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Editorial Reviews

Editors Select, February 2017 - Norse Mythology. Neil Gaiman. A project he's been working on for seven years, narrated by Gaiman himself. This book made me weak in the knees. Neil really lives this stuff, and you can tell he has a passion for the subject matter. As he points out in the prologue, myths are an oral tradition, and the best thing about them is how they change and evolve with each telling. And so they do here as Gaiman gives these ancient cultural tales a divine sense of character and voices the plethora of monsters, humans, gods, and giants exceptionally well. I swear, the moment you start listening to these intricate and enchanting tales, you won't want to leave the world that Neil has so deliberately crafted to be relatable, visionary, and entertaining. —Michael, Audible Editor

Publisher's Summary

Introducing an instant classic - master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths. 

Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin's son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of a giant, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman's deft and witty prose emerge the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again. 

Supplemental enhancement PDF accompanies the audiobook. Download the accompanying reference guide.
©2017 Neil Gaiman (P)2017 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

"Neil Gaiman's retelling of Norse myths is destined to become a classic for both his sure-footed stories and his captivating performance.... The tales seem timeless, and Gaiman's melodic narration so strongly echoes the oral tradition of myths that it's as if the narrator has stepped out of the stories themselves." ( AudioFile)
"In 'Norse Mythology,' Gaiman brings voice to the old myths so viscerally that listening to the audiobook every night for a week, I thought my bedroom might explode into Valhalla.... In fact the entire Norse pantheon, including dwarves and giants and demons, plays out as vividly as a novel or film.... Hearing the great myths spoken in a language from my present with a trace of ancient history physically broke me open, Gaiman's voice bringing the characters to life." ( The New York Times Book Review)

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A Comedy-Tragedy of Gods Giants Dwarfs & Monsters

Near the end of the only romantic happy ending story in Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology (2017), Gaiman makes a brilliantly ironic aside: "Their wedding was blessed, and some say their son, Fjolnir, went on to become the first king of Sweden. He would drown in a vat of mead late one night, hunting in the darkness for a place to piss."

In his introduction, Gaiman says that "I've tried my best to retell these myths and stories as accurately as I can, and as interestingly as I can. . . . I hope that they paint a picture of a world and a time" of "long winter nights" and "the unending daylight of midsummer," when people "wanted to know . . . what the rainbow was, and how to live their lives, and where bad poetry comes from." He achieves his aims.

Gaiman also explains what fascinated him as a boy about the myths: they are full of tragic heroes and villains "with their own doomsday: Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods, the end of it all." In both Norse and Greek mythologies the gods and goddesses are powerful, flawed beings who embody human traits or forces of nature and give appropriate justice or unexpected trouble, and who appear in stories that feature origins, metamorphoses, and ethical messages on hospitality, oath keeping, and the like. But in the Greek myths, the main gods and goddesses just keep going.

Gaiman first introduces the three main "players" of the myths: Odin ("highest and oldest of all the gods," the wise, far-seeing, "all-father"), Thor (the thunder god, son of Odin, strongest, simplest, and most violent of the gods), and Loki (blood-brother of Odin, the supreme trickster, father of monsters, maker of an interesting but unsafe world). He relates the creation of the nine worlds and gods and giants. And then he tells thirteen stories. (Though they should be read in sequence, each story can stand alone, for Gaiman repeats a few details when referring to something in a later story that he's already introduced in an earlier one.)

The first two tales ("Mimir's Head and Odin's Eye" and "The Treasures of the Gods") detail how Odin got extra wisdom and how Loki staged (and interfered with) a magical artifact competition between two teams of dwarves. Then follow an assortment of violent comedy fantasy stories like "The Master Builder" (a reckless bargain, an amazing builder, and some cross-species conception), "Freya's Unusual Wedding" (the theft of Thor's hammer and some comical cross-dressing), and "Hymir and Thor's Fishing Expedition" (an outrageous tall tale). Interspersed among those are an origin story "The Mead of the Poets" (war + spit + blood + honey + dwarves + sex + eagles = mead and bards), an ominous story "The Children of Loki" (the fates of Loki's monstrous kids), and a love story "The Story of Gerd and Frey" (even a god may fall in love with a giantess). Ending things are a tragedy ("The Death of Balder"), a punishment ("The Last Days of Loki"), and an apocalypse ("Ragnarok").

Before Norse Mythology, I read the beautifully illustrated D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths (1967) for children. I found that the humor, violence, imagination, pathos, and plots are essentially the same in both, but that Gaiman gives more emotional, psychological, and physical detail. For example, what the D'Aulaires write in one sentence ("The mead made the gnomes feel so grand that they recklessly killed an old jotun, and when his wife came looking for him, they slew her too"), Gaiman develops for pages. Gaiman adds to the myths his own vision and "joy and creation."

Gaiman writes more violence, scatology, and sex than the D'Aulaires do, as when he recounts Thor doing what he does best ("Methodically, enthusiastically, one after the next, Thor killed all the giants of the waste, until the earth ran black and red with their blood"), or Odin escaping as an eagle ("Odin blew some of the mead out of his behind, a splattery wet fart of foul-smelling mead right in Suttung's face, blinding the giant and throwing him off Odin's trail"), or Odin seducing a giantess (nude bodies and nuzzling). His renewal finale, when golden chess pieces representing the gods, Loki, and the giants are found lying scattered in the grass, is more numinous and less Christian than the D'Aulaires'. He also belongs to the contemporary villain revision trend, making Loki and some monsters (like his children Hel and Fenris) a little more understandable and sympathetic than do the D'Aulaires.

In dialogue Gaiman writes a few jarring modern idioms, like "The temperature was all over the place" and "What kind of woman do you think I am?" And he tends to overuse fairy tale superlatives (e.g., "the gods drink the finest ale there ever was or ever will be" vs. the original Poetic Edda's "And now the gods/drink good beer").

But his writing is wonderful. His style features rich Norsy alliteration and description, like "a murky mist that cloaked everything hung heavily." He writes apt and evocative similes, like "She laughed as loudly as a calving glacier." He's often funny, e.g., "He tossed them [a pair of nefarious dwarfs], still bound and soaking, into the bottom of the boat, where they wriggled uncomfortably, like a couple of bearded lobsters." He writes a terrifying apocalypse: "The misty sky will split apart with the sound of children screaming." He's a master of the neat parenthesis, like, "(that was Naglfar, the Death Ship, made from the untrimmed fingernails of the dead)."

Gaiman is in fine fettle reading his audiobook. His Loki, Thor, Fenris, giants, and ogre lord are great. His wit, enthusiasm, and pauses and emphases are engaging. When a pretty giantess says to Odin, "my father would get quite irritable if he thought that I was giving away his mead to every good looking stranger who penetrated this mountain fastness," Gaiman pauses archly after "penetrated" to make us expect "penetrated his daughter." He paints aural illustrations the equivalent of the D'Aulaires' wonderful pictures. Listening to Gaiman's audiobook was a pleasure.

235 of 257 people found this review helpful

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Welcome to Valhalla

I didn't know much about Norse Mythology, aside from Marvel comics, so I decided this would be a good crash course. Suffice it to say, I got my money's worth. The stories collected in here are absolutely glorious. If you at all like mythology, you owe it to yourself to check out this volume.

As a bonus, Neil Gaiman is just as fantastic a narrator as he is writer. What more could you want? Beyond highly recommended!

119 of 136 people found this review helpful

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As good as it gets without the old texts

Neil Gaiman nails the old tales in this book. If you're looking for great stories, impressive mythical storyscapes and a good time stop here and spend some time with the Norse Myths. Dwarfs, fallen gods, heroes, Thor's hammer, loss, sorrow, triumphs - it's all there.

Love the Gaiman not only provides a forward where he explains his love of the Norse Myths, but that he narrates this one himself - his passion comes through in the telling. Also, as someone who has read direct translations of the original codex I'm pleased to report Gaiman stays true to the best records we have while updating the telling to be compatible with modern English - the old language can be very difficult to follow when translated literally. You'll thank Gaiman for bringing the language up to contemporary standards for you.

If you are interested for either educations purposes (i.e what are the real myths, not the pop culture versions of Thor, Odin or Loki) or for the love of some good stories you won't be disappointed.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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OF COURSE IT WAS LOKI, IT'S ALWAYS LOKI

IT SEATED MORE PEOPLE THAN THE MIND COULD HOLD
I am a big fan of fairy tales, mythologies, tall tells and fables. Just like reading the Arabian Nights, it is important to me to get an idea of what goes on in the minds of different cultures and histories. This is even more fun than most, because of Loki. He is a trickster and is always causing mischief. The stories, as a whole, have a beginning, a middle and an ending. There are also several comparison to the bible that could be made. Did you know that Odin, sacrificed himself to himself on a tree and he was pierced in the side? Ragnarok has several similarities to Revelations.

NO ONE WANTED TO DRINK THE MEAD COMING FROM ODIN'S ASS
I will admit that there were times in which my mind wondered, but all in all some of these stories are excellent, and as a whole shouldn't be missed.

Neil Gaiman
I have never been a huge NG fan. I have even wondered at his popularity. I am glad he took on this project and helped to make these stories understandable and entertaining to the modern age. His narration is top notch. He is good enough to read for other authors.

178 of 216 people found this review helpful

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Really really good listen!

I have to say, I wasn't completely sure what I was getting into with this. Neil Gaiman not only wrote an excellent book but his narration takes it too the next level. He has different voices and tones for each character that allows you to connect with the characters and figures beyond the pages. Really well done and I thoroughly enjoyed what I think is a history lesson but could also be a wonderful work of fiction. Great stuff here!

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Great intro

Not really sure sure of this is an accurate rendition of Norse mythology, but you have to love the way in which the characters are developed and put on display for us. Wonderful

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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I battled yard work, then drank & feasted in Valhalla!

This was true story telling. I wasn't studying, or researching, nor was I seeking a bedtime story. I was enriched! "Were you not entertained!?" YES, YES, I was entertained.

I had about... six hours of hard yard work to do (flood repair), shoveling mud and rock. But with this book, I battled the mud and rock and then drank and feasted in Valhalla!

It was the perfect length. I was fortunate enough to listen in one "sitting". The short stories were great pausing points for water breaks and lunch. They would be good for stopping points if you couldn't listen in one sitting.

N. Gaiman is a great narrator, OMGs, his Thor voice is excellent! If I hadn't been baTTling the rocks, mud and rain, I'd have been sitting by the fire, drinking a pint of ale, listening to Uncle Neil tell us all how Thor got his hammer. His voice is that familiar story teller in your head and heart.

Lastly, I'm terrible with names, really. About five mins in, I thought I'm gonna be lost with these lesser known Gods. But trust the author/narrator. You'll remember who you need to, when you need to.

I go now, in search of the Chess Board of the Gods... Etsy?

194 of 264 people found this review helpful

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Enjoyable retelling of Norse myths

Neil Gaiman says he first encountered the Norse myths in the pages of Marvel Comics. I first encountered the Norse Myths in the pages of school textbooks. I later discovered livelier versions, and he later discovered more complete versions, truer to the original sources.

One important difference is that Gaiman is an excellent writer, and he became interested in researching the myths and presenting them to new generations in a form both true to the sources and engaging for modern readers.

Or, in this case, as is most appropriate for ancient myths, listeners.

In his introduction, he discusses what we do, and tantalizingly, what we don't know, about the Norse gods. We know Odin and Thor and Loki, the Norns and the giants, and others, but there are also gods for whom only and some bare details remain, with no surviving stories to retell.

Both his words and his reading of them breathe life into the stories we have. None of the Norse gods are simple and straightforward evocations of merely a few traits, nor are they what we'd consider fully rounded characters. They are, nevertheless, compelling, especially with Gaiman, an excellent oral storyteller as well as an excellent writer, reading his own retellings of their tales.

It's a very good few hours' listening.

Recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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The True Tales of the Norse Gods

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

It really captures the most detailed versions of the Norse God myths in an easy to follow and entertaining way.

What other book might you compare Norse Mythology to and why?

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, as they are both collections of stories depicting larger than life characters.

Which scene was your favorite?

When Loki tricks the Dwarves into creating the most amazing items we know today as Norse symbols.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Loki cutting off the hair of Thor's wife in her sleep. I could actually feel the pain in that act.

Any additional comments?

I love Norse mythology but this book captured it so well, I will buy the hardcopy and read it as bedtime stories to my son when he is old enough to understand me. It is that good.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Good entertainment

This book gave me exactly what I expected - a well-written account of a handful selected Norse mythology stories.

Given how much humor there is in Norse mythology I don't expect it to be that hard to write at least somewhat entertaining stories. However, the author of this book, Neil Gaiman, does have an exceptional ability to make the characters come alive. When you have finished this book, you will know what kind of creature the cunning and mischievous Loke is. You will also wonder why the Gods keep their trust in him given that he is the cause of pretty much all misfortune. Thor, in contrast, is very simple minded and it seems that the only thing he has going for him is his strength and his hammer.

My favorite story in the book is the one where Thor, to retrieve his stolen hammer, must dress up as Freja and pretend to marry a giant. The giant doesn't really know what to think when Thor begins to drink liters of Mead and eat several whole goats, and it is up to Loke to convince the daft giant that Freja is doing it because she is sooo in love.

There is plenty other entertaining stories. So if you are looking to become a little bit more familiar with Norse mythology or if you just want to a book that you can sit back and enjoy then this is an excellent choice!

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Maud-Ellen Berge-Venter
  • 05-20-17

fabulous!To be heard again and again! And again!

The kids loved it too! Great for the whole family! Gaiman is pleasant to listen to :-)