I have had this book sitting on my shelf since the day it was released and I had only read bits and pieces until this month. It’s that I wasn’t excited to read it but I just felt that there were other books that needed reading first. This was surely going to be too much of a treat for myself and, with the speed at which I’ve been reading recently, I didn’t deserve one. I certainly didn’t deserve to gorge myself on Neil Gaiman’s retelling of the Nose Myths when I have books that are still on my TBR after 4 years. After all, Gaiman is one of those authors who could write anything and I’d enjoy it. He has that universal appeal that do many authors crave and he’s so goddamn nice as well. Of course, it also helps that I kind of have a thing about myths and legends anyway. I remember reading about Greek, Roman and Norse mythology when I was younger and loving it. It’s the Greek and Roman stories that have become so ingrained in our minds but the Norse myths were always the most exciting. I cite my love of those tales and Shakespeare as the reason that Thor is one of my favourite comic book characters. Obviously, there is a lot of difference between the Marvel representation of Odin’s son and that is something Gaiman is keen to point out at the start of his own retelling. However, with Thor: Ragnarok coming out later this year, it is a great time to get further into the tales that started everything off and I was lucky enough to do so with Neil Gaiman himself narrating them into my ear holes. It was blissful.
Neil Gaiman is an author who spans the literary genres but, as is evident throughout all of his work, he has been hugely influenced by ancient myths and legends. He has managed to forge an image of himself as the great storyteller and his works all have a certain amount of grandeur to them. His books often bring aspects of ancient mythology and present them in a modern setting. He has become so interlinked with this aspect of literary history that Norse Mythology would seemingly be the next logical step. Although, it is something of a departure for the writer. Instead of reimagining the stories of the Norse Gods, Gaiman is instead simply retelling them but in his own, incredibly readable and lovely manner. It is a project that part of me is completely fangirling over whilst the other point is trying not to ask “why?”
When it comes to Norse Mythology, there is a limit to what remains of the fables. The tales never really stuck in the way that other civilisations’ stories did. Most of the characters will be recognised more for their place in the comic book world created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Thor looks like Chris Hemsworth instead of the traditional red-headed powerhouse he once was. I’m not saying this is a problem and am sure that there are many people who’s interest in this area has been encouraged by the comics and films. After all, as Gaiman himself is quick to point out, it is through the Marvel comic books that he first encountered the Thunder God. It was the stories of Lee and Kirby that pushed him into reading more.
It is this lifelong love that has got us to the point where the writer has set down 15 tales in his own words in the hope that he can bring some of the joy he once experienced to a new audience. There is no real narrative structure but everything is culminating towards to the great finale: Ragnarok. The final undoing of the Gods and their creation. The chapters are essentially short stories featuring as cast of players that is set out to us at the start. Gaiman has taken the stories that remained and fleshed them out with his own style. He exaggerates a few characterisations, such as Thor’s limited intelligence and his Loki is more of prankster than the evil supervillain Tom Hiddleston has turned him into. He takes the bare bones of these fables and makes them unquestionably Gaiman. He adds his own humour to everything and isn’t afraid of modernising a few things when the need arises.
They are simple and written as if they are to be read aloud to a child. In his own way, Gaiman in trying to reignite the tradition of storytelling in which these tales would have first sparked people’s imaginations. It’s why I’m so glad that I listened to Gaiman’s narration instead of finishing the book myself. It really brings the characters to life and lets the humour really hit home. Every moment when the author himself slips into the narrative to make a sarcastic or slightly mocking comment on the proceedings is heightened when read in his own voice.
Still, as lovely as the experience of listening/reading this book was, I still can’t quite get over that niggling voice still asking “why?” I mean, there is nothing wrong with the way this book is written but I just feel that, with his own literary history, Gaiman could have reimagined these stories in a much more exciting way. There is something about reading him tell someone else’s tales that just feels off. It is the same voice that we are used to but the images and situations just don’t feel as Gaiman as they should. He has used the Norse Gods for his own purpose in the past in as Loki and Odin play a part in American Gods. It would have been interesting to see what he could do with the rest of them. As wonderful as this book is, it kind of feels like going to see a band who insists on only playing covers of author singers. You’ll ultimately enjoy it but it won’t feel right.