Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman: Book Review

Norse Mythology

Title: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman 

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

My Rating: 5/5 stars

As much as I love mythology, I actually know nothing about Norse mythology. I haven’t even seen Marvel’s recent Thor movies–not that they count; I’m just trying to explain how truly little I know–so when I heard one of my favorite authors was putting together a collection of Norse mythology, I knew just where I was going to start. Thank you, Almighty Neil Gaiman.

“The Norse myths are the myths of a chilly place, with long, long winter nights and endless summer days, myths of a people who did not entirely trust or even like their gods, although they respected and feared them.”

It’s easy to see why Gaiman loves and chose to write about the Norse myths. Unlike Greek mythology–which I feel has been overdone, and in which, almost all of the stories center on the consequences that stem from Zeus’ reckless inability to keep it in his pants (haha)–Norse mythology seems much more mature and developed. Well, the world does, anyway; it’s riddled with so many layers, and contains such a rich history and expansive world. The gods, however, are crafty and thrive on trickery. I read one comment in which a reader compared them to frat boys, and I’d have to agree. They often find themselves in many ridiculous, yet humorous, situations. (See below.)

From Freya’s Unusual Wedding:

Thor may be a bit of a meathead, but at least he is an entertaining one. XD

The world: I’m not going to go into too much detail on the world, as Gaiman easily walks you through it in the beginning–better than I ever could–but here are the basics:

  • The Norse gods are split up into the Vanir and the Aesir. The gods of the Vanir seem to correlate more with nature, but are equally as formidable and dangerous as the powerful Aesir. Some time ago, there was a war between the two, but eventually they came to a truce. Now, some of the Vanir choose to live in Asgard, in harmony with the Aesir.
  • There are a total of nine worlds:
    • Asgard is where the Aesir–and some Vanir–choose to make their home.
    • Alfheim is the beautiful and majestic home of the light elves.
    • Nidavellir, or Svartalfheim, is the place in which the dwarfs forge their extraordinary creations.
    • Midgard is the realm of women and men, in which us mortals live.
    • Jotunheim is the home of the frost giants and contains the great well of wisdom. (You will read about in the first story.)
    • Vanaheim is where the Vanir make their home.
    • Niflheim is the underworld, or dark mist world.
    • Muspell, the world of flame, is where Sutr–the fire giant–waits for Ragnarok to be unleashed and end to the world with his flaming sword.
    • Hel, named after its ruler, is where those who die from any situation other than bravely fighting in combat go.
  • Ragnarok is the twilight of the gods–the end of their time–in which all will be destroyed and come to an end, as the cycle of rebirth continues.

The gods: These are just a handful of the gods you will meet, but they’re probably the most important.

  • Odin, the all-father, is the highest and oldest of all the gods. He has many names and is all-knowing and all-seeing. He is Thor’s father and Loki’s half-brother.
  • Thor, the bearer of the magical hammer Mjollnir, may not be as wise as his father, Odin, or as cunning as his uncle, Loki, but what he lacks in smarts, he makes up for in strength. He is the defender of both Asgard and Midgard.
  • Odin’s half-brother, Loki, is one complex character. He has the ability to shape-shift. Like Zeus from the Greek myths, Loki is pretty much to blame for any and all problems in the Norse world. He’s cunning, drinks far too much, and is prone to trouble. Therefore, anytime a problem arises, the gods either a.) (rightfully) blame Loki or b.) enlist his conniving ways to set things right.
  • Twins Frey and Freya, of the Vanir, live in Asgard with the Aesir. Freya, the most beautiful of all the gods, often finds herself a bargaining chip in most of the stories. Her alluring beauty compels many men into attempting outrageous tasks in order for her hand in marriage. Frey, on the other hand, is the mightiest of all the Vanir. He lives in the magnificent Alfheim, the home of the light elves, and is loved and revered for his creation of the seasons, and the fertile land it provides.

Gaiman mentions at the beginning of the book that we have lost most of the Norse tales through the ages, so I can’t even imagine what stories we are missing out on–it’s a tragedy.

“It is perhaps, as if the only tales of the gods and demigods of Greece and Rome that had survived were of the deeds of Theseus and Hercules.”

That being said, this book was still so much fun. I deeply enjoyed the stories Gaiman provided, and the way they were told. I’ll never get over the talent he has for storytelling; he will never cease to amaze me. For those who are already familiar with the Norse myths, hopefully he brings something new to the table in this collection of stories he has reinterpreted.

I feel glad that this book was my first glance into Norse mythology. The strong personalities that Gaiman provided all of the characters/gods with will forever shape the way I view them.

**As a completely and totally off-topic side-note that you may or may not choose to disregard: The entire time I was reading, I repeatedly noticed themes and sayings that heavily reminded me of ASOIAF. After a quick search, I discovered that many believe George R. R. Martin has based several elements of ASOIAF off of the Norse myths. (I’m keeping this spoiler-free, but you can easily search “ASOIAF Norse mythology.”) This book, therefore, has furthered my love for ASOIAF even more than I would have thought possible.**

Again, although I cannot compare it to any other collections of Norse mythology, I truly feel that this book was a perfect introduction to the Norse world. I will definitely be checking out more books about it in the future, and will probably re-read this one several times throughout my life. Infinite thank-yous to Neil Gaiman for giving me a week of brilliant reading material and a new interest.

I really feel like this review should be longer, but somehow I don’t have much to say other than gushing over Gaiman’s storytelling abilities. (Maybe consider this more a book recommendation than a review.) I hate to end it here, but all I can say now is that I hope you go pick up the book!

What is your favorite type of mythology? Let me know below! Mine would have to be the most recent one I’ve become invested in–Celtic, although this book may end up changing that. 🙂

(If you’re interested in buying Norse Mythology–or any of Gaiman’s works–you can use this link, and I will earn a small commission. All commissions go towards me hosting giveaways!)

Music Recommendation: It seems only fitting that I recommend the Stardust soundtrack for this one.

Thanks for reading,

– Taylor


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