For his 40th book, author Neil Gaiman reached back to his youth and further for Norse Mythology, a series of retellings of ancient legends. Gaiman discovered Thor and Odin as a kid reading Marvel comics, which inspired him to discover the original tales of the gods of Asgard where “history and religion and myth combine and we wonder and we imagine and we guess.”
Far from a ponderous read, it’s a swiftly moving collection of short stories that follow a sequence, opening with a world born from darkness and fire, taking us through the glories of the gods and concluding with “the age of cruel winds, the age of people who become as wolves and prey upon each other” that leads to a final battle, Ragnarok. Gaiman’s renditions of “The Children of Loki” and “Thor’s Journey to the Land of the Giants” are vivid, with their icy landscapes more perceived than described, populated by gods who are awe-inspiring, but every now and then show a touch of human foible: “People wanted to like [Loki], they wanted to believe him, but he was undependable and self-centered at best, mischievous or evil at worst. He married a woman named Sigyn, who had been happy and beautiful when Loki courted and married her, but now always looked like she was expecting bad news.”
In the introduction, Gaiman explains that he would have written more stories but, since many of the old tales have disappeared, he had nothing to base them on—“We have lost so much.” Still, one wishes that he had taken a crack at inventing one or two more. It’s fair to say that the Norse gods and goddesses helped inspire Neil Gaiman in his illustrious career creating fantasy worlds: Surely they wouldn’t object to him spinning a few more yarns to lay at their feet.