San Francisco, California

Norse Mythology

I ravaged this collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman called Norse Mythology; it reminds me of Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath and brought me back to replaying the latest installment in the God of War series. Gaiman collects some of the most interesting stories of the Norse gods—Thor, Odin, Loki—and I just couldn’t put the book down, devouring the whole thing in just two sittings.

Why though? What is it about these stories that I find so entrancing? Well, I think it has something to do with perspective. In one story about the death of the god Baldur, Hermod travels to the underworld to bring him back:

“All things mourn him. His death unites us all in misery, god and frost giant, dwarf and elf. The animals mourn him, and the trees. Even the metals weep. The stones dream that brave Balder will return to the lands that know the sun. Let him go.”

Even the metals weep. Whoa. Also, in the scene just before this, Frigg ventures out into the world so that she can ask all things to keep Balder safe from harm:

She walked the earth and exacted an oath from each thing that she encountered never to harm Balder the beautiful. She spoke to fire, and it promised it would not burn him; water gave its oath never to drown him; iron would not cut him, nor would any of the other metals. Stones promised never to bruise his skin. Frigg spoke to trees, to beasts, and to birds and to all things that creep and fly and crawl, and each creature promised that its kind would never hurt Balder. The trees agreed, each after its kind, oak and ash, pine and beech, birch and fir, that their wood could never be used to hurt Balder.

This is something that an English writer would probably not write naturally, as we would almost never personify the earth or the trees or the metals. But every dang sword and weapon, shoe and necklace in Norse mythology appears to have a name, too. There is Mjollnir, Yggdrasil, the Gjallerhorn and the Fimbulwinter. Odin’s ring is called Draupnir, and Sleipnir is the eight-legged stallion he rides. The Midgard serpent is called Jormungundr, whilst Naglfar and Skidbladnir are great ships.

Everything in these tales has a name, and everything has an arc.