Genre: Mythology, Fantasy, Short Stories
Rating: 4/5 stars
In the beginning, there was nothing but mist and flames.
At least, that's what the Edda claims.
I've always been fascinated with Norse Mythology (and with everything ancient in general). With its strong impact on Marvel's movies, metal music and J.R.R. Tolkien, the AllFather of high fantasy, references to the mighty Gods of Asgard, and the impending twilight thereof, are a part of daily life. Neil Gaiman did not invent a story from the start. He had the material, the facts, the descriptions ready. Yet Norse Mythology is the stellar proof of his tremendous talent and ingenuity, because like a new Odin, he instilled breath in myths existing for thousands of years, he commanded to life frost giants, demons, dwarfs, elves, Æsir and Vanir alike, and crafted a marvelous collection of stories, ideal to read them in a cold winter's night, next to a grinding fire, holding a cup of warm content, while your mind travels in wild landscapes and flies in the form of a raven, spying the creation of the world and its destruction, only to be reborn again. For in Norse Mythology, it is obvious that rebirth always follows death.
“Behind the depth, before the height
Surrounded by the serpent Jörmundgand
World of man in the middle
Of heat and ice built by the Ymer brow”
One of the most astonishing things you realise while reading Norse Mythology, is that human minds work in a similar manner all over the world. You can't help but notice the similarities with other mythologies, the traditions of people who thrived miles away. Take the creation of the Nine Worlds for example: there was a flood, one created by Ymer's blood, that destroyed all life only to start it anew. You will notice the same pattern in Greek Mythology, with Deucalion and Pyrrha, in Genesis, with Noah's ark, and many other cultures, like the Aboriginal tribes and the Mayas. You will also discover the origins of the Middle Earth's creation, and the races inhabiting it, and you'll marvel at the parallels between Gjallerhorn, which will be blown by Heimdall at the end of all things to wake the Gods, and the Horn of Valere which will summon the Heroes to battle in Tarmon Gai'don, the Final Battle, in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. It's chilling, and strangely satisfying.
Odin, Thor and Loki are the main dramatis personae, followed by Freyr and Freya, Baldr and Týr. Through Neil Gaiman's eyes, his witty narration infused with humour, subtle comments and foreboding, you witness Odin's quest for wisdom, and the price he had to pay to acquire it; you will find out how Loki made Sif go bald, and thus the greatest treasures came to the possesion of the Gods; you will follow a strange man's efforts to create the walls of Asgard, demanding to be paid with the sun, the moon and beautiful Freya.
Blue her eyes
Gold of hair
A maiden so fair”
You will shiver before the children of Loki, the serpent of Midgard, the lady of the realm of the Dead, and wolf Fenrir, the demise of the Gods.
“I watched as he shouted
To the giants who died that day
He held up his hammer high
And called to Odin for a sign”
You will laugh at Thor's disguise in order to take back Mjolnir, and taste the heavenly mead of Poetry and Widsom, which was made of blood; you'll visit the land of the giants alongside Thor and Loki and you'll be tricked by illusions; you'll search for the apples of Iðunn which grant eternal youth (apples of Hesperides anyone?) after the Gods lost them thanks to Loki; you'll see Freyr finding his missing part; you will steal the cauldron that brews the greatest beer; and you will mourn the death of the Sun.
“Honour your brother's name, unarmed or blind
Let me aid you in your aim, don't stay behind
Let's maim immortality and death to a deity”
You will find out how the first fishing net was created and why, and finally, you will freeze in the Coldest Winter, the prelude to the extinction of mankind, and the Twilight of the Gods.
See the earth go up in flames
The great serpent writhes in rage
The doom of gods now hath come
The fall of the sun
The gates of Hel devour the dead
At the twilight of the gods”
Neil Gaiman's pantheon is ruled by the same passions, desires and ambitions with the mortals. His Gods are naive and cruel, spontaneous and bloodthirsty; Thor is not particularly bright (nor as hot as Chris Hemsworth), and Loki is a spiteful creature, a puppeteer, a troublemaker and by the end, you'll crave his suffering.
“Asgard's always been my home
But I'm of different blood
I will overthrow the throne
Deceiver of the gods!”
Norse Mythology may not be original in its content, but it is innovative and deeply inspiring in its prose, and the blessed talent of the hand that wrote it. It is a quick and relaxing read I highly recommend if you're searching for your next epic adventure!
“Thor! Odin's son
Protector of mankind
Ride to meet your fate
Your destiny awaits”
Playlist (in order of lyrics' appearance)
Midgard - Therion
Frøya's Theme - Leave's Eyes
Thor - Manowar
Brother's Bane - Týr
Ragnarök - Stormwarrior
Deceiver of the Gods - Amon Amarth
Twilight of the Thunder God - Sabaton (Amon Amarth cover)