April 11th, 2017
I’m sure I’m not the only person to have the problem of always packing too many books when I go on vacation, right? I mean, I read a lot when I’m at home, surely I’ll read a lot elsewhere, too? I’m on vacation! I’m not going to be cooking or cleaning or doing laundry, so, I mean, what else will I do? And what about those long flights? I’ll read, right? Well, sort of. I tend to forget that at home I have a twice-daily chunk of reading time built in, in the form of my commute via subway to and from work; that isn’t there when I’m on vacation. And when I’m on vacation I’m probably out doing things/seeing things/getting lost, or sleeping after a long day of walking, or having dinner with the friend I’m visiting: all very good things, but things that are not reading. And those long flights—sometimes reading works on them, but sometimes I just want to sleep. Or watch movies back to back. Or stare out the window, wondering where exactly we are and whether I’m going to make my connecting flight (true story: on this particular vacation, I found myself full-on running from one terminal of the airport in Houston to another: it was fine, but my flight was already boarding when I got to the gate). All of which is to say, it probably took me longer to read Norse Mythology while I was on vacation than it would have if I’d read it at home, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of it.
The book is made up of 16 stories, plus an introduction and a glossary, but there is a narrative arc/the stories should be read in order. In the introduction, Gaiman talks about his own introduction to the Norse gods via comic books he read as a kid, followed by books of myth; he says he has tried to retell them as “accurately” and as “interestingly” as he can (14). I can’t really speak for the accuracy of his retellings—I think maybe the only other book of Norse myths I’ve read was A.S. Byatt’s retellings in Ragnarök: The End of the Gods—but Gaiman’s retellings are definitely interesting. I like how he uses current/casual language to often-humorous effect, like when Freya, worried that she’s going to be married off against her will because of an agreement Loki’s gotten all the gods to buy into, turns to him and just says “I hate you so much” (78). And I like the way Gaiman combines a matter-of-fact tone/phrasing with more poetic language, like this early description of Loki: “Loki makes the world more interesting but less safe. He is the father of monsters, the author of woes, the sly god” (24). After an introduction to Odin, Thor, and Loki, Gaiman moves on to the Norse origin myth, and from there onto the world-tree, Yggdrasil, and Odin’s desire for wisdom, and other, more various stories. I love this, from a story about Thor and his wife waking up one day to find that she’s bald, and Thor being convinced that it’s somehow Loki’s fault, then telling Loki he’ll break every bone in his body if he doesn’t fix the situation:
“Today,” mused Thor, it will probably take me about an hour to break every bone in your body. But I bet that with practice I could get it down to about fifteen minutes. It will be interesting to find out.” He started to break his first bone. (53)
As with Byatt’s retellings, I felt like Loki was often a highlight of this book; he’s forever being motivated to sort things out because he needs to save his own skin, and the uncertainty and drama he adds to things gives the stories a lot of their force. I love that when Odin confronts him about his monstrous children, this is how Gaiman describes it:
Loki said nothing. He tried to look ashamed and succeeded simply in looking pleased with himself. (94)
I think the story of “Freya’s Unusual Wedding” was probably my favorite in the book, followed by “Thor’s Journey to the Land of the Giants,” but the whole thing was pretty delightful to read.