Norse Mythology

by Neil Gaiman

4.5 stars, actually.

It’s tricky to review a book of myths & legends…even when written in story form by Neil Gaiman. Unless you actually novelize the stories, it feels somewhat educational in tone, and authors must cull certain stories from various and myriad sources, inevitably leaving off favorite tales.

And then there’s Loki. He’s a tricky fellow, and not because he’s clever, or tortured, or plays pranks, or falls in love inappropriately, or turns himself into mares. Loki is one of the most fabulous and complicated characters out there– a lover, a trickster, and depending on how he is portrayed, misunderstood and tragic or evil and cold, and as a Loki-lover, I want him to be full of mysterious depths but emotionally vulnerable.

Here, Gaiman’s version (mostly taken from Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda) feels a bit more needlessly cruel and vindictive than misunderstood. Gaiman’s presents these tales– filled with casual cruelty and the trading of women as things matter-of-factly and sometimes with a understated, sly humor, but never with long explanations of inner motivations or thoughts. Without those thoughts, Loki is reduced to cruel, Odin to self-absorbed indifference, and Thor into a naive fool intent on solving everything with a hammer.

So despite the reading ease of the sparse prose, and clear introduction to the giants, light/dark elves, various Vanir and Aesir (I never actually understood the difference between them before but Gaiman’s intro makes it clear) and the quite mesmerizing Ragnarok tale at the end where everything burns to pieces and drowns in the flood, some of the angsty fun of Nordic gods are lost without this “storyization” of them as characters in a narrative.

Still, this book doesn’t pretend to be a novel, it is clearly a compendium of tales, and as such is entirely satisfying.