By Neil Gaiman
[Finished earlier this year at #20]
The short stories in this novel take you on a journey. One story finishes and you feel drawn to read another, and another, until you wind up at the end of the world. Neil Gaiman just has this flow to his writing that makes you feel like you’re listening to this sage storyteller spin tales near a blazing fire underneath a starry sky. I loved reading these tales so much that I finished the entire book in 2 days! I mean, how can you not get a kick out of Thor’s boasts of strength? Or feel astonished at the antics of the traitorous Loki, who never seems to run out of tricks? Or conceal your amazement at the wisdom of Kvasir*, who’s blood created the Mead of Poetry? There are so many wonderful treasures in store within the pages of this too-short volume.
I learned how the gods always get their way. They further their own selfish ambitions by hiding their identity or twisting the words of others so that events end up in their favor. They’re all so reckless and untamed, driven by greed and lust. The most carnal traits of man, the most free-spirited and shameless of us all. I could almost say their freedom from morality was admirable, if they weren’t all traitorous and caused so much pain to each other. I really got to know these gods who determine the fates of mankind:
Odin, the all-father. The highest and oldest of all the gods. He only has one eye, for he traded the other one for wisdom. He has two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who bring him information from what they see in Midgard.
Balder, the god of light, “the beautiful”. Loved by all but Loki. Nothing can hurt him on earth, except mistletoe.
Frigg, the earth mother, queen of the gods. Married to Odin and the mother of Balder.
Bragi, son of Odin and the giantess Gunnlod, god of poetry and music. Often depicted with a harp.
Thor, god of thunder. The strongest of the gods, wielding the hammer Mjölnir and sporting a red cape (as we all should recognize from his appearances in Marvel comics and movies). His chariot is pulled by the goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr (“teeth-barer” and “snarler”)
Freya is the most beautiful of all the gods and goddesses. A goddess of the Vanir who came to live with the Aesir like her brother Freyr. Everyone wants to marry her.
Tyr, son of Odin, bravest of all the gods. The one-handed god of war. He played with Fenrir as a pup and lost his hand to him when the other gods lost a bet with the monstrous wolf
Sif, Thor’s wife, goddess of grain and fertility. She has beautiful hair like golden wheat. Loki cut off her hair in her sleep, and then tricked the Sons of Ivaldi into making her new hair, as well as the other greatest treasures of the gods (like Thor’s hammer Mjölnir, Freyr‘s ship Skíðblaðnir, and Odin’s spear Gungnir)
Loki is the shrewdest and most cunning of all in Asgard. He is a shapeshifter (unfortunately for those he wishes to deceive), and gets himself into a lot of trouble. His shoes allow him to walk in the sky and conduct even more mischief
He also conceived Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged steed. Loki transformed into a chestnut mare and bore a son with Svaðilfari ( but the other gods wisely refrain from mentioning the details around this sore subject, as Loki’s trickery here helped them get out of paying a lot of money).
The Nine Worlds/Realms of Norse Mythology
I feel a lot more educated about the lore behind our heroes & villains of Norse mythology now, and I was endlessly entertained by the gods, giants, dwarves, and far stranger creatures in these pages. There’s a lot more to the book than what I described here, and many more notable characters that would take too long to describe in one post (like the unfortunate dwarf Lit who Thor kicked into a bonfire). You’ll just have to read this one for yourself to find out more. I know I will cherish this book and brandish it on my bookshelf until the end of time.
From the creation of the world in the beginning to its destruction at Ragnarök, these tales brings to life old myths we recognize but maybe don’t know as well as we want. May we seek to be less like these selfish and traitorous gods in our own insignificant mortal lives.
*I tried to include links to Wikipedia for the names of things that would take up too much time to explain fully, but that which you may want more information on 🙂