BEFORE THE BEGINNING THERE WAS NOTHING – NO EARTH, NO HEAVENS, NO STARS, NO SKY: ONLY THE MIST WORLD, FORMLESS AND SHAPELESS, AND THE FIRE WORLD, ALWAYS BURNING.
From the dawn of the world to the twilight of the gods, this is a dazzling retelling of the great Norse myths from the award-winning, bestselling Neil Gaiman.
While I’ve always been interested in Norse myths, it was more of a passing nod than the full on obsession that I had with Grecian and Roman mythology. I knew enough about the Norse Gods to know that Marvel’s rendition of Thor and Loki was somewhat off point and little enough to allow that to rekindle my interest. Neil Gaiman’s retelling of common Norse legends seemed as good a place as any to start learning.
Gaiman uses a lot of modern language in his retelling, but he writes with a cadence that captures the spirit of the oral story telling of Norse tradition. While each chapter contains a separate myth, Gaiman still creates an over-arching plot, with events being alluded to that eventually occur in the later myths. There is none of Marvel’s influence in the characterisation of Thor and Loki, and I enjoyed how other gods and goddesses were portrayed. The depiction of Freya was one that I particularly enjoyed – she was a powerful goddess in her own right, and refused to be used as a pawn in other gods’ difficulties. This is demonstrated particularly well when she refuses to be sold as a bride to a troll in exchange for the return of Thor’s Hammer. Gaiman also humanised the Gods of Asgard, showing the motivations behind their actions and how these lead to their downfall. Of course, being a collection of legends, characters did have a tendency to die in one tale and then magically appear, whole and well, in a later story. This occurs frequently in mythology collections, and I always get a little chuckle imagining a long-ago storyteller concocting an excuse for the god’s reappearance to an outspoken child.
I’ll have to read further retellings to understand if this is unique to Gaiman or common across Norse myths, but I really enjoyed the sense of destiny in the tales and the version of Ragnarok. Ragnarok is referred to intermittently across many of the myths, and you read with a growing sense of dread as all of the gods unconsciously begin the chain of events that lead to the destruction of the earth and the fall of Asgard. Ragnarok is a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which every move the gods make to prevent it becomes an action that causes the end. Except it’s not the end – the sons of the gods are shown to have survived, and it is suggested that a new world is built. The gods moved like chess pieces across the board, and it is time for the board to be reset and another game to begin. It had a sense of hope to it, which was refreshing in this world of doom and gloom.
Neil Gaiman really is a wonderful storyteller, and I find that he did the mythology of the Norsemen justice. This was a great introduction to the mythology, and I look forward to reading more accounts.