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Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I adore Neil Gaiman.

Although I didn’t discover his Sandman series until I was in my late twenties, I consider his work a huge influence on my own. For better or for worse, I don’t think I would have written an erotic romance about a Norse god if I hadn’t read Gaiman’s work.

Still, when Norse Mythology first came out, I hesitated.

gaiman norse myth
Despite the best freaking cover ever

I heard mixed reviews; some people thought Gaiman didn’t add much to the myths, and they wrote that this book was nothing more than a straightforward retelling. I was also hesitant to read a new take on a pantheon that’s such an intimate part of my own work. But last week I finally got over myself and picked up this gorgeous book.

I’m so glad I did.

Yes, Norse Mythology is a fairly straightforward re-telling of the myths.

As it turns out, that’s not a criticism.

Gaiman’s deceptively simple prose and imagery capture exactly what drew me to the world of the Norse gods in the first place: the absolute amoral strangeness of the stories.

We live in a morality-saturated world. Our modern stories all contain messages about how we ought to live in society. The Avengers need to set aside their differences and embrace their friendship in order to defeat the monsters and save the earth. The hero sacrifices herself, and her moment of weakness only spurs her to greater glory.

But the Norse myths, as Gaiman writes in his introduction, seem more like stories written by people who fear but perhaps don’t especially like their gods. The gods cheat and seduce to get what they want. They’re capricious, cruel, and morally ambiguous.

Is Thor really a hero?

Is Loki really a villain?

Gaiman leaves those questions unanswered, and Norse Mythology is much stronger for it.

What’s more, Norse Mythology leaves room for our own stories. What fascinates me about the Norse pantheon, and what’s driven me to write so many Norse-inspired pieces, are all the stories left unsaid.

Loki cut off Thor’s wife’s hair, we are told. But why? And how did he get into her bedroom in the first place?

It’s those unspoken motivations that pull me back to the Norse myths, over and over. And Gaiman leaves the characters as he found them: largely silent.

Make these stories your own, Gaiman urges in his introduction. Tell your friends what happened when Thor’s hammer was stolen…

Thank you, Mr. Gaiman.

I shall.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman Leave a comment

  1. This is a fantastic argument for reading Gaiman’s retelling. It is a retelling in his voice which is exactly what he set out to do and nothing more should be expected from it as such. I really like that you touched on the amorality of the gods, and I think this is especially prevalent when dealing with Loki and the role he plays in Ragnarok. The gods all know it will happen and that a confrontation is coming, but rather than try to destroy Loki or stop the inevitable (i.e. most western tales of heroes, super or otherwise) they accept that he has his role to play as was woven by the Norns. Thank you for writing such a fair and great review!

    Like

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