Let’s get this out of the way; if you’re a writer, I think you should read Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. If you’re a reader, I think you should read this.
The stories from Norse Mythology are a pervasive influence in our modern world; from the naming of the English days of the week to our movie screens, the fingerprints of Thor, Loki, Odin and the rest are all around us. But how much do you really know about them? Where they came from? What they did? If you’re like me, you have the vaguest of notions about giants and hammers and mythical cities, but not much more.
In his book, Neil Gaiman blends historical sources of prose and poetry to create a set of fables which paint a vivid picture of the lands of the Norse Gods. From the creation of the world, through many adventures to the end of the Gods, it’s all covered here. Engaging, interesting, funny and eminently readable, I found that not only could I not put the book down, but I didn’t really want to.
Having seen all the Marvel films to date, I found that understanding the stories which influenced them added a new layer to movies which I already enjoy. I could see where ideas were taken wholesale, where others had been blended and what was both new and original. Though I would warn you that Thor and the rest were not always so good and kind as they appear in the movies… you have been warned!
Whilst you will certainly recognise the characters and some of the locations from the comic books and movies, these are much more raw and unfiltered versions of the characters we now see on screen. Violent, selfish, jealous and vicious, these Gods are loaded with human faults which was both a surprise and refreshing to me.
The book features fifteen short stories which flow into a satisfying single narrative. Even though they are self-contained, there is an overall connection between each one so this does feel more like a single story with chapters than a collection of separate events.
So, why would I recommend that all writers should read this? First, because Neil Gaiman has a genuine warmth and affection for the tales he’s recounting here and that shows through in each story, it’s a reminder to write what you love. The book is also a reminder of something which, I think, we writers have forgotten in the modern era of sales figures and eBooks; the roots of what we do.
Every single page is a fantastical tale of adventure, characters and far off places. But more than that, each tale has a life, energy and joy to its telling. They exist not just to entertain, but to inspire wonder and to amaze. The writing is elegant, simple but quickly takes you off to this fantasy world of the Gods of legend.
In fact, it did such a good job that I felt that the book would benefit from a change of venue for the second reading. I think starting it again in a great hall, deep in some pine forest, snow on the ground as I sit by a log fire with my belly full of mead and a great feat would really add something. If I get to try it, I’ll let you know.
As I reader I was entertained, amused and educated by this book. I now have a deeper understanding of the tales which still creep into our modern world around the edges in words and ideas.
As a writer I was reminded what we’re for and how it should be done. If, in years to come, I can write with the grace and beauty of Neil Gaiman whilst weaving tales and images half as good as those in this book, I might just be happy.
Whilst I work towards that day, I might just read this book again, though. For, whilst it hasn’t changed my life, it has reminded me of what matters most to me as a writer and a reader.
If you’re looking to pick this up, you can grab the hardback now or the updated paperback is out in the first week of March, 2018!
If you’ve read it, I’d love to know your thoughts, let me know in the comments.