Thursday, 23 February 2017

#CBR9 Book 13: "Norse Mythology" by Neil Gaiman

Page count: 304 pages
Audio book length: 6hrs 29 mins
Rating: 4.5 stars

When it was announced that Neil Gaiman was doing a book of Norse myths, I was, not to put to fine a point on it, giddy with excitement. I've always been a mythology fangirl. I love the Greek and Roman myths, the Egyptians, but as I am Scandinavian, the Norse myths are obviously among the ones I grew up reading, even as a young child. I had several books of the Danish comic book Valhalla, so I knew several of the stories before I even knew they were the ancient myths of my people.

In the introduction to this book, Neil Gaiman says that his first encounter with the Norse gods were through the works of Jack Kirby in the Marvel universe. Mr. Gaiman has of course featured several members of the Norse pantheon in several of his own works, like the epic Sandman series or his very popular American Gods. He also says that the Norse myths are probably the ones that we know the least about and where many of the stories have gotten lost, as no one felt they were worth keeping alive. I appreciate him commenting on the fact that the goddesses of Norse mythology have gotten the shortest shrift of all. There are not all that many stories that survive about the Norse gods at all, and history being what it is, clearly no one felt that the goddesses were all that important (except of course that everyone seems to want to marry Freya - she is clearly the greatest prize to be won).

I got the audio book, because Neil Gaiman's a wonderful narrator whose voice I find incredibly soothing. Having him tell me the myths of my people, vaguely fictionalised to work better as stories was lovely, and I kept forcing myself to stop between stories, as I didn't want the book to end. While I was familiar with a lot of these tales from my childhood and mythology obsessed teenage years, there were also stories I hadn't heard or read before. The one where Loki steals the hair of the Lady Sif, Thor's wife, and has to figure out a clever way to replace it, ending up with the Norse gods getting possession of their greatest treasures, while Loki nearly loses his head in the bargain was a new one. As was the one about Kvasir and the mead of poetry.

Loki, Thor and Odin feature the most prominently in these stories. Loki is the trickster who pretty much always causes, but generally also sorts out all the various incidents that befall the gods. It's strange how he is accepted as one of them, but also constantly stands apart, the literal father of their eventual downfall. I enjoyed these stories a lot, but really do wish the women had been a bit more prominent. By making a faithful retelling, Gaiman couldn't give the ladies a bigger role than they already have, but especially the treatment of Loki's poor wife towards the end of the stories (after he's done something so nefarious that even the gods can't stand by and let him have his way anymore) is heartless in the extreme, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. So I can't give a full five stars.

For anyone who already likes Gaiman's writing, or is interested in learning more about the Norse pantheon, this is a must have book. It's not exactly very long, because there aren't all that many stories. I had a wonderful time listening to this book and will no doubt revisit this book many times over the years, to remind myself of the myths of my people.

Judging a book by its cover: It's not exactly a very fancy cover, as these things go, but it doesn't really need to be either. A dark, possibly slightly star-spangled background, with Thor's legendary hammer, Mjoenir, at the centre. I especially enjoy the shorter handle now that I've heard the story of how the hammer came to be made in the first place. Neil Gaiman doesn't need a fancy cover on his book of Norse myths. Either it's going to be something you get, no matter what the cover design, or it's probably going to be a book you pass by, no matter what exciting things they put on the cover.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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