Loki, who plotted and planned as easily as other folk breathe in and out, smiled at Thor’s anger and innocence. “Your hammer has been stolen by Thrym, lord of all the ogres,” he said. “I have persuaded him to return it to you, but he demands a price.”
“Fair enough, said Thor. “What’s the price?”
“Freya’s hand in marriage.”
“He just wants her hand?” asked Thor hopefully. She had two hands, after all, and might be persuaded to give up one of them without too much of an argument.”
Norse Mythology, "Freya’s Unusual Wedding," p. 113
I love mythology. When I was a kid I didn’t just read the Percy Jackson series, I went out to used book store and bought retellings of the original Greek myths and pored over them in my free time. When I started university, my spare course credits went straight to mythology lectures. There’s just something so engaging about our ancient past and how civilizations imagined our shared world.
That's why when Neil Gaiman announced Norse Mythology, it shot straight to the top of my to-buy list.
It’s not often that a book like North Mythology comes out. Maybe that’s because people like myths, but don’t necessarily want to read them exactly as they were told thousands of years ago, in a language that doesn’t easily translate to modern-day English. Or maybe the reinterpretation of historical texts and oral traditions is a difficult task. Or maybe it’s both, or some other set of reasons that I’m unaware of—I don’t know. But I know contemporary retellings of myths are uncommon.
But here’s Norse Mythology, out in the world, and I’m so happy it is. The myths are accessible, fascinating, and full of magic and lyricism that make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time to a foreign world, where stories of Odin the all-father and Balder the beautiful weren’t just stories.
As Gaiman points out in the introduction, much of Norse mythology has been lost to history. What few myths we do have on record have likely been altered, as they were recorded after Christianity was introduced to the vikings. It’s a sad fact, but thankfully it doesn’t detract from the reading experience.
Norse mythology, in whatever shape it exists today, is engaging and wistful. Unlike many ancient religions, the stories of the gods don’t just take place in the past. They exist in the future; when Ragnarok comes, they will die. This makes the gods feel more human—until Odin does something wild like sacrificing himself to himself, or Thor goes and drinks two thirds of the world.
Of the sixteen sections in the book, my favourites were Yggdrasil and the Nine Worlds (how cool are giant magical trees!), Freya’s Unusual Wedding, and Thor’s Journey to the Land of the Giants. The saddest was The Children of Loki. But I thoroughly enjoyed them all.
The Norse gods are brooding and cruel. They're full of mysticism and quirky hilarity. They’re also constantly fighting, against their enemies and against their destiny. Because unlike most gods, the Norse deities will face their end, at Ragnarok. As you draw nearer to the end of the book, you begin to wonder what that really means for the gods and the people who worshipped them.
It’s a wild, epic ride.
Now that I've finished, Norse Mythology sits comfortably in the "mythology" section of my bookshelves. It's a perfect fit.
If you're at all interested in Norse mythology—even if it's just because you watched Marvel's (amazing) Thor: Ragnarok and loved it—check out Gaiman's latest book!