I’ve not read any Norse mythology for a while, so many of these stories came to me feeling quite fresh, albeit woven with familiarity. Happily, it only took a couple of stories to shake off the Marvel characters and replace them with my own.
This isn’t a reimagining, but rather, in the vein of Philip Pullman’s book of Grimm fairy tales, a retelling: simple, clear, honest. I’ve always said Gaiman’s writing style fits the short form so much better than the novel – here, in the mythic tale, his concise prose really shines, with deft characterisation that brings the gods of Asgard to life on the turn of a phrase.
This is a modern update without the need for modern trappings. There’s no attempt to explain why things are the way they are (as in the best mythologies, we must accept what is happening with good grace), the focus is on the events and the characters that drive them. The inconsistencies that derive from this are plentiful and purposeful, with giants and gods appearing to switch in scale from one paragraph to the next – a fun work out for imaginations more used to realistic description. Needless to say, Gaiman’s storytelling prowess is such that he takes it all in his stride.
It was interesting to see how nasty and belligerent the gods of Asgard often come across as. Violence and deceit seem to be their main means of solving problems. They will turn up uninvited and demand lavish hospitality (food and fights are frequent bedfellows throughout these tales). Their flaws are very obviously human – and yet the frost giants often seem more enigmatic and godlike, with their own divine responsibilities and powers. With many of them family to the gods of Asgard, it sometimes seems the Aesir and Vanir are just spoilt children running amok with powers far beyond their ken – perhaps Ragnarok was (will be) long-deserved after all.