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Norse Mythology

Neil Gaiman

Premise: The story of the Norse gods retold for a modern audience, this is a series of interconnected short stories that takes us from the creation of the world and the birth of the gods right through to their future destruction in the time of Ragnarok.

I feel that there are lots of brilliant myths and faerie tales from around the world that we miss out on as a modern audience because they are not available in an accessible format. There are the Greek and Roman Myths, Russian and East European folklore, tales from China, Japan and elsewhere in the Orient, Dreamtime stories of the Aboriginals and even (as a Brit) the folk traditions from the British Isles – and that doesn’t even start to scratch the surface of all the different world mythologies. We may have a passing knowledge of some of the principal characters and events, but I personally feel pretty ignorant of most of them. And that it is why I really enjoyed this book. It is light-hearted and, at times, purposefully tongue in cheek, as it sets out the history of the Norse gods whose names will mostly be familiar (although, how many of us only know them from the Marvel Cinematic Universe?) but whose adventures are probably not.

There are fifteen short stories in total, so this is a good read for anyone who likes to dip in and out of a book. Gaiman has been selective in the stories that he has chosen to tell so that each segment has an interesting narrative without any hint of repetition creeping in – there is the history of how Thor got his hammer, the tale of Loki’s children, a comic segment where Thor dresses up as a bride in order to trick a giant who has stolen from him, alongside passages where the gods go off in search of adventure etc. And whilst the stories all stand alone, there is a narrative arc from beginning to end which joins the book together into a pleasing whole and makes you feel, by the end of it, that you have a good handle on at least one of the world mythologies.

Gaiman's style of writing is reminiscent of a medieval troubadour weaving tales around a campfire. He tackles each story with a charming naivety and brings the various characters to life in an exaggerated (yet never over-exaggerated) way. His previous experience of writing children's stories such as "Coraline" shines through in the simplicity of the narrative, and the way he describes the more ethereal elements harks back to those in "Stardust" etc. In short, "Norse Mythology" should appeal to anyone who has enjoyed Gaiman's previous works as well as anyone looking for a masterly retelling of an age-old story. 

Other books on a similar theme: “Oh My Gods” (Philip Freeman) retells the story of the Roman and Greek gods; or how about Stephen Fry’s witty retelling of the Greek myths in “Mythos”? Also, “The Bear and the Nightingale” (Katherine Arden) which borrows from Russian mythology to tell its tale