Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman Review (Part 2)
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Hello, one and all, you may be feeling a sense of déjà vu right now. Didn't we already cover Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman? In a sense, yes, but Kori and I are two different bloggers, and we both wanted to give this book a go. I mean, it's Neil Gaiman. Hence, you shall receive two reviews. You are welcome.
Genre: Mythology Nonfiction
Category: Cozy Read
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Rating: 5/5 Stars
Pairing: Pot roast + Scandinavian wine
I'll begin by admitting, mythology buff that I am, I'm still not overly familiar with Norse mythology. Many of the tales contained in Norse Mythology, I had heard or read in some variation or another, but never sat down to analyze the narratives in their entirety.
Thankfully, Gaiman makes that task easier in Norse Mythology. There are no complex and lengthy explanations of ancestry, of history, or of the influences Norse culture had on the tales. While all of that would certainly be useful for an advanced scholar looking to expand their knowledge, it's not ideal for the average reader wanting to dip their toes into folklore. Truthfully, it's not ideal for readers like myself who are already familiar with mythology.
Mythology is all about storytelling, yet many nonfiction books manage to make mythology bland. So many mythology books I've picked up were a whirlwind of tangents about the history, the customs, and the unending variations of the same tales, that it was a headache to push through a single chapter.
But, ah, the master of storytelling Neil Gaiman is here to condense those important Norse tales into a single, cohesive narrative with his customary lilting prose that makes one feel as if they're by the fire listening to a skald recite his verses.
This book was an extremely fast read, yet there's nothing lacking. There's no sense of too much being left out that you sometimes get with juvenile nonfiction. Rather, the tales are expanded upon where it matters: characterization, setting, emotions—it all comes alive in ways mythology usually doesn't accomplish. Even though you're reading about the grand, impossible feats of the gods, there's none of the usual disconnect. They feel real, three-dimensional, complex. They have motivations and personalities, joys and woes, flaws and foibles.
This is the sort of thing often missing from mythology books. When we read the tales, we don't just want to know what happened—we want to know how, why, and how it affected the characters in question. This is precisely what Gaiman's retellings give us—in addition to his signature dash of tongue-in-cheek humor.
As this is mythological nonfiction, there's nothing in the way of spoilers to worry about.
The end of the book wraps up with the end of the world, Ragnarok. The day Loki's children and Loki himself will break free of their bonds and destroy the world. They will battle with the Norse gods. Some will fall, including the mighty Odin and Thor.
As a mythology nerd, there's nothing quite like an end of the world tale. It's fascinating, perhaps on a morbid level, but there's usually little to no detail to go off of. Most apocalypse mythologies leave us with a vague image of "fire and flood and probably lots of death." That's it.
Norse Mythology paints Ragnarok the way I always imagined it: epic, earth-shattering, and full of emotion as brothers meet with brothers on the battlefield and the gods face off with their eternal enemies.
Most importantly, I love how the book leaves off on a message of hope. Some of the gods survive, as do two humans who will repopulate the earth. The fires are quenched in the floods, which wash away the ashes and leave the world green and new.
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