Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

I wanted to get this book since it was published, but my book buying ban got in the way last year, so I was happy to come across it during my trip to Stanfords in May. I even mentioned it in my review of the American Gods, hoping that it would do justice to Norse mythology.

I loved the Greek and Roman mythologies, ever since my mum gave them to me to read when I run out of fairy tales. My favorite by far is Mythology of the Greek and Romans by Zygmunt Kubiak (unfortunately it was never translated). He presents myth in its most profound dimension, as “history that never happened, and yet is happening always,” as a record of universal human experience. From the pages of his works, ancient literature offers us a lesson in clarity of vision, in perceiving without illusion the bitterness and pain of human existence. This is what makes this book so moving and easy to relate to. As you can see on one hand the bar was set pretty high, but on the other I really have never read any Norse mythology, so I really looked forward to it.

I read it in  two sittings, the stories read great, Gaiman builds his narrative through several stories building up as expected to Ragnarok, as if he tells them to us like a bard would. We get to know all the main gods and through their adventures we start understanding their relationships. From a fairy tale perspective this is a great book, but it is not a mythology for me. It lacks the depth and the understanding, we get a series of well researched stories with roughly sketched characters, described by their one or two main features. I was interested in the plot, but I could not get invested in the characters, nor did I find any general observations about human condition. What puzzled me most was that Gaiman takes for granted that the gods are the way they are, but really why is Loki so devious? Why sometimes he saves the gods only to betray them in the next second? Why did Odin sacrifice himself to himself? To gain wisdom, but then in the myths he doesn’t seem to do much with this wisdom, so why the suffering and the effort? What does all of this tell me about humanity?

All of those questions were not only left unanswered, but almost got lost in the action packed plot. It was fun to read, really, I just expected more. This is a great book if you want to introduce someone to mythology and convince them it is not boring, but actually full of good stories, but it is not a book for someone looking for the bigger picture. I may be too harsh, Gaiman did have a difficult task, especially now with the Thor franchise butchering the Norse mythology and gaining so much popularity. This is now the third one of Gaiman’s books that I read and I feel like I’m not the intended audience, maybe it’s time to stop.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @ vkphotospace

8 thoughts on “Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

  1. I’m going to save this one to read again when I’ve read the book. I love Roger Lancelyn Green’s books of the myths – he did one volume for each set of myths and I remember them as being amazing – perhaps I’d better revisit them. I’ll let you know what I think of the Gaiman when I’ve read it, which might be a while …

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I did eventually review him last month I think – I found it a bit meh but thought I’d had too much myth. But I think you’re right – not enough depth. There was more in the Joanne Harris.


  2. I went back to see what other Gaiman books you’ve written about. I liked but didn’t love American Gods. I loved Ocean at the End of the Lane and The Graveyard Book. I still would like to read more of his fiction but it’s not something I’m dying to read. I think three books by an author is pretty representative of whether or not you like him enough to try again, so maybe you shouldn’t worry about trying another one?

    Liked by 2 people

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