Sunday, July 9, 2017

Norse Mythology

By Neil Gaiman

W.W. Norton 2017

304 pages

Audio Book

My husband and I have just completed one of the major adventures of our lives—a trip to Norway and Iceland. In preparation for the journey, and on our way to daughter Sabrina’s wedding, we listened to Neil Gaiman read his new book, Norse Mythology. Equally brutal, poignant, and humorous, the retellings were a perfect introduction to my imagination. We learned the legends of Odon, Thor, Loki and Freya in a clever, non-threatening way.

When we got to wedding, we met Freya, the young girlfriend of the groom’s son. It was more than a coincidence because she was beautiful enough to be the Norse Freya I imagined from the book. Then, when we got to Norway, my spirit immediately went to trolls and giants, something that the landscape produced. The landscape is so rugged and jaw-dropping, it is easy to see how the legends emerged. For example, here is a picture I took of what I imagined a troll to be.

And when I looked at the volcanic mountains of Iceland, I could see how those ancient story tellers envisioned those brutal Gods and giants.

Gaiman’s stories are spirited and humorous—easy reading for the middle grade student and easy listening for the elderly listener. Because I was not very familiar with the graphic and movie versions of the stories of Thor and company, I was fascinated with Gaiman’s retelling—lighthearted enough for early readers. On the other hand, those more experienced with the stories might think that Gaiman’s stories are lightweight.

In her review in the Guardian, Ursela Le Guin takes exception to Gaiman’s retellings. She says, “The Norse myths were narrative expressions of a religion deeply strange to us. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are divine comedies: there may be punishment for the wicked, but the promise of salvation holds. What we have from the Norse is a fragment of a divine tragedy. Vague promises of a better world after the Fimbulwinter and the final apocalypse are unconvincing; that’s not where this story goes. It goes inexorably from nothingness into night. You just can’t make pals of these brutal giants and self-destructive gods. They are tragic to the bone.”  

For me, Neil Gaiman’s audio book of Norse Mythology sparked a creative response so strong that when I got on the plane in Iceland for our return home, I immediately picked out a troll-looking passenger as well as one who could have been one of the giants. Finally, I could not get “There are giants in the sky” from Into the Woods out of my head. Gaiman's stories were my constant companion on my trip and for that, I can't thank him enough.

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