by Jessye F.
When people think about myths, they might visualize heroes fighting in battle, charging fearlessly into the enemies, outnumbered ten to one. Or there could be all-powerful gods that destroy or create anything. These figures, society might think, are people that we can look to for instruction and see how they resolved their life-changing problems. However, in some cases, the hero might not be overcoming their obstacles with brute force, but instead with cunning, trickery, and a persevering mindset.
In Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman presents a variety of characters who go through many hardships and setbacks. This mythological novel has many stories that bring the spirit of the Norse world alive, with ogres, giants, trolls, gods, and even mere mortals.
There are three main characters/gods: Odin, Thor, and Loki. Odin is the all-father; he knows everything and is the wisest of the gods. He emptied himself physically, symbolically, and emotionally just to get the runes to show themselves.On the other hand, Thor is the most idiotic of the Asgardian gods but the strongest. He protects the Aesir from invading enemies like giants with his hammer, Mjollnir. And Loki’s pretty smart but uses his intelligence in the worst way: to cause conflict between other characters in the nine Norse worlds. But sometimes, he is also forced to resolve the conflict he himself created.
Throughout the novel, one theme that keeps being revealed is persistence. The gods faced problem after problem, loss after loss, obstacle after obstacle. Yet they kept on going and pushed through their barriers. Thor battling the giants endlessly to keep them from destroying the Aesir and Vanir shows true perseverance. And Odin trying to find Ksavir’s mead to avenge Ksavir’s death shows the mindset of never giving up. Travelling across the nine worlds, encountering all sorts of creatures and mythical beings, just to get some sips of a poetic drink sounds like something that took a lifetime (even though gods are immortal).
Another key point is solving a problem the smartest way possible. Ironically, Loki actually comes up with many of these solutions. The other gods usually think he is the root of their problems (which often, he is), but when he is not, Loki thinks up of the fix to get them out of a sticky situation. Even though his ideas are sort of funny, they work well. When Thor had to get his stolen hammer back, Loki’s plan was to put Thor in a wedding dress to trick the giants into thinking that the thunder god was the beautiful goddess Freya (throughout the book, many giants want Freya’s hand in marriage). Even though all the gods were laughing at Thor, it was still the best plan available.
In general, I think the book depicts the gods’ actions well with their enemies and without them. However, because of these myths being myths, Gaiman’s storytelling capabilities are limited. After being passed down from generation to generation, these myths have the great plot but not the great excitement we usually find in other fantasy books. I didn’t feel very there while reading; it was more as if I am being told the story in a plain way. If Thor is destroying an army of giants, I feel like I am seeing him do it, but I’m not warding off jotuns on the edges of Jotunheim with him. Otherwise, I thought that the plots, characters, and different settings were packed with many surprises. And there were so many different stories that display the attributes of the gods in many different ways. Each story had slightly different settings and conflicts, either with giants, dwarves, or other gods.
While reflecting on this book, I realize that Neil Gaiman tells stories that show how the Aesir and Vanir may not succeed all the time, but they still try their best in each situation to conquer their enemies. I would recommend this book to people who love mythology and maybe want a change from the classic Greek and Roman lore. These Norse stories are similar to those in some ways, but involve more tricks and deception than the typical myths you usually hear. Through stories of love, hate, and deceit, Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is the book holding many valuable lessons.