Magazine article The Spectator

'Norse Mythology', by Neil Gaiman - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Norse Mythology', by Neil Gaiman - Review

Article excerpt

Norse myths are having a moment. Or should I say another moment; one of a long chain of moments, in fact, beginning in the primordial soup of the oral tradition of storytelling in Iceland and Scandinavia. This mythology is old; old and very tenacious. First chronicled by scholars and historians some centuries after the Christianisation of Scandinavia, it tells of the creation of the world from the flesh of a slaughtered giant; of the rise of Asgard, the stronghold of the gods, and of their struggle against the forces of evil; and it predicts the eventual death of the gods in a final battle, Ragnarók, in which all of creation will be destroyed. It also tells of the exploits of some of the most complex, entertaining, funny, flawed and, yes, human characters ever to lift a hammer in battle against the enemy.

Norse gods do not have the remoteness of the Olympian gods, the grandeur of the Greek heroes (at least in bowdlerised modern versions) or the strangeness of the Egyptian pantheon. Norse gods are oddly familiar. Their powers may be godlike, but their motives are all too human. They make terrible life choices. They fall in love with the wrong people. They succumb to jealousy and lust. They can be fearful, careless, mean, resentful or downright stupid. Their myths are part soap opera, part fantasy, with a good deal of vaudeville thrown in.

Perhaps it is this familiarity that has made the Norse myths so enduring. Certainly, the amount of source material that has survived is relatively small, most of it taken from the anonymous group of early skaldic poems known as the Poetic Edda, and the Prose Edda, compiled by Snorri Sturluson in about 1220. But what these myths may lack in volume, they make up for in impact. The Norse myths have influenced countless writers and artists across the centuries, from Tolkien to Wagner, Rackham to Alan Garner, propelling the gods of the Vikings as far as Japanese manga and the Marvel universe.

Many of these works have taken the gods far out of their natural sphere. Neil Gaiman's 2001 novel American Gods relocated them to modern-day America and pitted them against the new gods of wealth, change and the media. Aspects of their legends have appeared in several of Gaiman's other works, including Sandman and Odd and the Frost Giants. And following the recent translation of American Gods to screen, the publication of Gaiman's Norse Mythology may not come as too much of a surprise. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.