This is another one of those books where I’m not really sure how to classify whether or not my review has spoilers. Norse Mythology is essentially Neil Gaiman’s take or interpretation of Norse myths. So it’s not really a new story, but it may be new to you. I will say that this was my first experience diving in to Norse myths (outside of the Marvel movies of course) so these stories were new to me. I’ll do what I’ve done in the past, and just warn you that this entire review contains spoilers (just to be on the safe side).
As this was my first experience with the Norse myths, I was surprised to see how many similarities there were between them and the Bible. But there were just as many differences too.
The first difference I noticed was the big-bang theory. The Bible starts out you know – in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, he said let there be light, then he created animals, then people, then yada yada yada and then he took a nap. Sounds like a pretty chill beginning. Well, in Norse Mythology the world was created through violence – not the benevolence of a divine ruler. Odin, Vili and Ve killed the giant Ymir and 💥BOOM💥 now we have a world. Those oceans you like to swim in? That’s the blood of the giants. Oh, you like to climb mountains? You’re just climbing their bones. It’s definitely a little gory and definitely worthy of the moniker “big-bang”. But it makes sense considering that the source of these myths were a group of people that consisted of conquerors. It was also interesting how the first people that Odin created were Ask and Embla.
Another difference I noticed was that in the Bible, the seeking of knowledge and the subsequent ruination of humans fell to a human (Eve), whereas in the Norse Myths, Odin (a God) was the one who sought more knowledge. To the point where he even sacrificed his eye. But in this case, it didn’t really lead to ruination, like it does in the Bible, which I found super interesting. I also was blown away by the fact that the Norse gods were not immortal, unless they continued to eat Idunn’s apples. I mean, pretty much every deity is immortal, at least in the myths. The Norse Gods were also just as bound by the “rules” as humans were. Especially those of Hel. Even a God had to stay in Hel once there and not even a passel of other Gods could bring him back. Normally you read about Gods being the exception to the rule, but not in this case. This whole book just gave me so much to think about.
In addition to the violent beginnings of the Norse world, they were actually pretty stringent about who could get in to Valhalla (heaven) and dine with Odin after death. Apparently dying of disease, old age, from an accident, or during childbirth are all unacceptable ways to die according to the Vikings. You pretty much only make it to Valhalla if you die in battle. I guess this kind of explains the whole shield-maidens thing because if they were just mothers, they’d never make it to Valhalla. 😔
My favorite story of the bunch that we read in this book was by FAR “The Master Builder.” The main reason is the story behind the parentage of Sleipnir, the huge gray stallion with eight legs.
My second favorite story was “The Mead of the Poets” but really only because of the ending. I was ROLLING on the floor laughing my ass off. Literally.
I also got a pretty big kick out of the fact that Thor’s chariot is pulled by goats. I know the Hollywood version of Thor was cast to appeal to the masses but it makes it kind of hard to separate the Hollywood version of Thor (that we’ve all come to fantasize about in our dreams at night) from the goofy kind of doofus that he was really supposed to be. But the goats reallllyyy helped with that.
There were a few things that could have been made maybe just a little bit clearer for a more rounded understanding of the stories that were presented. Especially for a novice to the Norse Myths. I was left with a few 🔥BURNING QUESTIONS🔥
- Why were the Norse Gods so concerned about the giants? Was it just a deep-seated hatred or were they more concerned that the giants wanted to exact revenge since Odin killed their ancestor to create the world?
- Why was Loki such a jerk? It’s definitely a widely known thing that he’s a slick little devil, but the motivation behind it is a little unclear.
- Why would Tyr go against his own father?
The writing came across to me a little stilted, but I imagine that its because Gaiman removed some things to alleviate boredom in the reader and pieced together what was left. I say this because there were some instances where you could tell he kept the poetry from the original stories and those stories were richer for it, in my opinion. Though I am extremely familiar with Greek Mythology and I know there is definitely a whole lot from the original stories that could be cut out to save people time, so I get it. And this was definitely a quick, fun little read, so if the point was to get people familiar with the myths in a way that they would actually read – then you succeeded Mr. Gaiman. And it definitely sparked my interest to investigate some of them further.
👊I’m also very glad to have knocked another physical book off of my Mount TBR. 👊
🗣Talk to Me🗣
Who is your favorite character or being from Norse Mythology? Do you have a favorite story? Is there a striking parallel that you were able to draw between one of the Norse Myths and a story you’re familiar with from another myth/religion?