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Matt's Occasional Writing Blog

Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I have a soft spot for the Norse myths. They were the go-to stories my parents would read to me at bedtime. Odin, Thor, Loki, Frey, and all the rest of the Aesir, they're like old friends. 


Any author who would put together yet another book of Norse myths faces some daunting challenges. First, it's been done a lot of different ways already. Second, there's not much of a coherent story arc in the overall body of stories with which to work (the primary source material for most Norse mythology books, the Eddas, are a hodgepodge of collected stories, songs, and poems). Basically, there's the creation story, some origin stories for individual gods, some random adventures, and then everyone dies at Ragnarok. Being myths, there are also inconsistencies and "plot holes" throughout (e.g., if Loki can just up and change himself into a mare in one myth, why does he need to borrow a cloak of falcon feathers to turn into a bird in another?). Finally, fans of the Norse myths (myself included) are going to read any rendering closely, critically, the way fans tend to do. So an author who hopes to set these very old and very popular stories in a fresh light has their work cut out for them.


Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology is excellent work. The book is a tight, delightful compilation of the most notable Norse myths. The prose is thoroughly Gaiman, through and through: droll, well-paced, and accessible to modern readers without coming across as trite. Gaiman also manages to weave some connective threads here and there to link the stories together somewhat. The final product is almost (but not quite) a re-imagining, rather than simply a re-telling, of the Norse tales. I thoroughly enjoyed it.


A little more polish on a few spots here and there could have made this charming book shine even brighter. The All-father, Odin, gets shortchanged with a somewhat flat characterization and relatively few lines (which is curious, because he's probably the most fascinating of all the Norse gods). And at times Gaiman's prose voice bleeds into the dialogue. I would have liked just one or two more stories. But these are small complaints and easily overlooked for a book of mythology that was both readily familiar and wonderfully new. 

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