When I was about 12 or 13, I read a book called East that spurred an interest in Norse mythology and a love for the North. It was a retelling of the Norse fairy tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” and contained gorgeous descriptions of Asgard, Bifrost, and tales of Thor and his hammer. I always had an interest in the subject, but never really read enough about it. That’s where Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology came in.
Like so many people, I will read anything Neil Gaiman writes, so I put Norse Mythology on my to-buy list immediately when I saw it was being released this year. And I’m very glad I did.
Norse Mythology retells, in plain English language that nevertheless manages to retain a fable-like tone, several major Norse myths. Some that are included in this volume are: 1. How Odin sacrificed his eye for wisdom, 2. How Thor’s hammer was forged by the dwarfs, 3. How Loki’s monstrous children were born and how they came to rule in certain areas (like Hela in Helheim), 4. the death of Balder and 5. Ragnarok. It was compulsively readable, utterly engrossing, and way, way too short.
Gaiman’s retelling is based on both the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, in its many translations. Most of the retellings are blendings of different versions, which I realized when, immediately after I finished Gaiman’s version, I started “The Heroes of Asgard,” a very old book from 1928, by A.E. Keary, that I bought when I was in England, shopping in market stalls.
Reading a book from 1928 is an experience in and of itself–the pages and the type feel otherworldly, but especially when you’re reading mythology. Reading these two very different volumes end to end was the perfect experience, because Gaiman’s work laid the groundwork for the mental recall of the stories, while The Heroes of Asgard reinforced the knowledge and enriched the stories, making them more diverse, even though the differences between versions became obvious.
Since I was basically a beginner to Norse mythology with only a knowledge of the basics, I think Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is the perfect way to enter into the world of the Aesir and the Vanir, and learn the stories that have influenced our culture so indelibly.
It’s definitely a gateway book: I’ll definitely be delving into Norse mythology much more deeply in the future, and I’m already looking into translations of the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda. My love for mythology, Norse in particular, and the lands of Scandinavia and Iceland has only grown because of this book!
Buy it on Amazon here!