Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a rendition of the great northern tales of Thor, Odin, Freya and Loki.
Gaiman brings all of that awe to Norse Mythology, and you’ll be hard-pressed to finish it and not feel just as inspired ... While the stories are ancient, Gaiman makes them fresh and lively, as if the antics of the gods and giants only just happened. He revives the myths not as stories to be read but as tales to be told, read aloud to rapt listeners just as they would’ve been done long ago ... Those familiar with the storytelling techniques of traditional folklore and myths will immediately get where Gaiman is coming from. Norse Mythology deftly blends ancient and contemporary literature styles, paying homage to the former with the flair of the latter ... When I first picked up Norse Mythology, I only planned to read a few chapters, but the deeper I got the more I felt like as if I was sitting in a Viking longhouse by a roaring fire and a cup of mead listening Gaiman recite mythic poetry ... quite simply breathtaking.
Gaiman’s sentences appear so simple and plain that one wonders if the book is actually intended for 9-year-olds. At the same time, the author’s penchant for short paragraphs, some of only a single sentence, adds an air of portentousness. This combination of the faux-naif and the melodramatic is then further complicated by the diction of the gods. They speak a bit like comic-book superheroes ... In fact, despite the mishmash of its styles and the sometimes irritating egregiousness of Gaiman’s celebrity, Norse Mythology turns out to be a gripping, suspenseful and quite wonderful reworking of these famous tales. Once you fall into the rhythm of its glinting prose, you will happily read on and on, in thrall to Gaiman’s skillful storytelling.
Gaiman’s characteristically limpid, quick-running prose keeps the dramatic impetus of the medieval texts, if not their rough-hewn quality. His telling of the tales is for children and adults alike, and this is both right and wise, it being the property of genuine myth to be accessible on many levels ... Gaiman plays down the extreme strangeness of some of the material and defuses its bleakness by a degree of self-satire. There is a good deal of humour in the stories, the kind most children like – seeing a braggart take a pratfall, watching the cunning little fellow outwit the big dumb bully. Gaiman handles this splendidly. Yet I wonder if he tries too hard to tame something intractably feral, to domesticate a troll ... he simply tells us the story, and tells it well. What finally left me feeling dissatisfied is, paradoxically, the pleasant, ingratiating way in which he tells it. These gods are not only mortal, they’re a bit banal. They talk a great deal, in a conversational tone that descends sometimes to smart-ass repartee. This chattiness will be familiar to an audience accustomed to animated film and graphic narrative, which have grown heavy with dialogue, and in which disrespect is generally treated as a virtue. But it trivialises, and I felt sometimes that this vigorous, robust, good-natured version of the mythos gives us everything but the very essence of it, the heart.