Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (2017) (read in 2019)
Published by marco on
Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve in reminding me of what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.
This book is Gaiman’s retelling of the known Norse legends in his own voice and with his inimitable style. If you pay attention, it doesn’t take long to notice that the Norse Gods are mostly jerks to each other and everyone else and have no notion of fairness whatsoever. They are happy to take whatever they can, however they can get it and then the have to gall to hate on Loki for doing it back to them better than they do it to everyone else. Loki is an evil little fuck, but he’s no more amoral than the others. It could be argued that he’s actually good for wanting to eliminate the manipulative lot of them.
In which I learn that Loki is Thor’s uncle, not his brother. In which I did not even learn that while reading it, but had to have it pointed out to me by my wife after I’d urged her to read this book. On a positive note: I have now learned this thing.
I also learned that Hel is the guardian of the Hel, the destination for everyone who has not earned the right to rest eternally in Valhalla, that Jormungundr is the Midgard serpent (also known as Ouroboros) and that Fenris Wolf is larger than any other creature and is destined to destroy the Gods during Ragnarok. Surtr will help, wielding a world-sized flaming sword. I learned that Fenris, Jormungundr and Hel are Loki’s children, making him nearly the most-central character in the whole mythos.
As you can expect from tall tales of this sort, the relative sizes and strengths of the cast varies wildly—each story introduces a new heretofore unknown giant from a heretofore unknown region who is even bigger and more powerful than all other giants before him or her. Thor still manages to kick everyone’s ass, though. Thor’s fight with the Midgard serpent was particularly confusing vis à vis scale, since that particular serpent goes around the entire world.
Still, super-neat stories, well-told. Would read again.
“In Muspell, at the edge of the flame, where the mist burns into light, where the land ends, stood Surtr, who existed before the gods. He stands there now. He holds a flaming sword, and the bubbling lava and the freezing mist are as one to him. It is said that at Ragnarok, which is the end of the world, and only then, Surtr will leave his station. he will go forth form Muspell with his flaming sword and burn the world with fire, and one by one the gods will fall before him.”
“Odin asked her who would kill Balder, and her answer shocked him.
“He asked who would avenge Balder’s death, and her answer puzzled him.
“He asked who would mourn Balder, and she stared at him across her own grave, as if she were seeing him for the first time.
““You are not Wanderer,” she said. Her dead eyes flickered, and there was expression on her face. “You are Odin, who was sacrificed by himself to himself so long ago.”
““And you are no wise woman. You are she who was in life Angrboda, Loki’s lover, mother to Hel, to Jormungundr, the Midgard serpent, and to Fenris Wolf,” said Odin. The dead giantess smiled.
““Ride home, little Odin,” she told him. “Run away, run back to your hall. No one will come to see me now until my husband, Loki, escapes from his bonds and returns to me, and Ragnarok, the doom of the gods, tearing all asunder, approaches.”
“And then there was nothing in that place but shadows.”
“Until now I have told you of things that have happened in the past—things that happened a long time ago.
“Now I shall tell you of the days to come. I shall tell you how it will end, and then how it will begin once more.
“These are dark days I will tell you of, dark days and hidden things, concerning the ends of the earth and the death of the gods. Listen, and you will learn.”