“Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman, Norton, 293 pages, $25.95
In a recent edition of the classic “Bulfinch’s Mythology,” 292 is the number of pages devoted to Greece, Rome and the mythology of Southern European climes. Twenty-seven is the number of pages devoted to myths of the snowy North – without England, that is. As old Thomas Bulfinch smartly noted, no one believes in the Greek and Roman Gods but “they still hold their place and will continue to hold it, for they are too closely connected with the finest productions of poetry and art, both ancient and modern, to pass into oblivion.”
Neil Gaiman tells us in the wonderful “Norse Mythology” that he first encountered “Asgard and its inhabitants” as a small boy no more than 7, reading “the adventures of the mighty Thor as depicted by American comics artist Jack Kirby, in stories plotted by Kirby and Stan Lee and dialogued by Stan Lee’s brother, Larry Lieber.” As a result, Gaiman, as all bright kids should be, was greedy for more about what he liked. So he borrowed a copy of Roger Lancelyn Green’s classic book on the subject and “read and re-read it with both delight and puzzlement.” In this telling “Odin, the all-father was no longer gentle, wise and irascible” but “was brilliant, unknowable and dangerous; Thor was just as strong as the Mighty Thor in the comics, his hammer was powerful, but he was … well, not the brightest of the gods; and Loki was not evil, although he was certainly not a force for good. Loki was … complicated.”
Tales of the gods, he discovered early, depended on the teller. And when you’re talking about the Norse gods who so often captivate kids, Neil Gaiman is about as marvelous a re-teller of their stories as you could find among active writers – so much so that this beautifully written and independently imagined book will be equally edifying to young readers and grown-ups.
Neil Gaiman is a Twitter star, the author of “Coraline” and a fantasy, sci-fi and kid’s book fixture in literature, a man so popular and beloved that he could make a bestseller out of a book of essays (“The View From the Cheap Seats.”) No small trick that. A book that can’t be more highly recommended.