by D.E. Powell
My first encounter with Norse gods—Thor, Odin, and that trickster supreme, Loki—came by way of the inestimable Jack Kirby, in the pages of Marvel Comics’ The Mighty Thor. Neil Gaiman traversed the same route, albeit a little earlier, and his newest book is about these childhood tales that he has carried into adulthood. Anyone who loves Gaiman’s work knowshow saturated in myth and fable it all is. From the time he exploded on the comics scene, Gaiman has been a writer particularly plugged into the river of myth, ceaselessly mining the ore of the old stories in new ways for our new troubled age, of creeping fascism and hatred of the stranger. And readers of American Gods will know how deftly he can deal with the Norse pantheon.
So it’s all here. Odin and the world-tree. Sif and her golden hair. Thor receiving Mjolnir. Balder the beautiful and Heimdall and the rainbow bridge. From the world’s creation to Ragnorak, the death of the Gods and beyond. All those tales that have enchanted readers for generations are back in a seamless, vital collection that shows once again why Gaiman is such a treasure. While each tale is well-formed and self-contained as a first rate short story, Gaiman also manages to move the narrative forward with a sense of propulsiveness and the creeping hand of fate that binds each chapter like a great novel. For a book about gods (and dwarves and various and sundry beasties), the characters are surprisingly human with conflicted hearts and conflicted motivation. Loki’s journey in particular is heavy with the pathos of paths not taken, of sleights not forgiven. The book grows in power, beauty and tension as it moves towards its conclusion. There is failed magic, blood sacrifice, heroism and vast hatreds. And after fire and the end of all, like every great story, “the game begins anew.”
Norse Mythology, W. W. Norton & Company, $25.95 hardcover, 9780393609097, http://amzn.to/2llH6G2