Thursday, February 16, 2017

Norse Locker Room

I purchased and read Neil Gaiman's "Norse Mythology" over the weekend.

While it was fun to read some of the stories that I remember reading when I was in second grade, the tribal, clannish, cattle-raiding values of the myths depressed me more than I expected.   In some ways reading them was like hearing stories told by jocks in a locker room, or boys trading boasts about how they had bested their younger brothers.

I think the tales that resonated with me the most was the building of the wall around Asgard, and the Binding of Fenris.   The wall is culturally apropos, and Gaiman's best tragic characterization is with the god Tyr giving his right hand as blood money for Fenris's betrayal.  I was hoping that there would be more characterization; generally Gaiman's most interesting characters in "Norse Mythology" are the gods -- and frequently goddesses -- who are side-players in stories which typically focus on Loki, Thor, and Odin.

The Norse gods -- at least Odin -- are supposed to be aware of Ragnarock, and this is supposed to inform their decisions, but I'm not seeing how this makes them doomed tragic heroes.  There isn't a sense of, "I'm going to do the best that I can in this situation, even if things are predestined, because it's the right thing to do in this moment," which gives the impression of the excuse of "the world's going to end anyway, so who cares?"

I read along, trying to reconcile the feeling that I shouldn't judge another culture's stories, trying not to justify the stories with a "well, if the Norse people were trying to explain natural phenomenon as by personifying them as Ice Giants..."  and at the same time looking for some cultural message to apply to the present day.

In the book, Gaiman encourages his readers to re-imagine the stories.  Thinking more, my tech-boyness is showing, because if it were me, I would focus more on the runes and the craftsmanship of the wonderful treasures and less on the god's guile and treachery.  I would focus more on the choices between and the conflicts between choosing what one wants, what is the right thing to do, and personal wyrd.
Post a Comment