Review by Kylie Thompson
Rating: 4 ½ stars
Genre: mythology, retellings
If you’re a fan of the Marvel™ cinematic universe, then you’ll know at least the basics of Asgard. Another realm, tied to our own by the World Tree, inhabited by beings so strong and brave our ancestors thought them gods. Ruled by Odin, god of wisdom (and, according to the MCU, poor parenting), defended by his son Thor, god of thunder, on a quest to protect the realms…
The MCU, of course, has tidied up the stories for the sake of dramatic narrative. And alongside those little details, something of the magic gets pushed aside to make way for the heroism and angst. The problem, of course, with a superhero epic series is that a lot of the fun and whimsy of the original myths gets lost in the name of making the heroes more heroic and the villains more diabolical.
Though they’re filled with epic questing and heroic deeds, the Norse myths are rife with humour and silliness. If you can struggle through remembering the names of the rather enormous cast of characters, they’re an amazing introduction to world mythology: equal parts exciting and hilarious, with a heart and soul all their own.
In ‘Norse Mythology’, iconic writer Neil Gaiman has decided to bring the fun back into the dysfunctional family of Asgard, retelling a selection of the original myths with his trademark wit and whimsy. This isn’t old gods in the new world; instead, the stories themselves remain largely the same as the originals, with the language clarified, and the older phrasings smoothed away to help the stories flow for modern audiences.
This isn’t the psychological explorations of the MCU, of course. Mythology has never been a genre rife with psychological underpinnings so much as a field in which to discuss the moralities of the age. And it’s interesting to see where some things really haven’t changed in the modern era- more than a few social media users have had a field day around the idea of the Great Asgardian Wall to keep undesirables out of the City, after all.
There’s always a concern that authors attempting retellings will try and carve their names into every inch of the story; to make it about doing better rather than doing justice. It would have been easy for these stories to have been romanticised to death; to have the whimsy and ridiculousness ripped away, and flowery prose poured down the gullet of the myths. And yet, Gaiman’s knack for small, simple details that somehow capture the mood and landscape has helped keep the plot moving, and the reader suitably dazzled by the magic of Asgard.
‘Norse Mythology’ has been a book that’s launched a thousand conversations around a host of social and political themes, and yet, at its heart, it’s a story about love, friendship, and family, and the way those glorious ideals aren’t always enough. It’s the sort of book that’s easy to read and impossible to put down; a perfect stepping stone into mythology. If you’re a fan of heroic deeds and hilarious mischiefs, this is definitely a book for your TBR pile.
‘Norse Mythology’ is published through Bloomsbury, and is available at leading retailers both online and off.