Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

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Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is a retelling of the Old Norse myths in a straightforward style aimed at the young adult market. He begins with a brief introduction to Odin, Thor and Loki and then the other characters that populate the myths are explained as we meet them.  The book has had a small number of poor reviews on Amazon, but mainly by people who were expecting a Neil Gaiman story rather than an introduction to the Norse mythology and were therefore disappointed not to find one. For me however it took me back to my childhood in the 1960’s and 70’s reading childrens’ magazines such as Look and Learn and World of Wonder, both of which regularly dipped into mythologies from around the world for features or retellings.

The dustwrapper is beautiful, featuring Thor’s hammer Mjollnir against a background of stars but how many people have taken this off to find the hammer again on the cover of the book

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There are 15 tales included, ranging in length from 3 to 23 pages, so this can be dipped into as a quick read over a period of a few days, but equally it doesn’t take long to read the whole thing. They are easily approachable, avoiding the temptation to explain everything with additional notes which can be a failing in editions aimed at adults which can fall into a scholastic tone. As Neil himself says in his introduction

As I retold these myths, I tried to imagine myself a long time ago, where the stories were first told, during the long winter nights perhaps, under the glow of the Northern Lights, or sitting outside in the small hours, awake in the unending daylight of midsummer, with an audience of people who wanted to know what else Thor did, and what the rainbow was, and how to live their lives, and where bad poetry comes from.

And that I think is the essence of Neil’s book, they feel like they are tales as told to an audience rather than pinned to the page like a specimen butterfly, they have a narrative flow and it doesn’t matter that Yggdrasil and the nine worlds is only 3 pages long, it tells you what you need to know and that information will illuminate later tales.

The book is of course just a brief introduction to the huge body of Norse tales and it would be nice to think that readers today will be inspired, as I was all those years ago with the magazines, to explore further and then maybe try some of the Icelandic sagas which I have enjoyed over the intervening years. More of those I think in a later blog. So thank you Neil for reminding me of the pleasure I got when I first encountered the Norse myths when I was 6 or 7 years old and the joy they still give me.

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Footnote: I thought the UK hardback cover was beautiful and then saw the American paperback due out next month…

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