On February 15th, 2017, we join a packed house of fans at the Royal Festival Hall in London to hear best-selling author Neil Gaiman (who is also Paul’s favorite author) talk about his latest book: Norse Mythology.
Gaiman has already touched on Norse myths in many other works (Sandman, American Gods, Anansi Boys, and Odd and the Frost Giants), but this latest book retells them in his own voice. The seed was planted eight years ago by his editor (cheers, Amy Cherry!), though it took quite a while to come to fruition. We find out more during the two-hour event, which includes a reading, discussion and Q and A session.
The event feels more like sitting around a campfire, swapping stories than being in a packed festival hall. Appropriate, because the tales from Norse Mythology are adapted from a rich oral tradition. The tale Gaiman reads to us is ‘Freya’s Unusual Wedding.’ Bawdy and amusing, it finds Thor (God of Thunder) disguised in a wedding dress as he attempts to regain his missing hammer. The laughs land at the anticipated places, and it’s an enjoyable and well-told yarn (also: dick jokes).
Why Norse myths, and why now? As a seven-year-old boy, Gaiman became transfixed by the tales of Thor in the Jack Kirby comics, reprinted in Fantastic! magazine. This stoked an interest that led him to Myths of the Norsemen by Roger Lancelyn Green. Some readers have accused Gaiman of parodying Marvel with his characterization of Thor as a drunkard asking people if they want to touch his hammer in Sandman. But that’s just how he envisioned Thor from the original myths.
The author jokes that Norse Mythology could have been renamed ‘Dodgy Gods,’ as part of the appeal of the pantheon is their human fallibility and doomed existence. “If Odin stays at your house, the best you can hope for is that he nicks your silverware,” Gaiman warns.
Unlike his novels, Gaiman decided ‘not to make stuff up’ from whole cloth, taking his cues from translations of Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda. While these retellings are intended for adults, he hopes the book would also appeal to his seven-year-old self.
Reflecting on myths from today’s world
Goddesses are relatively scarce in the book – not because they don’t exist in Norse myths, but because so much of the ancient oral tradition has been lost. Gaiman is still interested in the stories of these forgotten goddesses, though. Hopefully we’ll see some in prose one day!
The female characters that do exist in the book are no shrinking violets, at least. In ‘Freya’s Unusual Wedding,’ Freya sends Thor and Loki off with their tails between their legs after Thor expects her to marry against her will. And Gaiman compares his wife, Amanda, to Skadi in ‘The Apples of Immortality’, as she’s powerful in her own right and can negotiate for herself when faced with the Gods.
US interviews have centered around the connection between Norse Mythology to Trump and the current political climate and whether we have reached ‘peak Ragnarok.’ (In the story ‘Master Builder,’ the Gods want a wall to keep the giants out, and trick a giant into building it.) While Gaiman doesn’t believe we’ve reached ‘peak’ Ragnarok yet (a wolf hasn’t swallowed the sun), he comments that it could’ve already started, with brother killing brother.
The inspiration for Gaiman’s next project: returning to London in the post-Brexit climate. In Neverwhere, the secret realm of ‘London Below’ was populated by dispossessed people who had fallen through the cracks of society. He still has more outrage and things to say on that theme, informed by his work in UNHCR camps and the hardening attitudes towards refugees he has encountered. This anger is being channelled into Neverwhere’s upcoming sequel: Seven Sisters.
If we are approaching peak Ragnarok, there’s at least some hope in the doom. A new novel by an angry, politicised Neil Gaiman is something to look forward to.
Norse Mythology is now available in hardcover at Amazon. There’s no official release date for Seven Sisters (only three chapters have been written so far!) but we’re eagerly anticipating a return to London Below.