As soon as I saw Neil Gaiman’s announcement for Norse Mythology, I knew I had to read it because 1) I have always had a fascination for folklore, and 2) I live in an island with a strong Scandinavian history.
My parents hail from the midlands, but somehow our family ended up in the highlands, where I was raised. I often think my coming-of-age as a patchwork of stories from different parts of the Philippine archipelago—a commingling of old wives tales, legends, and barrio superstition. Norse Mythology entices my inner feral child. (Although my husband would argue that feral child only transitioned into feral adult … feradult. Can that be a thing?)
In this masterpiece, Gaiman gives a thrilling account of the Norse gods, speaking in a voice that resonates to the young and young at heart. He begins the retelling just as anyone would, by introducing the players. The northern deities themselves need no introduction, but the author acquaints them with the reader in a completely different light. I caught myself chuckling when Loki was pegged as someone who “makes the world more interesting, but less safe.”
The playing field is then laid out, from the story of the giant ash tree, Yggdrasil, which spans and connects the nine worlds, to Ragnarok, the “end of days.” From there, the story is as how we remember it: Odin’s eye is a casualty in his quest for knowledge, earning him names such as “Blindr” (the blind god), “Hoarr” (the one-eyed), and “Baleyg” (the flaming-eyed one). We then become privy to how Loki’s mischief results in two ambitious dwarves forging Mjollnir, more commonly known as the mighty hammer of Thor. The contrast between Gaiman’s retelling of Mjollnir and its translation into movies such as Thor and The Avengers is amusing, to say the least.
Even the plight of the Norse gods’ greatest enemies is not forgotten in this bestseller. We learn about Fenrir the wolf who is prophesied to devour Odin and ultimately bring on Ragnarok, the Midgard serpent who is Thor’s arch nemesis, and Hel the queen of the dead who was thrown into the underworld by Odin.
Gaiman navigates the back roads of Norse mythology with great ease and a touch of whimsicality, leading up to Balder’s death and Loki’s last days. At the end of the story is Ragnarok, where the worlds inevitably end “in ash and flood, in darkness and ice.”
Norse Mythology is a much-needed (ironically) humane retelling of the great northern tales. Gaiman underlines how important oral traditions are to mankind—perhaps the reason why he has taken a more affectionate, tone terms of voice for this book. Never will I deem myself worthy of encapsulating anything written by the master storyteller, and so I end with a personal highlight, one from the chapter on the mead of poets.
“Do you wonder where poetry comes from? Where we get the songs we sing and the tales we tale? … It is a long story, and it does no credit to anyone: there is murder in it, and trickery, lies and foolishness, seduction and pursuit. Listen.”
This review was written for the National Bookstore blog.
About the blogger:
Cha Ro-Jo is a true blue island girl. Archipelagal is the (re)telling of her geographical and ideological pursuits. She mostly writes about things she wish other people had told her. Hence, she hopes you find her inner dialogue beneficial, or at the very least, amusing.
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