Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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The handle is a little short.

Last year, he announced that he had written a book of Norse Mythology, and the world rejoiced (well, I mean… I rejoiced. I assume others out there did too. I don’t keep track of the *whole* world). And so the audiobook was preordered (because I will -always- listen to a Neil Gaiman book in audio if possible. More on that in a little bit).

Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.

In 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.

Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

A squirrel, Ratatosk, lives in the branches of the world-tree. It takes gossip and messages from Nidhogg, the dread corpse-eater, to the eagle and back again. The squirrel tells lies to both of them, and takes joy in provoking anger.

I chose that particular quote because Ratatosk the squirrel is one of my favorite parts of Norse mythology in general. The idea of a giant squirrel in a giant, giant ash tree who spends his whole days stirring up trouble for everyone (not just the ‘good’ eagle or the ‘evil’ Nidhogg) makes me smile. There’s something I just like about a troublemaker. That’s why I also love Loki.

Not just Tom Hiddleston Loki either, though admittedly… he’s pretty great too. 😀

Loki has always been a hugely entertaining part of mythology for me. He’s not always a ‘bad guy’ but he’s almost never truly good in any of the stories. He’s in it for himself, usually. Entirely self-motivated, and usually because he thinks whatever he’s plotting will be hilarious. In stories like the one where the gods got their wall built (and the resulting 8-legged horse), he cleverly and yet hilariously fumbles his way through his own mistakenly bad advice. I’ve always been a huge fan of mythology, and I love the way that Gaiman tells these stories that I grew up reading about. Norse Mythology with a Gaiman touch. It’s magical!~

And now the audiobook. If you’ve never listened to a Neil Gaiman audiobook, I should tell you that he narrates most of them himself. Not a lot of authors do this well. I’ve listened to a few author-narrated audiobooks… and (with a few exceptions) nobody else has the right delivery for their stories. Neil Gaiman, on the other hand, doesn’t just read you his story like it’s some words he wrote down. He tells you the story like it’s a bedtime story and you’re a 5-year-old sitting up in bed, laughing at all the funny voices and hiding under your blankets at the scary parts. You absolutely should listen to at least one if you never have. Don’t have a lot of time for this audiobook nonsense? Try Fortunately, the Milk. It’s only about an hour long and meant for probably 6-year-olds, but damn it’s a good listen. Odd and the Frost Giants is also a great choice. For 2 or 3 more hours of your time you could have Coraline. Want something more adult? Neverwhere and Stardust are two of my favorites (The BBC radio productions of those are awesome as hell too though!) Don’t want to listen to a whole novel? Try Trigger Warning, Fragile Things, or Smoke & Mirrors. They’re short stories and poems and things.

Really though, you could just listen to this one. Because it’s awesome.

I started listening when I got it but didn’t have time to make it past the introduction because I’ve been so busy with things that actually need my full attention. Finally had time to give it another listen yesterday and could not stop until it was done. Granted it is only 6 hours long, but that’s both long enough and not long enough. I wished there were more stories. Alas.

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I would pay real good money to see this happen in a Marvel after-credits scene.

I loved it. Absolutely loved it. I listened all through work, I listened on the way home, listened through dinner and listened while playing a bit of Skyrim (which was actually a bit awesome, if I’m honest. I AM THE MOST NORD OF THE NORDS!). I kind of hope that other mythologies are going to get a Neil Gaiman book some day. I remember there being various mythos in Sandman, but man… this took it to another level of awesome. All the stars out of five!~

You can get it… uh… well pretty much anywhere you can buy a book, I think. 😀

But, since I’m all demanding you all listen to this, you can get it on audible: US | UK

 

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