Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology: A Review

I have the Audible version of this as read by Neil Gaiman (which I highly recommend as it’s lovely to have it read by the author) but I decided to read the book myself. I devoured it. Norse Mythology has always intrigued me. Long before the Marvel Films came out, before it became popular and trendy, I used to read myths, legends, and faerie stories as a child in between samplings of Shakespeare, Tolkien, and Stephen King. Besides Greek & Roman (which one needs to understand works such as the Iliad and Shakespeare), Norse mythology is wonderful as it is terrible. Unlike other mythologies, there really is no happy ending, but a cycle of death, destruction, and life (more reminiscent of Hinduism and the concept of rebirth and reincarnation). While people think my fascination stems from my enjoyment of the Marvel Films (and I do enjoy them), I started getting interested in them due to JRR Tolkien’s works.

JRR Tolkien (Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate)

Most people don’t know (though they should), Tolkien’s works were inspired by the Eddas, which are heavily influenced by the Norse mythologies. Tolkien was also influenced by Arthurian legends and works such as Beowulf and other Medieval literature. Yet I live for Austen, so go figure that one out. But there is something dark, mysterious, sensual about Norse Myths that Tolkien never really touched upon and Neil Gaiman hints at: Loki.

Loki

Loki is the God if Mischief and Gaiman points out is Blood Brother to Odin. He is a dark God. He is a sensual God. He is Chaos. He brings gifts and order, but at the same time, brings destruction and death. Out of all Aesir, he is the horniest (seriously, he sleeps around a lot), and has the most interesting offspring: monsters and goddesses and gods. We equate him with the Devil now only because the Eddas were written down in the early Christian Era by monks and most of the stories have been lost. What we do have shows a very complex mythos and Loki is a key figure in almost every single one of them. He saves the Asguardians yet is punished by them. He helps divert destruction away from Asgard, causing mischief, but saves the day. Loki is a shapeshifter as well and takes on many forms. One can see why Kirby and Lee chose him as the antagonist for their comics and why this character became more popular as an antihero. Because he is neither good nor bad, but both, which makes him more like the humans who are listening to the tales than the gods whom the tales are about. Loki is also called the Silver Tongue, the Lie Smith and while Poetry and Writing are said to be gifts from the Gods (there is a tale about that Gaiman talks about), I often wonder if Loki was gifted at telling stories. So many tales are referenced and have been lost and while Silver Tongue can mean many things, I have often wondered if this meant Loki was a protector of writers since he is also associated with nets and netting (knots). Writers “knit” words together. It’s not an unusual assumption.

Odin (Pinterest)

No matter how many times I read about Odin, or hear about him, he reminds me of Gandalf. Though Gandalf comes across a bit more caring and likable than Odin. Gaiman does an excellent job of picking certain stories and retelling them in a way to make them sound new, yet ancient all at the same time. Odin still sounds old and you can hear echoes of Gandalf and all other wizards in his words and deeds. And while you don’t realize it, Odin is as dark or even a darker God than Loki ever was. Odin hung himself in tribute to himself (yep, that’s a fact in Norse Mythology that Odin is the Gallows God), gave up an eye for Wisdom (tore it out!), and killed his own grandparent to make the universe. I’ve often wondered why then experts note that Odin was definitely worshiped while Loki wasn’t considering how bloody and violent Odin is from his tales. Probably why I enjoy Thor; Rangnorak (MCU Film) then because it does bring up Odin’s bloody past.

Thor (as described from the myths) via Pinterest

Thor comes across as pompous and blusters without thinking, reminding one more of an early Hulk than Thor of the comics. It’s interesting to compare the old tales with what is really the new tales-the comics. You can see parallels between the characters we recognize from the films and comics and trace their origins back to what they used to be, which I throughly enjoyed. I much prefer Lady Sif to be a badass warrior than Thor’s vain wife. And one can see why Marvel made Loki into Thor’s sibling instead of Uncle (it works much better as a comic antagonist character).

What I enjoyed most was the tales themselves, of which Gaiman has given us only a taste of all the tales that are out there. You can hear the Dwarves tinkering away at their anvils, creating the most beautiful things that you can ever imagine. Lady Sif is vain and uncaring and only Heimdall is anyone of interest (sort of). Loki creates the problems, but also offers solutions that tend to come with benefits for the Gods (while Loki gets punished). The tales are magical as they are sad. They are funny and scary. They end. Then they give hope that they will begin anew and will give rise to a new set of Gods. And Loki? While I still consider him a dark God, I’ve realized that Odin is much darker and much scarier. But Loki is Chaos, and his tales are really some of the best. I don’t think Chaos is ever really defeated. I think we need Chaos. We need the uncertainty as much as we hate it and fear it, we crave it.

Loki Odinson (courtesy of Marvel’s Wiki)

What does that say about me then? I’m not sure why I prefer the tales of Loki over the other Gods other than Loki comes across as the most Human, the most accessible. He’s not unlike the Greek Prometheus, who is punished for brining fire to Humans. Yet he is not as sacrificing as Prometheus. There are shades of other Gods in the tales of Loki, which fascinates me as a reader and as a writer. He is neither good no evil, but simply exists. Loki is dark, mysterious, and definitely a sexual dark God who also comes across as loving all his children, even if they don’t look acceptable to others, and really does his best to be accepted by the other Gods. Perhaps Loki is more like a fallen angel-not quite Lucifer but not unlike Lucifer at the same time. All I know is that I will return to Gaiman’s retellings over and over again because they are so enjoyable and when I do crave that taste of Chaos, the hint of darkness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s