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.
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 4.10 out of 5
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.
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.
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…
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.
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: –
- I love Neil Gaiman. Love him. He is my favourite writer and one of our ceremony readings in August is something of his.
- 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.