Review Norse Mythology: A Novel by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman’s no stranger to Norse gods (see: American Gods, highlighted below), but in his new book, he’s not simply picking apart old myths and using the parts to build new stories—he’s actually recasting them and retelling them with a modern approach. Gaiman somehow manages to faithfully recreate these ancient tales while weaving the various narratives into a collection of stories that also hangs together as a novel. The gods and mortals emerge as real personalities, and the old myths coalesce into a story arc with real stakes and emotional payoff. Did you expect any less from Neil Himself?

In Norse Mythology, acclaimed fiction writer Neil Gaiman sets out to retell a selection of the Norse myths that have served as a substantial source of inspiration for many of his earlier works, perhaps most notably the very popular novel American Gods.

Although Gaiman retells only a few of the dozens of surviving Viking myths, his choices include almost all of the most important ones, such as the creation of the universe and its cataclysmic downfall, as well as some that are particularly odd and funny. And by limiting himself to a particular portion of the myths, he’s able to flesh out those myths in a grand, novelistic form, which is perhaps the book’s greatest strength. It turns some of the greatest stories in world literature into a great modern novel in its own right.

The only downside for some prospective readers will be that Norse Mythology doesn’t have much of a discussion of the Norse religion from which the myths arose. But if you’re only interested in the stories, it’s hard to beat this book, and if you want more than just the stories, you can always round out the picture by also reading another one of the books on this list that include more of a nonfiction, historical discussion of the religion. I’ve heard from many people that Norse Mythology and The Viking Spirit complement each other particularly nicely.

 

 

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“In these accessible, retold tales, fantasy is odd, and real, and dire.”
– Ethan Gilsdorf, Boston Globe

“Weaving together ancient Norse mythology with 21st-century sensibility, Gaiman’s storytelling once again recreates an entire genre for the modern reader.”
– Chelsea Hassler, Newsweek

“Evocative and lyrical.… It is quite simply a breathtaking novel that is as matchless as the Norse gods themselves.”
– Alex Brown, Tor

Norse Mythology introduces readers to a deeper world, rooted in the traditions of northern story telling. And what most of us know of Norse mythology only scratches the surface.… Gaiman’s book serves as a welcome point of entry to a new generation of readers.”
– Bill Jones, A.V. Club

“Who else but Neil Gaiman could become an accomplice of the gods, using the sorcery of words to make their stories new? The author of American Gods transforms Norse myths into addictive reading for young and old, with high-wattage retellings that preserve the monumental grandeur of the Nordic universe but also turn it into a world that is up close and personal, full of antic wit and dark intrigue.”
– Maria Tatar, translator and editor of The Annotated Brothers Grimm

“A lively, funny, and very human rendition of Thor the thunder god, his father Odin, and the dark-hearted trickster Loki (plus countless other gods and monsters).”
– Petra Mayer, NPR

“In Norse Mythology, Gaiman brings voice to the old myths so viscerally that listening to the audiobook every night for a week, I thought my bedroom might explode into Valhalla. The entire Norse pantheon, including dwarves and giants and demons, plays out as vividly as a novel or film. Honestly I may have to order a breastplate of some sort. As Gaiman puts it in the introduction, the stories feel like a journey from the ice and fire that created the world to the fire and ice that end it.”
– Lidia Yuknavitch, New York Times Book Review

“A clear, continuous narrative, with big scenes the same as they always were but with emotional pointers added.”
– Tom Shippey, The Wall Street Journal

“Gaiman has such a profound understanding of the conflicts of Odin, Thor, Loki, and other gods that he revitalizes them through his imaginative depictions. His interpretation of major Norse myths will draw readers into a strange realm that will dazzle and baffle and lead to a new appreciation of Norse mythology.”
– Jack Zipes, editor of The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature

“Gaiman’s prose is bright and fluid, his storytelling clear and cogent.… Norse Mythology ably captures the essence of a myth cycle that deserves to be better known, in an edition likely to speak to readers of all ages.”
– Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle

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Top customer reviews

RDDTop Contributor: Batman
TOP 1000 REVIEWER
In “Norse Mythology”, Neil Gaiman retells the Norse stories about the forming of the world, the creation of Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds, how Odin lost his eye, how the gods got their treasures, Loki’s children, Thor’s journey to the land of the giants, the death of Balder, Ragnarok, and more. Gaiman previously adapted the Norse stories in some of his other works, like “American Gods” and “The Sandman” comics, but here he tells the stories in their own setting. Like any storyteller, he’s updated the language a bit, except where older vernacular adds weight, and focuses on certain elements over others, but the major points of the stories hold true. Gaiman’s update demonstrates why these stories remain relevant and continue to enthrall us. Fans of Thor, Odin, and Loki will find plenty to enjoy and younger readers wanting to know more about the characters they read about in comics or see in movies, much like Gaiman first learned of Thor from Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s stories, will learn to love the original tales from this retelling. Based on his previous work, Gaiman appears to have been working toward this for awhile and he doesn’t disappoint.
Susan V.
Some complain that when compared to Gaiman’s other works, Norse Mythology falls a bit flat. The goal of this project was not to tell new stories, but to breath new life into the old stories. Gaiman stays true to the source materials and presents the stories of Thor and Odin and Loki and all of the Norse gods in a language that feels fresh and engaging. I’ve worked my way through the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda and they are anything but an easy read. The prose of a millennia past is something of a hot mess. Gaiman has done all of the painful research for us and given us the old stories gift-wrapped in tight, modern language and a clarity and singular narrative that old Snorri Sturluson was incapable of providing. If you want new and exciting stories about Thor and the gang, pick up a Marvel Comic book or Rick Riodan’s Magus Chase series. But if you have a genuine academic interest in the old Norse stories, you’ll learn more from spending a day with Gaiman’s Norse mythology than you will learn from spending a year sifting through the Prose and Poetic Edda and it will be a hell of a lot more fun.
Billob

I bought this book right when it released at midnight and being hard to put down, I read it completely through the night. It was a fairly quick read but very enjoyable. As I recently read my first novel by Gaiman, I was interested in his writing style and intrigued to hear he would be retelling Norse Mythology.

Coming into the book, I only knew the basics of Norse Mythology so I was excited to learn more about it. It is clear Gaiman has a great interest in the subject and he put a lot of care into it. These are stories that have been told over and over again and this is another retelling to pass through the countless generations these stories have survived.

He retells the stories as chronologically as you can, and keeps the story flowing as it jumps around each chapter telling a new story and each story just as interesting as the last. The stories he chose were all fascinating, there wasn’t a single one that was boring.

If you want to find out more about Norse Mythology this is definitely a fantastic read and a good place to start.

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