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Norse Mythology Hardcover – February 7, 2017
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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An Amazon Best Book of February 2017: Neil Gaiman putting his own fingerprints on the Norse myths? Cue the hyperventilation of delighted readers. That reaction is genuinely earned in this tight retelling, as Gaiman darts between a Tolkienesque tone in the epic origin stories and his own bright wit in the tales centering on the adventures of Thor, Loki, and Odin. Those new to Norse mythology might be astonished by how bizarre some details are. (For example, the ship made of the fingernails and toenails of the dead might make you wonder how much the Vikings genuinely enjoying sailing.) The doomsday of Ragnarok will cause a jolt of disquiet among those who are used to Hollywood endings, and Thor himself will be a surprise for those who are familiar with Hollywood Thor—but those surprises are often where the fun lies. Fans more well-versed in Norse myths should still appreciate the humor and spark that Gaiman infuses into the stories he has selected to retell, adding to the existing rich literature. Many who read Norse Mythology will make this volume their joyful leaping-off point into a strange and mesmerizing world of gods, giants, undead goats, betrayals, a slanderous squirrel, elves, dwarves, and Valkyries. And don't forget that ship made of the finger- and toenails of the dead. —Adrian Liang, The Amazon Book Review
“Taking a few modern liberties with the stories, Gaiman’s Norse Mythology delights in the gods’ petty machinations as much as their heroics. In these accessible, retold tales, fantasy is odd, and real, and dire.”
- Ethan Gilsdorf, The Boston Globe
“No contemporary fiction writer gets more of his power from the mythological tradition than Neil Gaiman. . . . As always, Gaiman’s a charming raconteur . . . [and he] recognizes a ripping yarn when he sees one.”
- Douglas Wolk, Los Angeles Times
“A gripping, suspenseful and quite wonderful reworking of these famous tales. Once you fall into the rhythm of its glinting prose, you will happily read on and on, in thrall to Gaiman’s skillful storytelling.”
- Michael Dirda, Washington Post
“Weaving together ancient Norse mythology with 21st-century sensibility, Gaiman's storytelling once again recreates an entire genre for the modern reader.”
“In reinterpreting the tales so faithfully and with such abundant joy, Gaiman assumes the role of fireside bard, inviting us to sit close on a chilly winter’s night and chuckle and wonder along with him.”
- James Lovegrove, Financial Times
“Gaiman’s masterful storytelling transcends our most vivid dreams, exploring ancient territory from a fantastically fresh perspective. . . . [and inviting us] to listen to stories in the same way we would as children: engrossed and enraptured by the magic of myth. . . . [Norse Mythology] will breathe new life into these old gods, reminding us of the power that great storytelling still holds over us all.”
- Dani Hedlund, F(r)iction
“Mr. Gaiman milks [the Norse gods’ hijinks] for all their humor and incongruity, very much in the spirit of the originals. . . . [He] has produced . . . a clear, continuous narrative, with big scenes the same as they always were but with emotional pointers added.”
- Tom Shippey, The Wall Street Journal
“Remarkable. . . . Gaiman has provided an enchanting contemporary interpretation of the Viking ethos.”
- Lisa L. Hannett, The Atlantic
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Neil Gaiman made a lovely introduction that hinted that he'd done all that I could have asked for. My eyes lingered on a typo of a Goddesses's name, but I forgave it and moved on. He spoke about his research and I was excited about that even if I felt he'd come to some very different conclusions than I had.
And then I read his 'cast of characters.' My spirits sank. Thor, Odin and Loki are not the main gods! There is some argument among the academics, but the usual suspects are always Thor and Freyr, with either Odin and Freyja, or Odin and Frigga rounding it out (and sometimes Odin doesn't even make the cut.) Loki might be a key player, but he's a supporting character and shouldn't be considered the main cast as the Norsemen saw it. Peeved, I moved onto the first myth. Not only was it sadly short and lacking in many of the details that have been teased out by academics, it was straight up wrong in places. Gaiman lifted phrases from other translations, which is perfectly fine in the academic sense, but not what I expected to see here. I expected his very own words, not reading words that I could nearly recite from having read them so often.
I skimmed a few more of the chapters and found them to all have the same fundamental issues -- all the Christianization was still present, no effort had been made to clean up any of the known apocryphal additions to the myths. Sometimes things were just plain wrong. It seems that Gaiman didn't realize that certain things were not the same things, so sometimes I'd find myself confused because two distinct ideas had been conflated into one. The gods, who are often very deep characters in the myths, had been rendered very flat and entirely unlikable. After Neil's lament about so many of the the tales of Goddesses being missing in the introduction, I found it odd that he decided to make Freyja a one-note woman. Another thing I noticed is that the book slid from one spelling to another for proper nouns. I realize that there are multiple acceptable spellings for these very old words, but I prefer when a book sticks to one (perhaps acknowledging the others but saying which one it will use.)
Far from the promised modern retelling of the myths, which is sorely needed, this book is junk. It's wrong, it's lacking known details that would have done a lot for this rather short book. It takes a very out-of-date approach to the material, and doesn't present it in an entertaining way. These myths were meant to be told and retold and made lush with detail by the poet or storyteller presenting them. Gaiman should know this if he did the research he claimed he did. But here are the same old words that have been used forever. As much as I love these arc words, they were exactly what I didn't want in this work.
In conclusions, this lacks all that it claims it's got. It's a shiny cover (with the wrong shape for the hammer, by the way....) and a spiffy intro.... and the rest is just not worth the money. Get Kevin Holland's book, or even a copy of the Eddas and read them instead. This offers no advantages over either.
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