Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

I have made no secret of my love for @neilhimself. He is, in my eyes, one of the holy keepers of Story, a sacred duty to fulfil. So it’s safe to say I was definitely looking forward to his latest release, Norse Mythology, and – fair warning – I am about to spend the majority of this post waxing utterly lyrical, so if you’re not ready for some pretty obvious fangirling… well, now’s your chance to look away!

I had no idea what the book would be about – although I assumed it would have something to do with, well, Norse mythology – but I wanted in. So when I heard, shortly after its release, that the hardback was completely sold out and in some places was back ordered all the way to the publishers, I despaired of getting hold of a copy anytime soon. However, it seems I underestimated my local library, and I was delighted to find that, this week, I was not only able to reserve a copy, but that it was ready for me to collect only a few days later. WIN!

Often, when you’re looking forward to something this much, the reality can be a disappointment, but Norse Mythology was not. Reading it, for me, was simultaneously like snuggling into a cosy duvet with clean sheets, and like an adventure to the farthest reaches of the galaxy of imagination. (I did warn you I was going to gush…!) One of the things I love about Gaiman’s writing is his respect for the old traditions of storytelling – whatever genre or medium he works in, there is always a flavour of our human history of passing on tales like heirlooms – and Norse Mythology was absolutely full of this.

As it turns out, the book is kind of as obvious as its title. With a short introduction, it’s a simple collection of old Norse myths, painstakingly researched from several sources, retold with a dollop of artistic licence, woven together into a loose narrative thread, and ceremoniously gifted to the reader like the passing of a torch. It’s basically a book of Viking fairytales – but like a master chef, in the simplicity of the work, the complexity of the ingredients is more easily appreciated. The stories are beautifully told, and so subtly brought together that it feels seamless to read – this, regular readers may remember, was my biggest criticism of Pullman’s collection of folk tales and fairy stories, Grimm Tales, that it felt too clinical and like a study guide, and not enough like storytelling – so it was wonderful to feel swept away into this collection of myths.

It was also incredibly interesting how many commonalities there are across old religions and cultures – for example, I did not know the story of Odin hanging from the Gallows Tree for nine days and nights, sacrificing to himself; the similarities to Christ hanging from the cross, God sacrificing himself, are obvious. It’s beautiful to me to think that old stories can touch on deeper truths (in C.S. Lewis’ words, “There is a deeper magic”) that are there, lying beneath the layers of our differences in culture, epoch and creed.

Story is sacrosanct, and Neil Gaiman has brought us another exquisite sliver.

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