Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Gaiman's Norse Mythology

I am a great lover of the books of Neil Gaiman, and I found his newest, Norse Mythology, very enjoyable. Most of what I know about the Norse gods comes from Gaiman's book American Gods anyway, so I constantly thought about the personalities that this inventive author had given them in that book. In the new book, Gaiman doesn't invent any new traits or exploits for the gods, but in simple prose retells the stories that he found in ancient Norse literature -- or so he says. I think his own style and interests come through anyway in these retellings. He's a master of storytelling.

I especially liked passages about the foods of the gods. They liked large quantities of meat and mead: no Olympian detachment or any of that ambrosia nonsense! Thor, especially, was a master of eating huge amounts and drinking even more impressive quantities -- for example the time a trickster dared him to empty a drinking horn that was connected to the seas, and Thor almost emptied the entire ocean.

Here's a fun passage from a story featuring Thor's great appetite. The background: beautiful goddess Freya had been promised to a giant named Thrym against her will. Instead of Freya, Thor dresses as a bride and goes to the wedding at the giant's home. Thor is heavily veiled and very uncomfortable; he is accompanied by Loki, a shape-shifter who has transformed himself into a young woman, and who has to do all the talking to avoid tipping off the giants. Thor and Loki were seated at the bridal table:
Thrym clapped his hands and giant serving men came in. They carried five whole roast oxen, enough to feed the giants; they brought in twenty whole baked salmon, each fish the size of a ten-year-old boy; also they carried in dozens of trays of little pastries and fancies intended for the women. They were followed by five more serving men, each one carrying a whole cask of mead, a barrel huge enough that each giant struggled beneath the weight of it. 
“This meal is for the beautiful Freya!” said Thrym, and he might have said something else, but Thor had already started to eat and to drink, and it would have been rude for Thrym to have talked while the bride-to-be was eating. 
A tray of pastries for the womenfolk was placed in front of Loki and Thor. Loki carefully picked out the smallest pastry. Thor just as carefully swept the rest of the pastries up, and they vanished, to the sound of munching, under the veil. The other women, who had been looking at the pastries hungrily, glared, disappointed, at the beautiful Freya. But the beautiful Freya had not even begun to eat. 
Thor ate a whole ox, all by himself. He ate seven entire salmon, leaving nothing but the bones. Each time a tray of pastries was brought to him, he devoured all the fancies and pastries on it, leaving all the other women hungry. Sometimes Loki would kick him under the table, but Thor ignored every kick and just kept eating. Thrym tapped Loki on the shoulder.“Excuse me,” he said. “But the lovely Freya has just polished off her third cask of mead.” 
“I’m sure she has,” said the maiden who was Loki.  “Amazing. I’ve never seen any woman eat so ravenously. Never seen any woman eat so much, or drink so much mead.” 
“There is,” said Loki, “an obvious explanation.” He took a deep breath and watched Thor inhale another whole salmon and pull a salmon skeleton out from under his veil. It was like watching a magic trick. He wondered what the obvious explanation was. 
“That makes eight salmon she’s eaten,” said Thrym. 
“Eight days and eight nights!” said Loki suddenly. “She hasn’t eaten for eight days and eight nights, she was so keen to come to the land of the giants and make love to her new husband. Now she is in your presence, she is finally eating again.” (Kindle Locations 922-940)
Norse Mythology is highly entertaining and very readable. And by the way, Thor kills all the ogres and giants at the banquet with his infallible hammer.

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