The Norse Myths

Recommendation: Sure, if it’s your thing

Where to read: This rainy weather is kind of perfect

Read with: Maxwell Honey Mead

In brief: I understand there’s also a Neil Gaiman option out there, Norse Mythology, which gives his take on some particularly famous stories but this is more of a skim through the key stories and the key points rather than full, glossy retelling.

I came to Norse mythology early and from a number of angles; as an obsessive fan of The Lord of the Rings, as “that kid” who was really into mythology of all sorts, and, much later, as a student of opera. Accordingly, The Norse Myths feels like a homecoming of sorts.

Probably unsurprisingly, my favourite parts of this collection are the recounts of traditional mythology however this goes beyond the stories we know and love – Ragnarök, Loki and Thor, the Völsunga saga and the like – and recounts the various legends and histories of the great chieftains and their voyages, creating a sort of liminal space between myth and history.

Laudably, he ends the book with a discussion of the cultural history of these myths, their reception over time and the ways in which they are now being engaged with, particularly the association between white supremacy and a resurgence in the worship of “pure white, manly, Viking gods”. There is obviously nothing in the text of the collection targeting a white supremacist reader, but I think it is important to know that these myths are being appropriated by malignant, evil people doing stupid, evil things. He also draws a distinction between this school of interpretation and the Tolkien school of retelling, which I at least suspect will prove the more enduring (though I am a partisan in that debate).

By way of critique, I should probably note that the tone in this collection is strangely uneven – there are moments where he has clearly gone for an epic feel, and others where he’s strangely colloquial. That’s not uncommon in this kind of work (it was one of the main critiques of Watson’s translation of The Odyssey) but it does cause the odd jarring moment.

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