End Date: March 25th
Author: Neil Gaiman
Pages: 299 (hardcover)
Selected By: Lady Esbe
“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.
“Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman, difficult with his beard and huge appetite, to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir, the most sagacious of gods, is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.
“Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.”
In Neil Gaiman fashion, he brings what could be an arduous read to a clear and concise rendition of Norse mythology. As with sagas, most mythologies, including the Norse was meant to be imparted verbally and was often poetic in nature. However, Gaiman’s ability to bring the story to life but also drag the conversations into the current century seemed simplistic yet is a true gift. When one can take lines and lines of prose into a simply stated and pointed thought is clearly a talent that one shouldn’t scoff at.
Now I enjoy Viking lore and legend, but never really read anything on the mythology. In truth, I prefer Egils Saga, Njals Saga, and Volsonga Saga. However, Vikings did base their actions on the what would be the mythology/theology of the Viking gods such as Odin, Thor, Freya, Frey, etc. So in branching out to this genre, we get a good glimpse of the lore that graced the fires, the long boats and halls to inspire the Vikings. I gotta say, while I was annoyed a good portion of the time, I did quite enjoy the stories.
Let me explain why I was annoyed. The gods were very aware that Loki was a trickster and more often than not the cause of their trouble as well as their “savior”. So how is it that they never got a clue that if Loki was involved, they were bound to be in some sort of trouble. I mean, Loki caused mayhem at every turn, yet no one seemed to pay it any mind. Well, no one but Freya and I loved her for it. She called a spade a spade and was the only one who never seemed to lose sight that Loki was a dick and that you shouldn’t trust him. Again, his concise explanation of what probably was a long prose to a concise “I hate you,” “No,” or “Fine, wait here” had me chuckling quite frequently. Freya said what she meant, didn’t mince words and most definitely didn’t have to be warned at every turn about Loki.
Then there is Thor. The handsome dumb jock of Norse gods. I never read very much about Thor prior to this. However, in my perception, he was this dark brooding god who had his wits about him. Oh, how wrong I was. I was a bit annoyed with Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal of Thor in the movie of the same name (first, not sequel). However, upon reading this account, I’m saying Chris nailed it. Thor is so short sighted, short tempered, arrogant and just ill-behaved that I was hard pressed to take up his cause against Loki. Granted, I did chuckle every time he threatened Loki, especially with the stealing of Sith’s hair. Kudos to Thor in holding Loki accountable, but he if he was a bit wiser as Freya, I probably would have liked him more. Granted there was “Freya’s” wedding that did have me chuckling in horror at Thor. Chuckling because his behavior was so abhorrent that you can imagine the dismay of the characters around him; and horrified because his inability to be guileful, subtle and to temper his arrogance and self-absorption was to the detriment of Loki’s plan. I guess bluster should be the hallmark of the god of thunder.
I appreciated the telling of the creation of the world, Midgard, the Yggdrasil, etc. To understand how their world worked and then how things fell in the end with Ragnarok. The formation as interesting and so forth, but the culmination of what would bring about the end made me question Odin’s sacrifice of his eye to see be all knowing. We are not provided with insight to what drives Odin other than his desire for knowledge. This troubles me because I am curious to know if he was at peace with what he has foreseen and is accepting of it or if he is railing against the “inevitable” by moving in a way to try to alter the outcome. Is his action or inaction at times the result of his acceptance or feeling of defeat?
Overall, while I enjoyed the book, the folly of the gods of Asgard drove me crazy. Granted at the center of it all is Loki. Despite Loki being a trickster and the root of most of the Asgardian troubles, I wanted to look to Odin to impart his knowledge on the others, to demand that they not let their guard down around Loki. Again, his inaction could mean his acceptance but because there is very little focus placed on Odin, it’s hard to say.
I say good job to Mr. Gaiman. This was a quick read (when I had time for reading) and it moved quickly from the alpha and omega, building as it went to show how most things tied together to the end. My only question is will there always be this “counsel” at the end who ultimately moved the gods around like chess pieces?
Lady Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): Freya.
Esbe read the W.W. Norton & Co. hardcover edition of this selection.
I love the Norse gods and their wacky deeds (and misdeeds). They are some of the most human deities in any pantheon, ancient or modern: flawed, foolish, arrogant, mistrusting, argumentative, violent, manipulative, wild, ridiculous, hilarious, cruel… and, just when you’ve decided you can’t stand them one second more, they show a bit of kindness or sympathy, a smidgen of love or common sense, of loneliness or sorrow.
They’re just so damn human.
I won’t go into a lot of the particulars of the stories contained within these pages, as they aren’t technically original Gaiman works and may be read and researched from a variety of literary and online sources. There are obviously no new tales to tell here – this is a collection of ancient myths about some of the most common and easily-identifiable Norse gods, retold in a modern tongue with the modern need for succinctness.
My four-cup rating is actually hard for me to admit to, because I’m a huge fan of both Neil Gaiman and the Norse gods. I came about it by averaging two things: the score I gave to the book version (three cups) and that I gave to the audio version (five cups).
I gave the book version a three-cup score simply because, for me, the modernization of the tales took away some of their soul. These tales, much like Beowulf, were never meant to simply be read. The telling of stories, the keeping of myths and legends and sharing of them through the generations in verse and song were the primary source of entertainment in a harsh world without televisions, radio, or theater. I commend Gaiman for yanking Thor out of Marvel’s grasp and shining light on who he truly was to the Vikings – he’s the only author in my opinion who could successfully tackle such a huge undertaking – but the loss of the poetry, of the rhythm and the stanzas of details and conversations, were just too much for me.
On the other hand, this is also what made the subject palatable to BillMo, who I don’t think would care much for kennings (I can almost hear her screaming, “Seriously, how many words does it take to describe a wave?! And for the love of Oprah, call an arrow an arrow – are you being vague on purpose?!”). For example, the loaning of Freya’s coat to Loki is typically translated something like: “That I would give thee, although of gold it were, and trust it to thee, though it were of silver,” which is paraphrased in this modern retelling as Freya essentially saying, “Fine.” So, it’s a win in that it will be easier for more people to understand, and it does serve as an excellent introduction to the topic.
With all of that in mind, I absolutely loved the audio version of this selection. While it didn’t quite rid me of the notion that something was missing, listening to Gaiman bring the stories to life filled in the lyrical chasm with a bit of the tales’ original fun. Reading the words on the pages seemed to contain the stories somehow, to bind them and chain them to paper, whereas listening to the audio version was like unleashing them, turning them loose once more upon an unsuspecting world. Gaiman narrates the stories himself and absolutely nails the delivery, capturing with perfection Fenrir’s growling baritone, Thor’s boasting surety, Loki’s soft-spoken slyness, and Freya’s put-upon sighs.
Overall, I’m truly thrilled that Gaiman decided to retell these tales. Go into it knowing that this is the CliffsNotes version of the Norse myths and you won’t be disappointed… But if you do like it, I recommend that you give the Poetic Edda and / or the Prose Edda a try, both of which add the missing bits of lyrical beauty and dramatic flair that have made these stories so great and this pantheon so fascinating to so many for so long.
The closest book I have read in regards to Norse Mythology is American Gods. This book was really good because I was able to get an introduction to who some of the main gods are and now know a little more about them than I did when I read American Gods. I didn’t realize just what kind of jerks the gods of the Vikings were until reading this book. I thought I would like Loki more than I did but he really does some pretty terrible things. I think I would say that Tyr would have been who I liked more while not necessarily having a favorite. I liked that he was nice to Fenrir and did not go back on his word that if the gods had tricked him he could bite off his arm.
I liked how the gods made life out of wood I thought that was pretty cool. I want to be made out of a tree. 🙂
Vili gave them will; he gave them intelligence and drive. Now they could move, and they could want.
Loki was pretty awful. I’m not sure that his tricks were very funny as much as they were hurtful. He seems to be very impulsive and hopes too much that no one will notice or at least by the time that they do it will be long enough that they will not be able to connect him to the event, but the gods (with maybe the exception of Thor) weren’t that stupid. When something was afoot Loki is the first place to stop.
That was the thing about Loki. You resented him even when you were at your most grateful, and you were grateful to him even when you hated him the most.
I knew that Thor seemed like a little bit of a muscle head but I didn’t realize just how…what’s a good word…I don’t know that I want to use dumb so we’ll say thick-headed he actually was. A good story is when the giant steals his hammer and the deal is that Freya must marry him in order for Thor to get his hammer back. The way the giant words it is that he wants Freya’s hand and Thor’s response is:
“He just wants her hand?” asked Thor hopefully. She had two hands, after all, and might be persuaded to give up one of them without too much of an argument. Tyr had, after all.
It seems like most of the stories had trickery, killing, and death in them. They were all very good. I can’t believe some of the stories that were come up with. It’s so different what people coveted then versus what people do now. Such as the story where the dwarves killed Kvasir and made mead out of his blood and when someone drank the mead they would all of a sudden be able to speak the most wonderful poetry. I think it’s awesome that back then these stories were written that things like poetry are what people wanted to be good at. It seems that as time goes by that things that are coveted are being a pop star (which may be the closest thing these days to poetry that the people who drank the mead out of Odin’s arse come up with) or money. In this story I can’t believe how nasty the dwarves are that if someone is crying too much the answer to solve the crying problem is to kill them.
Well I guess that actually is one way to solve their problem…
No one, then or now, wanted to drink the mead that came out of Odin’s ass. But whenever you hear bad poets declaiming their bad poetry, filled with foolish similes and ugly rhymes, you will know which of the meads they have tasted.
Yep definitely sounds like the side effect that pop stars have these days.
At the end Ragnarok is described and I wonder if we are not living Ragnarok. The never ending winter can be the coldness that have entered people’s hearts. The ashes are represented by the wildfires happening. “The mountains will shake and crumble. Trees will fall, and any remaining places where people live will be destroyed.” The mountains that have crumbled and the trees that have fallen have been torn down by people and not on their own in most cases but I think it fits. More floods and other natural disasters seem to be occurring more often and destroying places. The ocean life is being killed by people and garbage (which has been disposed of by people).
The venom from its fangs will spill into the water, poisoning all the sea life.
There will be no more life in the oceans, where the Midgard serpent writhes. The rotted corpses of fish and of whales, of seals and sea monsters, will wash in the waves.
We see the death and destruction of the world around us everyday and the description of Ragnarok seems appropriate of what is happening. We (people) are Ragnarok.
Loki’s green eyes flashed with anger and with admiration, for he loved a good trick as much as he hated being fooled.
Opposite of Loki was Thor, who was really a fly by the seat of his pants kind of god. This collection of stories really showed his arrogance and that he was going to do whatever it was he felt like doing and not care if it hurt or angered anyone around him. He probably thought, “Well I’m a god and I can do what I want.”
“Of course I do,” said Thor. But he didn’t. He was just doing whatever he felt like doing. That was what Thor did best.
A couple of other quotes I really liked:
Nothing there is that does not love the sun. It gives us warmth and life; it melts the bitter snow and ice of winter; it makes plants grow and flowers bloom. It gives us the long summer evenings, when the darkness never comes. It saves us from the bitter days of midwinter, when the darkness is broken for only a handful of hours and the sun is cold and distant, like the pale eye of a corpse.
If you want to help the Aesir in the final battle, you should throw away your leather scraps. All thrown-out scraps and trimmings from shoes will become part of Vidar’s shoe.
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): Tyr.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this selection.