Laughter and love, cunning and cruelty, the gods of the Norse myths are all the things that people are, but larger than life. For a long time I have loved the stories that have come down to us, mostly from Icelandic poets: the Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda, the many Sagas that tell of heroes such as Grettir the strong and Njal the wise. Along with other mythologies, like the Kalavala, and fantasy fiction such as Lord of the Rings, these books, characters and worlds were formative for me as a reader, and hold a special place in my heart.
I was excited to see Neil Gaiman, an author whose works I much admire, turn out a book on the subject. I'm not sure what I was expecting, a story perhaps, told in the modern sense? A cohesive plot winding through the adventures of the Aesir?
Norse Mythology is exactly what it states on the cover, episodic and written in a playful tone, as if meant to be told: it is a collection of the stories about the Norse gods. Each episode tracks the adventures of some of the gods, usually Thor and Loki, as they battle Frost Giants, fish for the Midgard Serpent, trick the Dwarfs and match wit and strength with strength and wit.
It is written as if to be spoken, it's prose simple and light and enjoyable throughout. Most of all though, the character is there. Reading Norse Mythology was like putting on an old favourite jumper, comfortable in its warm familiarity. Reading Gaiman's version of these myths made me chuckle at the brazenness of Thor, marvel at the wicked cunning of Loki, mourn for the slaying of Baldur, but most of all it made me smile. I've long been a lover of these myths, and was thrilled again by them, in this new retelling.