9 Norse Mythology Books To Read While You Wait For The New Neil Gaiman Book
You've heard right: Neil Gaiman is coming out with a new book on Norse Mythology. He's going to be retelling some of the most beloved Norse myths, and weaving them together into a single novel-like narrative. If you're anything like me, this is quite possibly the best news of the year (because if you're like me, you have an entire bookshelf devoted to books on Norse mythology and Thor figurines). But if you're not already a huge nerd for Valkyries and Frost Giants, now's your chance to start reading! Gaiman's book doesn't drop until February, so we've got time to kill reading other brilliant books on Norse Myths until then.
The worlds of mythology are endlessly interesting. You've got your animal-headed Egyptian gods, your jacked Greek heroes, your Aztec feathered serpents—but I've always had a soft spot for Viking myths. This is probably because "Thor" is a family name, but still. If you're a Neil Gaiman fan, you may have already gotten a feel for the Norse gods and their dysfunctional family dynamic in American Gods or The Sandman. But there's a lot more to read about Odin, Thor, Loki and the gang, so check out these books on Norse Mythology (and then tell me you don't want a pet raven to spy for you):
1. The D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
OK, this is a kids' book, but it's a great intro to Norse Mythology all the same (and definitely a more cleaned up version of some of the myths). You get to know Odin, the one-eyed all-father, his son Thor, the thunder god, and his adopted son Loki, the mischievous shape-shifting jerk. You also get the classic stories like the theft of Thor's hammer, that time Loki's wolf son ate someone's arm, and Ragnarok (that's when all the gods die horribly and the world is destroyed), accompanied by lovely illustrations.
2. The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland
For a more in-depth intro to the Norse Myths, check out Kevin Crossley-Holland's The Norse Myths. It's aimed at adult readers (i.e., lots of drinking mead), and it's a fascinating read, complete with maps of the Nine Worlds. He retells the classic myths in a modern voice, with plenty of additional notes to keep history buffs happy (but really, the only important thing is that he includes the myth where Thor has to dress in drag to get his hammer back).
3. Thor Volume 1 by J. Michael Straczynski, art by Olivier Coipel
Is the Marvel take on Thor the Thunder God 100% accurate? No. But is it a ton of fun? Hell yes. Everyone should read the Lady Thor comics (Thor is now a woman, if you're behind the times), but if you want to start at Thor's most recent resurrection, Thor Volume 1 is the book to go with. It's a classic superhero tale with gorgeous art and plenty of Norse Myth nonsense (and there is a Lady Loki in this one).
4. The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris
Long before Tom Hiddleston turned Loki into a lovable hunk, he was the trickster villain of Norse Mythology. And not just a cute, prankster kind of trickster villain—he tricks a blind god into murdering his brother, causing the end of all of creation. But Joanne M. Harris' The Gospel of Loki is a brilliant retelling of the story from Loki's point of view. A must read for every Loki fan out there.
5. The Poetic Edda translated by Lee M. Hollander
Of course, you could always cut out the middleman and read a primary source on Norse Mythology. The Poetic Edda is a collection of poems from twelfth century Iceland (don't worry, they've been translated and updated), and it's one of the most important records of early Nordic culture. The poems tell the creation and destruction myths of the Norsemen, along with tales of giants, gods, battles, and the story behind Wagner's Ring Cycle.
6. The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jesse L. Byock
If you're into primary sources but not so much into poetry, then The Prose Edda might be worth a look. It's where nearly every author on this list got their original info from. Way back in the day, Snorri Sturluson took it upon himself to jot down all the epic myths of the Viking Age. Frost giants, Valkyries, dwarves, elves, gods, warrior kings—it's all in here, along with Odin, Thor, Freya, Loki and the rest of the Æsir.
7. The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer
You might prefer your Scandinavian legends with more of a YA novel, adventure feel. If so, Nancy Farmer is the author for you. The Sea of Trolls begins with eleven-year-old Jack and his sister being snatched up by viking berserkers (yikes). But Jack's sister offends a troll queen (you know how it is), and Jack winds up on a quest to Jotunheim, the land of the trolls. Expect plenty of trolls, troll bears, dragons, and other monsters from the depths of Norse Myth.
8. The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
This one offers very little background information on the Norse gods. But it does begin with a very frustrated Thor attempting to book a flight from Heathrow to Oslo (and subsequently causing a passenger check-in desk to explode). The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul is, in true Douglas Adams form, a totally bizarre and hysterically funny mystery novel. Adams yanks the Norse gods out of Asgard and plops them down in modern-day London, resulting in some highly inventive mayhem.
9. Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones
Luke appears to be an ordinary kid. And yet it seems like so many people are out looking for Luke — including the one-eyed man in the stretch limousine, the huge and frightening gardener, the strange brother and sister duo, the red-headed man, and the ravens who lurk outside the house at all times. Diana Wynne Jones is one of the fantasy greats, and Eight Days of Luke is her clever homage to Norse Mythology. The book's premise is simple, but the modern take on the Norse gods makes it an ingenious piece of writing.
Images: Marvel Studios