The Vikings left us with their own set of myths and gods (much to the chagrin of Greek and Roman academia), and a significant mark on the English language. I picked up Neil Gaiman’s playful Norse Mythology this spring because I was looking for something light and snackable to digest during some work travel. “Greek myths are full of sex and peacocks,” Gaiman told the audience at a recent book reading. “There’s lots of sitting outside and falling in love with your own reflection. No one’s doing that in Norse mythology. You sit outside in the winter, you’re dead,” he said.
I kept hearing Giorgio Tsoukalos of Ancient Aliens fame say: “Is such a thing even possible?” As I continued on from Thor and Odin to Loki and Hel, I realized: Aliens! It always goes back to aliens. Like many BCE times, nordic myths start out telling the tale of Earth’s origin and the first man. Similarities between ancient alien theory, god mythology and biblical reference are always undeniable and cause for a soft chuckle.
I was particularly interested in the explanation of a good artist with words: someone who drank the mead of poetry. “Ever since then, we know that those people who can make magic with their words, who can make poems and sagas and weave tales, have tasted the mead of poetry. When we hear a fine poet, we say that they have tasted Odin’s gift.” On the flip side, “No one, then or now, wanted to drink the mead that came out of Odin’s ass. But whenever you hear bad poets declaiming their bad poetry, filled with foolish similes and ugly rhymes, you know which of the meads they have tasted.” So next time I review a bad piece of art, I just might say the artist drank Odin’s ass mead.
Gaiman jumps around from similar-sounding place to place with gods who have similar-sounding names in a confusing (make sure you’re sober when you read this one) kind of way. I’ve always thought people who read fantasy or sci-fi have to be smarter than the rest of the lot — or at least no sign of ADHD — to keep up with all of the names, worlds, gods, lands and kingdoms. I have a really bad habit of skimming through these names without taking the time to digest it all as if I’m in a hurry. Of course, this isn’t any fault of Gaiman as a re-teller of these ancient (alien?) myths. I made a note to myself that I need to be a better reader in the future, though, or else I miss out on so much!
Ragnarok “comes and brings the end of days,” but sounds more fun than Armageddon in the Bible’s Revelations … because zombies. “This will be the age of cruel winds, the age of people who become as wolves, who prey upon each other, who are no better than wild beasts.” Clearly we have some walking dead action in Norse mythology because “Loki’s troops are the legions of Hel. They are the uneasy dead, the ones who died shameful deaths, who will return to fight once more as walking corpses, determined to destroy anything that still loves and lives above the earth.” The final destiny of the gods end in ash, flood, darkness and ice.
In the end, “from the gray waters of the ocean, the green earth will arise once more.” Because eventually life goes on “and the game begins anew.” I have a tattoo on my left arm of three triangles — a trinity of sorts to remind me no matter what happens, life is cyclical. I like the message in the end about this because I have a strong connection to that belief. Norse scholars would agree Gaiman successfully took the basics and made a great rendition — but he is just as adamant that he didn’t write it for Norse scholars as Norse scholars are that ancient astronaut theories don’t work for Norse mythology. Say that three times fast.
Apparently Gaiman’s dark secret is an out-of-print biography on Duran Duran. He says it’s horrible and no one should read it. I’ll take his word for it but I will make an effort to read some of his other works now that I’ve had a taste of his style.
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[Featured image via Unsplash]