Norse Mythology is fantasy superstar Neil Gaiman’s shot at re-telling some of the ancient stories of the Norse pantheon.
That Gaiman is fascinated with world mythology won’t be a surprise to his fans. One pantheon or another has featured in many of his projects, often in surprising ways, updated with a modern twist. Norse Mythology is the writer’s attempt to bring stories from the original source material to a contemporary audience, preserving their basic structures while updating the language in way that breathes and relates more effectively to modern storytelling.
Gaiman has worked with the Norse legends before. They were the spine of his acclaimed hit American Gods and featured in multiple prominent arcs in his seminal Sandman series. Here, he spruces up the original tales, doing some judicious updating while keeping the spirit of the old myths intact. Gaiman re-tells things such as the birth of the universe, the early days of the gods, some of their most memorable battles and wraps it all with Ragnarok, the inevitable twilight and fall. Familiar figures abound, like Odin, the wise “all father” of the pantheon; fierce warrior Thor, the somewhat dim thunder god (and a very different specimen than the well-known Marvel hero); and Loki, the trickster god who helps the pantheon as often as he gets it into trouble. Other gods that figure prominently include Tyr, Balder, Frey, Freya and Frigg, as well as a variety of giants, monsters, dwarfs, elves, serpents, wolves and other mystic creatures.
This is an interesting project for Gaiman to take on at this point in his career. He’s spent decades recontextualizing creation myths, cultural touchstones and folkloric traditions into modern settings that look at familiar tropes and stories through a contemporary, often very offbeat, lens. Essentially playing it straight, taking on the role of a tribal elder passing on beloved sagas to a younger generation, fits him rather well. These stories have endured centuries for good reason and Gaiman does them justice, preserving what makes sense and breathing new life into parts where some freshening helps.
Norse Mythology is absolutely not the place for a Gaiman newcomer to start. The list of his other works that take precedence is fairly long. But for his long-time fans it’s an entertaining detour that puts one of the author’s key influences into illuminating context.