3 March 2017

selenak: (Bayeux)
I have no idea whether any of this applies anymore; probably not. But: If, for a century or so until my generation, you were a German child and enjoyed reading, chances were you were presented with "Greek and Roman Myths" by Gustav Schwab for your fist Communion (if you were Catholic) or presumably at some other occasion applying to Lutherans & other religions (or no religion at all). I was, and a life long fascination with myths was born. I didn't discover until later when I got around to reading the Iliad, Ovid etc. that Gustav Schwab, Wilhelminian that he was, had definitely bowdlerized the myths in his retelling at some places, usually to make the Gods look a bit better. But still: Schwab's Myths, the shorthand designation, was an incredibly popular follow up present to the Grimms' Fairy Tales by well meaning relations for generations of children. (Speaking of the Grimms, Jacob G. also edited a collection of "German Heroic Myths", and I did read that one later, too, but the Greeks and Gustav Schwab definitely got there first.

Why do I bring this up? Because when reading Neil Gaiman's Norse Myths, it struck me that this is the ideal new First-Communion-gift. It's a good introduction to the 16 or so stories told in the Edda, witty and well written. A retelling of the Edda-version myths themselves, not a novella or novel using the myths as a basis, and not one assuming you know the stories or versions of them already. (As opposed to, say, the way Gaiman uses myths in the Sandman saga, or of course in American Gods.) There's a playful narrative voice that definitely seems to be a adressing a younger audience, without, however, patronizing it, as in delightfully creepy touch:

Look up in the sky: you're looking at the inside of Ymir's skull. The stars you see at night, the planets, all the comets and the shooting stars, these are the sparks that flew at the fires of Muspell. And the clouds you see by day? These were once Ymir's brains, and who knows what thoughts they are thinking, even now.

(As opposed to Gustav Schwab, Gaiman isn't interested in making the Gods look less dastardly.)

If you're a reader already familiar with Norse myths and/or Gaiman's other works, you get the occasional cross referencing kick, as in:

He had done as his dreams had told him, but dreams know more than they reveal, even to the wisest of the gods.

And are amused and things like this summing up of Loki:

That was the thing about Loki. You resented him even if you were at your most grateful, and you were grateful to him even when you hated him the most.,

or at this dialogue between a giant and his wife (in one of the stories where Thor and Loki are undercover)

"He's our son's friend, and an enemy to your enemies, so you have to be nice to him."
"I am grim of mind and wrathful of spirit and I have no desire to be nice to anyone" (...).

At the same time, despite my fondness for myths and general fondness for most writings of Neil Gaiman, I can't say this book accessed my emotions the way some other retellings of myths I already know did (say, as when I first read Ted Hughes' Tales from Ovid, which I think is a fair comparison, as comparisons to novels etc. would not be). Except for one occasion. When Neil Gaiman retells the binding of Fenrir, I was jolted out of being amused and entertained into being fascinated, horrified and feeling sympathy where I had never done before. Poor Fenrir. And also, Tyr! Spoilery to this book thoughts follow. )

In conclusion: liked it very much indeed without loving it, will know what to present Young People of Aquaintance with on next possible occasion.


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