Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’ll begin with a confession: I listened to this book rather than ‘read’ it. I often do, seeing no distinction between reading a book and having one read to you – if it is done well. Usually, seeing no such important distinction, I don’t mention it in my reviews – just as I don’t mention whether or not the book was in electronic form or printed.
But in the case of ‘Norse Mythology’ I think it is important to say I listened to the author himself reading this book. It’s important because not only is Neil Gaiman a master wordsmith but he is – in the proper sense of the word – a master storyteller too. He made the book come alive with perfect characterisation not just of the gods and giants and monsters et al, but the narrator too (you’ll have to listen yourself to understand that last one – it’s Gaiman yet not Gaiman).
I was momentarily worried, as the characters of Thor and Loki began to be mentioned, that the Marvel Avengers characters would come to mind, having watched many of the movies recently including End Game. At the very least I thought this might clash with Gaiman’s presentation of their personas. As it turned out, they were very much one and the same. I don’t know if that’s Gaiman’s deliberate nod to the movie franchise or if the producers of the films did their research and really knew what the gods were like; I would very much like to know, I’ll confess…
All that aside, the content of this relatively short book is super. It could have been a ghastly semi-academic dry rendition of Norse mythology. Even children’s books on this subject can often leave a sense of boredom with the subject. Gaiman picks up on the stuff kids and adults alike (if they’re honest) really enjoy – Thor goes around smashing things up, Loki does very naughty things, giants are generally stupid and dwarves usually borderline evil. And then there’s drinking parties, silly challenges, dead characters coming back to life, Ragnarok and, of course, goats – from time to time anyway.
The result is a collection of stories which detail the beginning to the end of the Norse gods which are as fun as they are informative. Gaiman’s way of telling things make an impression on you which is hard to forget and for those of you who enjoy bizarre trivia, you’ll be delighted to tell others what makes earthquakes, and give your opinion about whether or not someone has drunk the mead from Odin’s arse.
All this might lead you to think this is not a book for kids. Surprisingly though, Gaiman keeps the content all on the right side of a PG rating. It’s not for little kids, for sure, but the book is refreshingly free of profanities and sexual references (apart from a little scene involving Loki’s genitals and a goat – which should actually have older kids laughing). This is a book which middle school kids could read; what’s more – they’ll want to read it too!
In short: close to perfection for older kids and adults young at heart. ‘Norse Mythology’ is fun, accurate, interesting and superbly crafted. I’ve always adored Gaiman’s writing (best, of course, when combined with the other fantasy genius – Pratchett – in the book ‘Good Omens’) and this is a terrific companion piece to ‘American Gods’ which I also thoroughly enjoyed. If you like this kind of stuff, you won’t be disappointed.
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Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways, and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.