Norse mythology, originally told from ancient texts such as the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, has been the source of inspiration for many modern and classic novels such as J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and other books in this world, Rick Riorden’s Magnus Chase series, and Neil Gaiman’s own American Gods. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman selects stories on Odin, Thor, and Loki for this highly abridged retelling of stories on the old gods.
The story begins with the creation of the gods, man, giants, other creatures, and the nine worlds. Included is a short chapter description on the “main players”: Odin -“The highest and the oldest of all the Gods is Odin.”, his son Thor – “He is straightforward where his father is cunning, good-natured where his father is devious.”, and Thor’s blood brother Loki – “He is tolerated by the gods, perhaps because his stratagems and plans save them as often as they get them into trouble.” They all live together with other gods of the Aesir in Asgard, battling giants and evil creatures, and other gods from the Vanir before the truce between gods.
One of the first stories told is how Thor got his hammer, while many other gods received equally stunning gifts. The gifts came from the dwarfs but it was all because of Loki. What began as a nasty prank when Loki stole all the golden hair from Thor’s wife, ended with incredible gifts forged by renown dwarfs as a competition, and Loki’s head was a bargaining chip.
“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.”
The gods aren’t always portrayed as noble and just. There is the story of how the wall was built around Asgard to keep out giants. A master builder who appeared to be a man promised he could build the tallest and strongest wall around Asgard in exchange for Freya’s hand in marriage, the sun and the moon. They couldn’t very well give him these things, but agreed to the deal with a plan from Loki and set the man up (who was really a giant) to fail. They got their wall, and never paid for it – but Loki got a little more than he bargained for. There is also a story about the god Kvasir, the wisest of the gods. He was killed by some evil dwarfs who used his blood to make mead of the poets. One sip and poetry and prose would pour from your lips. When the dwarfs betrayed a giant husband and wife and killed them, the giant’s family took the mead as compensation. When the gods found out, they went after the giants instead of the dwarfs who were the ones to actually kill Kvasir.
If the mead of poetry exists, we can rightly assume that Neil Gaiman has had a sip or two.
“Ever since then, we know that those people who can make magic with their words, who can make poems and sagas and weave tales, have tasted the mead of poetry. When we hear a fine poet, we say that they have tasted Odin’s gift.”
Other stories go into the gods’ interactions with the giants, the problems Loki caused and how they were fixed, and the final downfall of Loki and his kin. Each story contains small references to explain why things are the way they are today such as how the ebb and flow of tides were created, why a salmon is thinner on the tail end, and the appearance of specific midwinter constellations.
The stories are said to be unfinished with Ragnarok on the horizon. In the coming days of Ragnorak, the end of the worlds, a never-ending winter will consume the world and the sleeping gods will wake and the horn will be sounded, and they will lead the army of those who had died with honor in battle, those living out their post-death days in the halls of Valhalla and readying for the final fight, into battle against Loki and his three children: Fenrir the great wolf, Hel and her legion of corpses who reside in the underworld, and Jormungundr the Midgard serpent who grew large enough to encircle the world. Odin, Thor, and Loki will all fall and when this world is over, the age of men will begin again in the ashes of the old.
Neil Gaiman introduces the reader to the authentic stories of Odin, Thor, and Loki, without the Hollywood spin, in an easy-to-read ensemble of short stories. A superb addition for the collectors of myths and readers of fantasy.
by Nail Gaiman