Review by New York Times Review
ADMIT IT: Wouldn't you love to have Neil Gaiman come to your home and read stories to you? Yeah, you would. Or I would anyway. Ideally in one of those glass-ceilinged igloos in some Scandinavian country. Specifically, I'd like him to read from the material that has so deeply informed the otherworlds of his phenomenal fiction: the Norse myths, those ancient and weird tales. Guess what. You can. In "Norse Mythology," Gaiman brings voice to the old myths so viscerally that listening to the audiobook every night for a week, I thought my bedroom might explode into Valhalla. Here are hammer- handed Thor and one-eyed Odin, tricky Loki, and the mighty goddesses Freya and Idunn. In fact the entire Norse pantheon, including dwarves and giants and demons, plays out as vividly as a novel or film. Honestly I may have to order a breastplate of some sort. As Gaiman puts it in the introduction, the stories feel like a journey from the ice and fire that created the world to the fire and ice that end it. There is a difference between reading a book and listening to stories, a difference amplified to epic proportions in the case of "Norse Mythology." I knew it immediately when all of the hairs on my arm shot up during the retelling of how Odin lost his eye when he traded it for a sip from the well of wisdom. My theory was confirmed when my 16-year-old son passed by my bedroom door one night and could not stop himself from coming in to listen - for an entire hour. Hearing a story aloud, you are seduced by the wonder of an ancient oral tradition. From the opening origin myths - about Yggdrasil, a life tree with three roots in three worlds, and the driftwood logs that give rise to the first humans, Ask (named from the ash tree) and Embla (named from the elm) - I was struck by the differences between the stories I'd learned as a child raised Catholic (it didn't take) and a creation story in which humans spring from trees. Hearing again that we might imagine ourselves born of the natural world, an idea shared by many pre-Christian indigenous cultures, made me feel briefly less hopeless. The prime character tales begin with Loki stealing Thor's wife's hair. Waking up one morning to find his wife, Sif, bald to the scalp, Thor goes straight to that conniving troublemaker, the shape-shifting crafty misanthrope who lives among the gods, and threatens to break every bone in his body. Thor being Thor, he extends the threat to include every single day for the rest of Loki's life, should he fail to return Sif's gorgeous golden locks. Thus begins the story "The Treasures of the Gods," which goes on to reveal the origins of some of the most important magical objects in all of the myths: Odin's spear and arm cuff, Thor's hammer. In "The Master Builder," a newcomer arrives in Asgard right about the time that the gods are discussing the need for a wall to protect their kingdom. He is "a big man, dressed as a smith, and behind him trudged a horse - a stallion, huge and gray, with a broad back." The smith offers to build the gods a wall in a seemingly impossible amount of time. Loki talks the gods into promising the smith the sun, the moon and the goddess Freya's hand in marriage should he complete the wall in time, an effort he persuades everyone will fail. Only Freya seems to suspect that Loki is terribly wrong. "I hate you so much," she tells him, a line that made me laugh out loud to no one because that's just what I'd say in her position, and Gaiman's deadpan voice correctly conveys a flat yet homicidal tone. I do wish there were more women- centered stories in the collection. Gaiman concedes this omission in his introduction, explaining that he would have liked to retell the tales of Eir, the doctor of the gods; or Lofn, the comforter; or Sjofn, the goddess of love; and Vor, the goddess of wisdom, but he didn't have enough to go on. Still, he does an admirable job weaving the women in, including Freya. And really, the listening is the thing. Sure, I was stirred when I curled up with the book and read about the death of Odin's second son, Balder, how his wife "saw her husband's body carried past, . . . her heart gave out in her breast, and she fell dead onto the shore. They carried her to the funeral pyre, and they placed her body beside Balder's." But when I listened to it, nestled in my bed in the dark with no light but my blue wave projector (what?) casting rhythmic cerulean images on my ceiling and walls, I bawled. Hearing the great myths spoken in a language from my present with a trace of ancient history physically broke me open, Gaiman's voice bringing the characters to life. In the introduction, Gaiman emphasizes how the passing on of oral traditions is a vital art. He dedicates the book to his grandson. His hope is that readers will feel compelled to retell these stories. He doesn't mention something else, but I can hear it in his voice, something we could all use a little more of just now, in the dark: delight. LIDIA YUKNAVITCH is the author, most recently, of the novel "The Book of Joan."
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [December 3, 2017]
Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* Gaiman yields to no one else writing modern-day-set dark fantasy in his use of classic mythologies, not just European but even West African Caribbean in the waggish, wonderful Anansi Boys (2005). His favorite body of myths is and those who've read enough of him don't need him to tell them so the Norse batch, the matter of Odin and Thor and Loki, of Valhalla and Midgard and Hel, of giants and (J. R. R. Tolkien's favorites) elves and dwarfs. It's fairly unsurprising, then, that he'd want to tell northwestern Europe's grandest old stories in his own idiom. Nor, really, is it surprising that he does a bang-up job of it. His simple, Anglo-Saxon-canted diction, which in his original fiction sometimes gets a little pinched and dry-throated, couldn't sound better to modern ears used to the clipped, the droll, the laconic that a century of hard-boiled literary patter has made normal. All common English speakers should easily hear this prose in their own voices (though they should also hear it in Gaiman's reading of the audiobook). From nothing, the counter-biblical original condition of Norse cosmology, to the total destruction of Ragnarok and a glimpse beyond it, Gaiman's retelling of these ever-striking and strange stories should be every reader's first book of Norse mythology. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Gaiman's immense audience and all lovers of myths and the classic fantasy novels they inspire will be seeking this key volume.--Olson, Ray Copyright 2016 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Gaiman is a talented storyteller, as both writer and a narrator. In his latest audiobook, he turns both talents to an imaginative retelling of old Norse folklore. The figures in these myths are well-known to most people: Odin, the highest and oldest of the gods; his son Thor the Thunderer; and Loki, his conniving and treacherous blood brother. They, along with the other gods who inhabit Asgard, live in a universe of giants, elves, dwarves, and men. Gaiman chronicles the history of these gods and their varied adventures from the beginning of their creation to their ending at the final battle of Ragnarok, and on to their eventual renewal. Gaiman's affection for these myths is evident throughout the audiobook. His gods bellow and rage and whine and battle and plot, but his reading is never over the top. His mellow British-accented voice keeps the pace consistent, hits all the right dramatic notes, and brings new life, for a new generation to discover, to these ancient stories. A Norton hardcover. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
In his fiction, Gaiman (American Gods; Sandman) frequently explores the themes and tropes of mythology from around the world. Here, he operates within narrower confines, retelling the classic stories of Norse mythology but with no less humor, sense of adventure, and imagination than when he's playing in worlds of his own making. Here the adventures and misadventures of the Norse gods and goddesses function as short stories that, together, build an arc that leads the reader onward to Ragnarök, the twilight of the gods. Giants, ogres, dwarves, fantastical beasts, and the occasional human freely mingle with Thor, Odin, Loki, Freya, and other, less well-known gods and goddesses, all of whom are passionate, flawed, weird, and divinely entertaining. VERDICT A spectacularly entertaining and elucidating collection of stories with wide crossover appeal. Essential for all collections.-Stephanie Klose, Library Journal © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.