Tag Archives | mythology

Norse Mythology | Neil Gaiman

The cover of Gaiman's Norse MythologyOdin, Thor, and Loki are literally the stuff of legends. Their exploits, recorded by Snorri Sturluson in his Edda have been reinterpreted for English readers by many people—from J. R. R. Tolkien to Stan Lee! Neil Gaiman dove deeply into Norse Mythology to ground his American Gods, so it seems fitting that he has offered his own rewritten version of the ancient myths.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman tells the story of the Norse gods from creation to their eschaton: Ragnarok. These are stories of Elves and Giants, of war and betrayal. Gaiman’s prose is as rustic and direct, suitable for the gods of a harsh land. It’s clear that he’s sipped deeply from Odin’s gift.

One sentence in the introduction has stuck with me. We know relatively little about Norse Mythology and what we do know hints at many more stories. “We have lost so much” (14). Fortunately, in Gaiman’s hands, what we do have comes alive a millennium after it was first penned.

Gaiman, Neil. Norse Mythology. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.

American Gods & Anansi Boys | Neil Gaiman

The cover of Neil Gaiman's American Gods / Anansi Boys omnibus

Barnes & Noble Edition

Imagine a world where all the gods of mythology are real. It doesn’t matter what mythological system, either—figures from Norse legends like Odin and Loki to African folk-gods like Anansi still roam.

Now imagine that they’re tied to their worshipers. The more devoted worshipers a god has, the stronger that god is. When the last worshiper dies, that deity is extinguished. This is the world that Neil Gaiman explores in his two novels, American Gods and the spin-off Anansi Boys.

Before I get into the novels, I should offer a brief note about the edition I’m reading from. In 2011, Barnes and Noble reprinted a number of important works with exquisite binding. This particular edition is leather-bound with an embossed cover. It even features a ribbon bookmark. After I finished reading the book, I found the spine as straight as the day I brought it home from the bookstore. If you’re interested in reading Gaiman, track down this edition.

Okay, enough gushing over the binding. On to the novels …

American Gods

The cover of Neil Gaiman's American Gods

First Edition Cover

Shadow is a tough prisoner who has spent his jail-time avoiding attention and practicing coin-tricks. As you might expect in a book called American Gods, his life gets caught up with all sorts of deities beginning with Mr. Wednesday. (Read this book if you can’t figured out who he is!)

In Gaiman’s world, when a person immigrates to America, they bring their deities with them. The US is littered with old-world gods from every tradition who fight for position with new upstart American gods like Technical Boy and Media.

The idea behind this story is brilliant—lifted and tweaked (admittedly) from Harlan Ellison’s Deathbird Stories. It provides a fertile landscape for the sort of fantastic mystery story-telling Gaiman excels at. There’s no question why this book is still being reprinted.

Anansi Boys

The cover of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys

First Edition Cover

Mr. Nancy, one of the deities from American Gods, is the protagonist of this spin-off novel. Or, to be precise, his “boys” are. Anansi is a West African Trickster god who frequently takes the form of a spider. He has a number of stories associated with his name.

Anansi crossed the ocean in the devotion of slaves on trade ships to Haiti. From there it was a quick jump to America where he found himself a home in Florida.

Since these two novels are published under one cover, it only seems fitting to compare them. Anansi Boys is shorter and nowhere near as epic in scope as American Gods. Don’t misread that as criticism, though. Anansi Boys is a different type of novel with a stronger sense of humor.

There’s a rumour going around that Gaiman is writing a full-fledged sequel to American Gods.  I’ll be the first in line.

Song of the Vikings | Nancy Marie Brown

Have you ever wondered where Tolkien came up with the name Gandalf—or, for that matter, Bifur, Bafur, Bombor, Nori, Ori, and Oin? These all come from Norse mythology, the folktales of Iceland. If you want to learn anything about Norse mythology, you’ll end up studying Snorri Sturluson, the definitive scribe of these tales.

Despite the reputation of Islanders, Snorri was no archetypal Viking. He was a rather portly ruler who used political power to make a fine life for himself. Brown’s book is chiefly a biography of Snorri, with Norse myths sprinkled throughout to shed light on his character.

One of the most interesting (and tragic) elements of Islandic history in the 1200s was the heavy-handed influence of Christianity. Bishops from the mainland tried to rein in the excess of the island’s residents with little success. As a Christian, it’s difficult to read how closely Christianity was tied to the politics of the day. (A cynic may offer the same criticism today!)

Norse poetry is another curious topic that Brown covers in some detail. Rather than an aesthetic exercise, Snorri’s poetry was essentially a word-game where the reader was expected to mull over the phrases to ken what the poet was actually talking about.

This book is dense. At times it is difficult to follow the various unfamiliar names and places. Still, a close reading is rewarded with a solid understanding of the foundations of Norse mythology.

Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided at no cost through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer’s program.

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