Norse Mythology is a retelling of the classic fables and myths of the Norse Mythology. Neil Gaiman, the author, collates myths of the Old Norse from different sources, most notably from the epic Edda, and presents them in a novella form. The result is a swooping collection of short stories which reads like a short fantasy novella much like Neil Gaiman’s other works.
Norse religion was a folk religion of the ancient Germanic tribes from North European countries like Scandinavia. The practitioners were nature-worshippers and deified forces of nature like Thunder, Earth and unknown phenomena in Nature. In the Norse pantheon the universe is split in several realms like Midgard, the realm of Humans, and Asgard, the realm of the Gods. Niflheim is the realm of the dead, and Jottenheim is the realm of the Giants. Aesir, the Gods, are in a constant struggle with the Giants who wish to gain control of Asgard. Odin, Thor and Loki are the main players in this fantasy opera. Odin is an omniscient old God who represents Wisdom. Thor is a strong God who is the de facto leader in possession of Mjolnir, a strong hammer which he uses to decimate the enemies. Loki is a mischief monger, a conniving trickster whom Gods tolerate because of his usefulness and knack to get out of difficult situation using his wits. The collection of stories recount how Gods came to be, their genealogy, how they get their weapons and how they fall into trap and get out of difficult situations because of Loki’s pranks. The narrative culminates in an ultimate battle called as the Ragnarok or the twilight of the Gods. Ragnarok is an elaborate playbook about the end of the World where the Gods will battle out the Sons of Loki to their deaths.
Myths are collection of narratives which systematize the beliefs of yore. The narratives are cautionary tales, made-up explanations of natural phenomena or even silly, peevish and delightful gossips. Sample this - Odin stole mead from the Giants which gives them the gift of poetry whereas his farts on Giant in his Eagle-form gave birth to bad poetry. The earthquakes are the result of Loki writhing in pain when venom drips on him. There is no higher morality, no original sin. The Gods are playful, sometimes peevish; they err, face the consequences of their actions, fight and meet their tragic ends. The fables are tales of deceit, follies and getting out of difficult situations. There is the inevitable apocalypse, but no sin, morality, redemption or judgment. It is what it is - no-frills, absurdist, fun, tragic, bittersweet myth.
My interest in Mythology piqued when I played the strategy game, Age of Mythology, in my teenage years. The game is an ultimate simulation of the clash of the Titans. You control a Pantheon - one from Greek, Egyptian and Norse, and end up playing against another Pantheon. Much like chess pieces, you control a civilization and wage war against the other. It is pure fun when a Minotaur from the Greek pantheon decimates an army of wolves led by Fenrir from the Norse Pantheon. The game was my gateway drug to explore comparative mythology. One thing led to other and I ended up reading the entire Masks of God Series from Joseph Campbell. In his book Myths to Live by, Joseph Campbell says that the myths are proxies of our inner psyche. Odin, Thor and Loki should represent something. If wisdom from Odin and courage from Thor are pure virtues, then shouldn’t Loki’s chutzpah count? Loki represents our rebellious self. Loki’s risk-taking is an underrated trait. Risk is what drives us. Isn’t our zeitgeist portfolio society about it?