Editor’s reading list: ‘Norse Mythology’ by Neil Gaiman

"Norse Mythology" by Neil Gaiman is a cozy read, with each chapter its own short story from Nordic legend. (Dene Dryden | Collegian Media Group)

This week, I originally intended on reviewing a different book: “Fates and Furies” by Lauren Groff. In the first 75 pages, I could tell Groff is a fantastic writer, but I hated the main character. Perhaps the novel gets better after the exposition — someday I’ll finish the book — but I had no desire to read further. With only three days until my deadline, I relied on an author I trust to give me a quick, engaging read.

Neil Gaiman, who penned “Coraline” and “American Gods,” my favorite novel, released his retelling of Nordic tales in 2017. “Norse Mythology” brings the stories of the Norse gods to life. Each chapter encapsulates one story, often involving Loki’s trickery, Thor’s strength and Odin’s self-serving wisdom.

From the creation story to the planned apocalypse that is Ragnarok, Gaiman’s tales can be enjoyed in a linear fashion, or each tale can stand on its own as a story to share with friends or your children (given that the particular tale doesn’t involve adultery, because that happens).

The Norse gods share some personality traits with the Greek gods: they trick others to get what they want, they wage war and sometimes their actions are questionable. Don’t expect Thor to be as good-hearted as his Marvel characterization; he kills quite a few giants and dwarves from other lands.

If you are a Marvel fan, it might be hard to set aside Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki for these stories, but doing so brings a fresher perspective to Gaiman’s tales.

Gaiman’s research into Norse mythology pays off, as his collection of retold Norse tales read like a novel you’ve read cover to cover several times over. If I wasn’t familiar with Gaiman’s writing style, I would have thought “Norse Mythology” was a well-translated collection of Norse tales.

Now they are imbued with Gaiman’s whimsy and craft for the mystical things and happenstances that feel real. It’s hard to tell in these stories where Gaiman created a new detail; each story entertains and enchants, delivering humor and deception. They’re modern-day, cohesive campfire tales with a dose of old-world mystery.

Frankly, some whimsy and wonder does us good, and “Norse Mythology” stirs the imagination with great legends that aren’t too far-fetched and gods who have their distinct personalities without being over the top. It’s fantasy without the commitment and complexities of high fantasy novels. It’s historically based without feeling aged or out of touch.

I relied on Gaiman’s knack for enthralling storytelling to make me hungry to read, and I finished “Norse Mythology” satisfied. I’d recommend this book (and any of Gaiman’s other novels, really) to anyone looking for an easygoing yet splendorous read that will make you think, snicker and enjoy a fantastic story.

In our fast-paced world with all of the stressors of news, politics and drama, “Norse Mythology” is a great way to escape to a simpler time of gods and goddesses, simple stories about why there are earthquakes, why salmon have slender tails and why Odin rides an eight-legged horse (spoiler alert: Loki).

With Gaiman, the art of historic storytelling is in good hands. Revel in it.

Dene Dryden is the Collegian’s editor-in-chief and a junior in English. The views and opinions expressed in this review are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

I'm Dene Dryden, and I graduated in May 2020 with a Bachelor's of Arts in English. Before graduating, I worked at the Collegian for more than three years as a copy chief, managing editor and editor-in-chief. I also served a term on the Collegian Media Group Board of Directors. While at K-State, I also worked at Wildcat 91.1 FM. My cat Robyn is the light of my life, and I take compliments in the form of coffee.