Neil Gaiman, one of the most skillful storytellers of his generation, tests his chops on classic Norse myths. This book is a collection of the popular and familiar myths as retold in Gaiman's delightful prose style. It's written as though a storyteller is sharing these tales with listeners, so it’s easy to read aloud at pagan campfires or as night-time stories for kids.
Fifteen stories follow a developmental arc that begins with the creation of life and the nine worlds of the Nordic cosmos. Subsequent stories highlight the notable characteristics of the gods: Odin's fierce cunning and wisdom, Thor's brutal strength and sometimes buffoonish stupidity; and Loki's propensity for getting into trouble and the wily tricks he invents to weasel out of them.
“The Treasures of the Gods” gives the origin of Thor's hammer. Loki's shape-shifting and gender-switching ability leads to a tricky ending in “The Master Builder.” In “The Children of Loki,” Loki's extra-marital affair with a giantess, Angrboda, is discovered along with the three children he fathered on the giantess. The gods make choices about these children that lead to their doom. More tricks and feats of godly power appear in “Freya's Unusual Wedding” and “The Mead of Poets”. The book ends with the stories of Die Gotterdammerung, the twilight of the gods. These include “The Death of Balder,” “The Last Days of Loki,” and “Ragnarok: The Final Destiny of the Gods.” The book includes a glossary of names and titles to assist readers.
Gaiman's childhood love of these tales is infused into the fabric of his re-tellings. The book is nicely formatted and has a beautiful rendering of Thor's hammer on the cover. Fans of these ancient stories will enjoy Gaiman's version, although it is not the most complete or detailed edition of Norse mythology. This is a good book for people who are unfamiliar with Norse mythology and are seeking a digestible version for a first encounter. It will enjoyable entertainment in an easy-reading form.
~review by Elizabeth Hazel
Author: Neil Gaiman
WW Norton and Company, 2017
293 pages, $25.95 hardback