Neil Gaimon wrote Norse Mythology using the ancient stories of the Aesir and Vanir gods, giants, huge wolves, world trees. His characters include our familar Thor, Odin, Frey and Loki, and the less-familiar Kvasir and Aenir and still more. Gaiman does an excellent job merging his own style into the narrative flow of the legends and is faithful to the overall feeling that these stories are oral tales.
If you’ve read any of the old myths you know that Thor and Odin and the rest are nothing like the brave and clever heroes in the movies. Instead they are rather stupid, gullible and greedy, easy pickings for someone like Loki or the dwarf craftsmen. Gaiman shows us these folk as they were in the legends.
The book includes 15 stories spanning from the creation of the world to Ragnarok and the world that comes after. It includes some of my favorites featuring Loki and his genius for manipulating and deceiving the other gods.
Relationship Between Loki and Thor
All the movies and books stress the love/distrust between Thor and Loki. Loki can’t help scheme; it is what he does and Thor can’t help getting mixed up in Loki’s maneuvers. Gaiman keeps their relationship central to the stories.
My favorite was Freya’s Unusual Wedding. One of the best passages is “There were things Thor did when something went wrong. The first thing…was ask himself if what had happened was Loki’s fault. … So he did the next thing he did when something went wrong, and he went to ask Loki for advice. Loki was crafty. Loki would tell him what to do.”
Loki discovers the ogre Thrym stole Thor’s hammer and wants Freya to marry him in exchange. After several lively discussions Thor dresses up like Freya and goes with Loki to marry Thrym. Of course Loki and Thor trick Thrym and manage to kill the ogres and escape with virtue intact and hammer in hand.
Finally Loki goes too far. He causes Hod to kill his brother Balder; he refuses to go along with Hermod when she requests Balder back from Hel; he murders Fimafeng at one feast and gets drunk and insults every god at the next. Thor captures him in the form of a salmon and takes him back to be punished. The other gods imprison him with a giant serpent to drip venom onto his face unless faithful Sigyn catches the venom as it drips. Gaiman added detail and color to this tale, including Loki congratulating himself on hiding so well.
Norse Mythology is easy to read because the individual tales are all short, making it easy to pick up for a few minutes before dinner or read before bed. The stories themselves are true to the original which makes them a little hard to read. We can see the train wreck coming and watch the gods’ cupidity destroy their world.