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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

He said nothing: seldom do those
who are silent make mistakes.
Argh, Neil Gaiman blah blah, waffle waffle, and so on.

There, that’s out of the way.

I can’t help but equate the resurgence in popularity of the Norse mythos, Icelandic sagas, and Skaldic and Eddic poetry in all their new televisual, literal and figurative forms, to the similarly resurgent popularity of comic-book- and super-heroes. In fact, they’re two sides of the same interrogative coin: one asks, “How did we get here?” whereas the other asks, “Who can save us?” for the world needs heroes, and people to blame.

I will leave it up to you to project your own personal Them into the nice Them-shaped gap that leaves behind.

You may think it very necessary and timely to have brought out such a book. Alternatively, you may be suffering from hero-fatigue and see it as all a bit unnecessary. Or you may have been seduced by the big hammer on the cover and the lovely tactile matt-finish cover. In any case and in my own humble opinion, other than talk William Warder Norton into springing for a lovely tactile matt-finish high-quality hardback, Neil Gaiman has done nothing new in his retelling of what remains to us of the original myths. At least, that’s what I thought on first reading. When I first picked it up, it felt light-weight, slimmer than I had imagined, and I probably carried that prejudice into the book itself, feeling some of Gaiman’s narrative ploys were a little frivolous. Consider this passage from the tale of Baldr’s funeral:
One of the dwarfs walked in front of Thor to get a better view of the pyre, and Thor kicked him irritably into the middle of the flames, which made Thor feel slightly better and made all the dwarfs feel much worse.
In Snorri Sturluson's Gylfaginning the dwarf is called Litr. This is irrelevant but an omission which irked me slightly, as does the somewhat flippant tone, considering it’s Thor’s brother’s funeral pyre into which he is kicked. However, as the tales progress, Gaiman’s guileful artistry does what it always does (particularly to me) and converts as it subverts, gently and with good humour. Throughout, it’s these small acts of artistic licence that makes the reader truly believe Thor really is the hot-headed, slightly dense but generally well-meaning warrior who would strike first and apologise humbly after. It’s also why I *whisper* really like Neil Gaiman as an author.

Two further examples, just for fun:
“I’m not happy about any of this,” said Thor. “I’m going to kill somebody soon, just to relieve the tension. You’ll see.” 
In their huge bedroom that night, Tyr said to Thor, "I hope you know what you are doing.""Of course I do," said Thor. But he didn't. He was just doing whatever he felt like doing. That was what Thor did best.

Flippant, yes, but forgivable.


So, while we learn nothing new about the myths themselves, we may come away feeling differently about the power of storytelling to affect a transformation, both on existing works and on ourselves. If in reading you look for something uplifting and life-affirming, you might do a damn sight worse than this.

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