Saturday, February 4, 2017

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology by [Gaiman, Neil]

Norse Mythology- Neil Gaiman
W.W. Norton  Co
Release Date: February 7, 2017

Rating (out of 5):

SynopsisIn Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman—difficult with his beard and huge appetite—to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir—the most sagacious of gods—is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.

The much anticipated Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman brings new life to many of the traditional Norse myths, ranging from the creation of the world to the inevitable Ragnarok.  Gaiman says in his introduction that he was first introduced to Norse mythology in a way that would be familiar to many today: Marvel comics.  The success of the current movies with Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston    probably has as much to do with interest in the book as the original Mighty Thor Marvel comics had for Gaiman.  Gaiman's introduction gives readers a taste of the research that must have gone into the writing of this book, original sources and theories, connecting the myths to the geography of the people who told them.  However, it is done in an approachable way that will not scare off young readers or those not sure about the book.

The book itself is a collection of traditional myths, mostly focusing around some of the most familiar of the Norse gods: Odin, Thor, and Loki.  We learn how Thor got his hammer, Mjollnir; how Odin sacrificed himself on the world-tree Yggdrasil to gain knowledge; and how Loki tricked a giant into building the walls of Asgard without being paid.  There are stories of dwarfs and giants, monsters and magic, Fenrir the wolf who will eat the sun during the final battle and the Midgard serpent Thor will battle. We learn the Norse explanation for earthquakes and why salmon are shaped as they are.  We watch with a sense of inevitable doom as the gods make poor choices and alienate those who could have been their allies but will instead fight against them in Ragnarok.  Deception and betrayal, love, greed, intrigue, and complicated family life show us not only the world of Asgard but give us hints of the world of the Norsemen who first told these tales.  

The most striking feature of Norse Mythology is Gaiman's beautiful writing.  Gaiman surpasses his reputation as a brilliant story-teller with tales that manage to both retain their original, epic, flavor and blend a subtle modern feel that will ensure they appeal to today's readers- young and old.  The gentle cadence of each story nearly demands they be read aloud (whether you have an audience or not).  Adventure and emotion infuse each tale and by the last stories "The Last Days of Loki" and "Ragnarok: The Final Destiny of the Gods" I was moved to tears by battles both grand and individual.  But Gaiman ends on a gentle note of hope- Ragnarok may be an end, but it is also a beginning.  You close the book wondering what happens next.  The answer Gaiman hints at is that all things are possible and what comes next is what we make of it.

Neil Gaiman brings to life the tales of the ancient Norse sagas with every bit as much talent, wit, and emotion as any of the fictional novels he is so well known for.  Fans of any age, of American Gods and Marvel alike, will love the new life Gaiman infuses into these classic stories and be left hoping for more.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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