When I was a kid, I was fascinated with ancient mythology. My favorite myths were those from ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, but I tried to read everything I could get my grubby little hands on. I thought that myths provide a deeper understanding of a particular culture, specifically their understanding of self, their environment, and their place in the universe. For example, isn’t it interesting that the “great flood” is a recurrent theme in myths cross-culturally? And what about the common theme of resurrection, wherein a male figure undergoes a great sacrifice, is dead for a specific number of days, and returns to life? Or the final end of days, Armageddon? One could say that these archetypes reflect fears and/or desires shared by all human individuals, and taps into our collective unconscious, if you’re psychologically inclined like me.
… I was a weird kid. But I digress.
While I was quite familiar with Egyptian and Greek mythology, I wasn’t as well-versed in Norse mythology (apart from a couple of stories and having watched the Thor films). So I was really excited to read Norse Mythology, a collection of essential Norse myths interpreted by Neil Gaiman, one of my absolute favorite authors. Along with American Gods, one can see Gaiman’s respect and admiration for the pantheon and stories of Nordic culture. With his inimitable dark and lyrical prose, Gaiman recounts some of the greatest hits, such as Thor and Loki attempting to recover mjolnir (Thor’s powerful hammer) from a giant, Odin’s sacrifice to obtain deep wisdom, the death of a beloved god, and Ragnarok, the end of the world. Gaiman also shares less well-known tales, such as Loki’s tryst with a stallion, how good and bad poets came to be, and the tale of Utgarda-Loki, a cunning giant who bested Thor and Loki in a series of challenges.
After reading this collection, you come to learn how human these gods really are. They’re petty, vindictive, and cruel, yet they gave the gift of life to humans. How their hubris with Loki’s children brings about Ragnarok itself, but how death really isn’t the end. If there’s a protagonist to these stories, it’s Loki, the trickster god. An agent of chaos, you don’t really know what his motives are. At times, he’s saves the Aesir, and yet he brings about their destruction. He does some truly despicable things, and yet… you understand him, in some instances.
Overall, Gaiman breathes new life into these mythical stories. So do I recommend Gaiman’s Norse Mythology?