Book Review: Norse Mythology

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Norse Mythology

by Neil Gaiman


I can’t decide if Loki’s better or worse than I remembered him.

The gods are worse. No question. Not all of them: the female gods, Freya and Sif and Idunn, bearer of the golden apples of immortality, are better than I remembered them; Gaiman manages to give them an air of tender exasperation with the idiotic men who surround them. The dark gods, and especially the giants who show up in almost every story, are better, too; I was rooting for them half the time, especially when they had to deal with Thor.

I hate Thor.

He does have his moments; I like the stories about his limitless might, and especially his nigh-infinite capacity for food and drink; I love that that was a sign of his prowess, that he can eat more and drink more than any other being alive. But he keeps getting mad and attacking everything, and rather than justify his actions, or – Odin forbid – atone for his sins, he tends to just kill anyone who would take him to task for breaking things or stealing things or what have you. The fact that Loki so often targets Thor is probably his best quality.

This is a great book. The myths are so much fun to read, the characters so human and relatable even while they are doing impossible things; Gaiman has this incredible ability to layer character traits deep into the narration, so that you’re hardly aware of it, but then before the story is over you know: Tyr sacrifices his hand for love of Fenris, as much as for love of his fellow gods. Kvasir, the god of wisdom, not only knows his own doom before it comes, but he almost welcomes it, because it saves him from having to deal with bastards like the evil ones that – but I don’t want to spoil it. Odin is the Allfather, all right: and his kids annoy the crap out of him. The stories in this book aren’t familiar enough to me to make them boring; there were a few that I knew, and of course I knew the last one, the story of Ragnarok, but even that one had new aspects that made it fresh and exciting: because I love the idea that Ragnarok gives rise to the next cycle of existence, that it is not, in fact, the end, even though it is the end of the Aesir and the Vanir.

And frankly, considering what they do in the end to Loki? They deserved everything they got.

Of course I recommend this. Of course it was wonderful. I read it in small pieces, but I think it would go just as well being swallowed whole – like the sun and the moon into the maw of Fenrir. It was magical, and funny, and human, and otherworldly, all at the same time.

But you know what the best part was? Honestly, it was this. At the funeral of Balder, most beloved of all the gods, brought down by Loki’s envious plotting, Thor is mad (because the gods won’t let him kill a giantess who is present) and then this happens:

Lit, 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.

From now until Ragnarok, whenever one of my teenaged students says, “This is so lit!” I will think of nothing else but Thor kicking the dwarf into the fire. And for that, Mr. Gaiman, I thank you.

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