Friday, March 10, 2017

Norse Mythology -- Neil Gaiman

When I was ten or eleven, I read every mythology book I could get my hands on.  In Mexia, Texas, long ago, that wasn't a lot of books, and most of them were retellings of Greek and Roman myths.  But somewhere in there I became familiar with some of the Norse myths, as well.  

Later on, my knowledge of the Greek and Roman stories came in handy, as I taught a course in mythology for several years.  I also taught the first semester of world literature, which included the Ilaid, Odyssey, and The Aeneid, along with a good many Greek dramas.  The Norse stories fell by the wayside, which was why I was so surprised at how well I remembered some of them that Neil Gaiman retells in his new book.

The biggest surprise of all, though, is that a collection of Norse myths has become a big bestseller.  Who would ever have guessed?  Not me.

Gaiman retells the tales in simple prose that reminded me of the books I'd read so long ago.  My memory on that point is vague, but I suspect that Gaiman wanted to recapture some of that simple, straightforward way of telling things.  Naturally he slips in his own stuff, including humor, in the dialogue and rounding out of some of the characters, especially Thor.  One character that doesn't get any rounding is Loki.  When I was a kid, Loki really bothered me.  I could never see any reason for his doing the things he did.  The killing of Balder bothered me a lot.  As a supposedly wiser adult, I have the same problem.  Loki's father was a giant, so maybe that's part of it.  He's clever, he delights in tricks, and he doesn't seem to care for anyone but himself.  Maybe it's motiveless malignity in the Iago manner, but that doesn't seem to be it.  He looks forward to the deaths of the gods and the ending of the world at Ragnarok.

If you know nothing about Norse mythology, this book would be a fine place to learn a bit.  If you know a little but have forgotten a lot, it's probably even better.  Either way, it should occasionally surprise and delight you.

8 comments:

Don Coffin said...

Much of what I know about Norse mythology comes from reading Tolkien and from reading The Compleat Enchanter (L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt). Oh, and from reading about Wagner. Gaiman's take is a bit different, but really fun (and interesting). Loki is the most interesting of the gods, in my opinion. The others seen pretty one-dimensional.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

So, Loki sounds quite a bit like Trump, then?

Caroline Clemmons said...

Bill, I always enjoy your take on subjects. Do you suppose all kids go through a time of fascination with mythology? I did in junior high, but was limited to a couple of books in the school library.

Bill Crider said...

Maybe it's just the weird kids. I don't know of anyone else in my classes back in those days who did.

George said...

I have a copy of Gaiman's NORSE MYTHOLOGY on my Read Real Soon stack. There are a lot of Neil Gaiman fans out there who will buy anything he writes.

Janis Gore said...

When I was growing up we had in the house The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Complete-10-vol-set-1948-BOOKSHELF-FOR-BOYS-AND-GIRLS-University-Society-/252753664040?hash=item3ad94ad828

The Norse myths were in the volume of folk tales, I think, along with Greek myths and other stories. I read them all. Was a great set of books to begin interest in that sort of thing and others.

Always lurking and thinking good thoughts for you.

Bill Crider said...

Thanks for the good thoughts, Janis. We had something called THE BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE that had the Greek and Roman stories, but not the Norse. I found those in some library book or other.

Karin said...

I read a ton of books of myths in elementary school, too. Then I moved on to science fiction. And now I'm stuck in crime.