out. I was bummed but cheered myself up. After all, Neil was a bestselling author, he would totally be back.

In 2015 Neil was indeed, back. This time in the mecca of all places – Hay Festival. Yes. I was 100% making this one. He was with Chris Riddell and Amanda Palmer and a large part of his interview was about his collaboration with Terry Pratchett and Terry in general. Fuck yes.

My lovely husband-to-be (though he wouldn’t be that for another couple of years) was out of the country and so the plan was that I would travel up by train and meet a friend who lived in Bristol and we would go together.

Now, I had recently had a bit of a mega-relapse with regards to my mental health. I had been suffering from anxiety and panic attacks since I was 18 years old and it very much came in waves. Unexpected and unwelcome waves. At the time of the Hay Festival I was in the throes of the worst dip of it I’d ever had. In fact, I was in danger of becoming agoraphobic because leaving the house was a challenge and it was a miracle that I was even making it into work. Going anywhere else, even familiar places was triggering some awful responses in my body.

But I left home that day to head into Hay. I made it to my connecting train station where I was told that my train had been cancelled and that I would have to get on the next one. Fine. It arrived, heaving from the people already on it and getting worse from all the people trying to get on it. The train was also half the carriages it should have been because our awesome British rail system works like that. I stood on the platform, thought about getting on and cried at the thought.

Guess who didn’t get to Hay?

Guess what my friend arranged to get me?

Yes, Trigger Warning – it’s apt and ironic.

neil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But in 2016 I learnt that Neil was going to be in the Southbank Centre in London in February 2017 for Norse Mythology. There would be signed books to buy and an evening with Neil answering questions and doing readings. This was it. I was going. I purchased the tickets and made a face like this while my friend Emily deeply understood my reaction…

emily and me

I bought the tickets in December 2016 so I only had two months to wait. I was excited, with extreme emphasis on excited.

In January 2017 I was diagnosed with cancer. By the end of January I’d had a CT-PET scan, a MRI and two invasive surgeries to get rid of the fucker.

At the beginning of February I was not feeling so good. A week before I was due to go to London I was still not feeling so good.

My original plan was to be working that day and head on a 20 minute train journey into Waterloo where I would up with meet husband-to-be and get some dinner and then marvel in the amazingness that is Neil Gaiman. This plan was effectively stopped in January.

The new plan was that my awesome husband-to-be would drive my broken body into Waterloo so I could still marvel. This plan was touch and go because I became very not well and that very not wellness only stopped a couple of days before the event. It was divine intervention I swear it. Probably because I sat and cried days before about how unfair it all was.

In the car, on the way into London I saw a rainbow in front of us. A friggin’ rainbow.

“It’s a sign,” I whispered to husband-to-be.

“It’s been raining,” he replied.

We are very different types of people.

Needless to say, we got there. I probably shouldn’t have really gone and I had to clutch onto H2B’s arm an awful lot because walking was still a relatively new thing for me and standing made me exhausted but we got there.

Neil Gaiman came on stage and I had a little cry.

Review

I included the above interlude because Norse Mythology as a book means something to me. It’s weird because when I look at it I get all of the above events in a 10 second rush with accompanying emotions. It’s just a book but it isn’t just a book.

And to think – it has taken me a year to get round to reading it!

Now I need you to know two things: –

  1. I love Neil Gaiman. Love him. He is my favourite writer and one of our ceremony readings in August is something of his.
  2. Despite any personal feelings around books and despite what I think about writers I will be honest in what I think about the books I read.

My thoughts on Norse Mythology in terms of its content is not as favourable as I would like it to be. I say, ‘as I would like it to be’ because I want to give anything Neil Gaiman writes at least 4 stars and I would have loved Norse Mythology to have been the same.

I just wasn’t feeling it.

First of all I wondered if it was the content. I love mythology but I suppose my heart lies with Greek myths over Norse ones. Outside of the most famous Norse gods (Odin, Thor and Loki – thanks Marvel) I don’t know many more and I was looking forward to getting to know who else existed in the pantheon.

I also don’t know many of the Norse stories so I suppose I didn’t know what to expect. We are taken through the creation of the gods and the world and all that pesky god behaviour before we reach the end of days in Ragnarok. I got a flavour but then maybe that’s all there could be – if Neil Gaiman tried to include all the stories than the book would probably not be marketable to a mainstream audience.

But I don’t know if I was behind all the types of stories that were included. Yes there was a lot of Thor blustering and showing his strength and yes there was a lot of Loki rubbing his hands in mischievous glee but I felt there could have been more. I get the impression that Loki is behind a lot of what occurs but I also felt that Loki, who is arguably one of the most complex gods I have read about, was reduced to Loki was Loki and he was being naughty. Again. 

A lot of this was due to the light, jovial style that Norse Mythology had been written in. Unfortunately I felt that it was a bit too light and jovial and therefore reduced some of the dark complexity of Loki’s character and the tales that were being told.

I appreciate these are retellings but it felt like ‘retelling light’ and maybe written to appeal to an audience that are outside Neil’s core fan group. I love when Neil goes dark, that’s part of his appeal – that he isn’t afraid to go there – and I felt that Norse Mythology could have gone this route and I probably would have enjoyed it so much more.

Also, I want more goddesses. Where are my goddesses?

I still love Neil Gaiman though. That will never change.

 

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2 Star

22 thoughts on “Book Review: Norse Mythology

  1. Iloved the story about how you finally manages to meet Gaiman! I still haven’t read this one, althoughperhaps I should, but I’m thinking that perhaps one of the reasons why you felt that you only got a flavour is that so much of it is missing. If he wanted to stay close to the source material there are some clear limitations to the stories he could tell. If you want to get a flavour of the source material I recommend Völuspa from the Poetic edda, it isn’t too long, contain much of the central mythology and is in general a cool text 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m just glad that I finally managed to get to see him after so much blinkin’ effort! Thank you for the recommendations, I adore Norse mythology but don’t know much about it and I will happily take any suggestions for how I can broaden my knowledge on it. Thank you!

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  2. Thanks for linking up on Pages Unbound! I really enjoyed reading this post. It reminded me of how I felt when I got to meet Neil (he only came to my city because we won a contest to host a signing by him) – your story was much more of a rollercoaster, though! I haven’t read Norse Mythology because I’m not super familiar with the traditional Norse myths and also because of that ‘light’ tone the book seems to take. I might pick it up one day, but maybe not soon…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I wish I got to meet Neil face to face but there was a bit of a distance between the stage and my seat! Still, it was worth it as he is an incredibly good public speaker and just has this air of relaxed friendliness about him. It was definitely worth all the effort 😉 Norse Mythology may have fallen flat with me because I *don’t* know the myths. But I find with Neil Gaiman he either goes light or goes dark and although light sometimes works, with this one I wish he went darker.

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  3. Oh my gosh, I was so enthralled with your story! As I read about your quest to finally get to see Neil Gaiman you had me on the edge of my seat!!! I was so happy to see you finally got to see him :). What an amazing experience! I haven’t read ‘Norse Mythology’ myself yet, but I’ve heard mixed reviews. A good friend of mine said something very similar to what you’ve written here so, while I’m not opposed to ever reading it, it’s not on my “immediate reading” list.

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    1. Ah thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed! Yes, it was a bit of a journey but I got there *finally* with some bumps in the road. I was disappointed in Norse Mythology but I was never as into the Norse gods as I was the Greek ones and I feel Neil Gaiman ‘went gentle.’ If that makes any sense at all?!

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      1. It does, actually. For me, I first encountered the Norse myths after falling in love with the Thor comics as a kid and I was blown away by how many creative liberties were taken by the Marvel authors! I mean, obviously the whole “alien species” thing was made up but I was surprised by how many other things they tweaked. So it was interesting to see the real myths, when I met them. Actually, it was wondering about his approach to these stories was what made me first pick up Gaiman’s ‘Norse Mythology’ and read the back at the bookstore.

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        1. It would be good to know what you think of Norse Mythology when you come to read it. My knowledge of Norse myths is limited but I think Neil Gaiman did a light ‘intro.’ If you’ve got background knowledge you’ll come at it with a different set of eyes. It’s funny because it’s given me a taster of the myths and I feel like I want to know so much more. The ones in Norse Mythology were very Loki and Thor heavy and while I very much enjoyed reading about Loki I could give or take Neil Gaiman’s Thor. He came across as a bit of a handsome, dumb frat boy and I don’t know how accurate this is! I think I want to know more about Hel because she seems so interesting. Could be personal preference though!

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          1. I wonder if the focus on Loki and Thor is just his personal preference or if it has to do at all with the popularity behind the Marvel films? I remember getting my first collections of Norse myths as a kid and being a little sad all the characters I knew from the comics weren’t in there more. I did come to love the myths in their own right, but it was a surprise at first.

            I think, maybe, before I read Gaiman’s take it would be fun to go back and revisit some of my collections on Norse mythology, to reground myself in that world before I explore his take. This conversation is certainly making me more excited to read it! I’m reconsidering the ol’ TBR as we speak :).

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I went to see him speak about Norse Mythology and he did reference the Marvel movies but I think it was mainly in part for him to acknowledge that most people probably think of those now. He did say that the Loki and Thor he views is not the same as the Marvel version.

              I think that’s probably really common, that how we are introduced to something influences our perception of it even if it’s not the original. It can either be a good or bad thing depending on what you think of one or the other! I’d be annoyed if I created something and then someone came along and people preferred that version! 😉

              I wonder if I read the myths that I might be able to view Norse Mythology differently on a re-read. But you’re right! This discussion has kind of stoked me up to read some now!!

              Liked by 1 person

  4. “It’s a sign,” I whispered to husband-to-be.
    “It’s been raining,” he replied.
    We are very different types of people.

    This quote was fantastic. Awesome review! I had this audiobook in my TBR, but I had only heard glowing reviews before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Is Neil reading the audiobook? I hear he does his own and if he does then it will be wonderful. He is a genuinely talented storyteller when he writes and speaks and I did enjoy his readings from Norse Mythology when I saw him. I don’t think the glowing reviews are misplaced because I can legitimately see how people would give 4 stars or even 5 stars but I think this one just wasn’t for me this time which is a bummer!

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      1. Yes! He narrates most of his audiobooks and they’re so fantastic. I love his voice combined with his stories. I’m glad you eventually got to see him (I’m definitely jealous) because he seems like a fantastic storyteller in person.

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        1. Oh he does a reading wonderfully well! He’s just so practiced but not polished if that makes sense? Like he is very calm and confident in front of a crowd and adds tone etc. but not to the point where you feel its rehearsed, you just get the feeling that he’s casually picked up the book and is reading it to a small group! My partner isn’t a massive reader and hasn’t read any Neil Gaiman but he came with me and said that he really enjoyed it because Neil just made it so engaging! If you ever get the chance to see him live go because it’s worth it!

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  5. Aww I loved reading about all your experiences before finally meeting Neil Gaiman! Your husband sounds so sweet and supportive, and it’s cool to know Neil is your favorite author. I haven’t read anything by him besides Coraline (shame on me I know) but I appreciate your honesty with this book; I’ve been waiting to read it sometime this year, but it’s good to know I should probably tamper my expectations. 😉 Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah hubby to be is incredibly supportive, ‘sweet’ is a matter of opinion 😛

      Overall I think Norse Mythology scored quite highly and there are other Neil Gaiman fans who have rated this quite highly. I wouldn’t say this was a bad book at all but I think it fell short for me so it probably comes down to personal taste on this one.

      I genuinely got the impression that he was marketing this to a more mainstream audience and so was limiting his usual style and tone which is ordinarily a bit more dark and quirky! Can’t all be winner’s I guess!

      Liked by 1 person

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