Book Review – Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Ian likes books. Here is what he thought of one of them.

Odin, who is third, who is wanderer, who sacrificed himself to himself for knowledge and power. Loki, whose misdeeds range from mischievous to murderous. Thor, the strongest of the gods but, it’s fair to say, not the smartest. These are the central trio of Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. Surrounding them a supporting cast of gods and giants and monsters. Always present in the background is Ragnarok, the death of the gods- is it yet to come?

Norse Mythology is a collection of retold Norse myths- Gaiman has worked primarily from centuries old source material rather than rehashing popular versions of the modern era. The prose is sparse, more reminiscent of children’s books of myth and legend than the rich descriptive world-building Gaiman is known for. These are stories- what is told is only what is necessary. Every detail highlights character or propels plot. These gods are not benevolent omniscients- they are human in their wants and desires and virtues and flaws. Capricious and prideful, they barrel through a world that is painted in broad brush strokes. Minor details hint at the endless further stories beyond this collection- what we see is that polished gleam of ice that sits above the surface.

Loki’s children and Freya’s wedding are the stand out tales. Almost every story in the collection could stand alone, but together they form an arc from the beginning of time to Ragnarok, the death of the gods. The Norse universal creation myth is strikingly bizarre in its details, and it is testament to the skillful writing that some of the more absurd aspects never overshadow the underlying feeling of genesis and timeless truth. The ambiguity of description allows the reader to fill in the blanks- we know Loki is handsome, but little else. We know Valhalla and Valkyries, but we do not dwell overlong on specifics.

A gorgeous aspect of these stories is the lack of clear moral lessons. Sometimes the good are rewarded and the evil punished, but just as often the opposite is true- few are the unimpeachable in this world. So often the problems that pursue the gods are of their own devising- and who can judge the gods themselves? A highlight is the tale of Fenris-wolf, so ambiguous a character. Can you truly blame him for his actions?

Marvel have been digging into the seams of Norse Mythology for decades now, and the modern iteration of Loki is arguably one of the most popular characters in their cinematic universe. Reading these myths, it is surprising to see which aspects of character and story have been kept and which have been twisted in this transformation from fireside tale to movie- certainly differences abound (specifically Marvel’s Odin pales in comparison to the All-Father of myth), but there is a comfortable recognition. These are characters and archetypes we know well, and the familiar cadence of myth is a balm. Indeed some of the more boisterous tales are reminiscent of comics in their form- I await the inevitable graphic adaptation of these tales eagerly.

Norse Mythology– this myth, this is a book to sit faithfully on your bookshelf to be plucked at occasionally when only old tales will make sense, this is a book to read aloud by firelight to friends and family, a book to read alone as rain floods the world outside and Ragnarok comes.

I highly recommend it.

Review- Ian Green @ianthegreen

You can pick the book up below!

Comic Review – Godzilla: Cataclysm #1

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.

This week was expensive. Urgh. So I decided to review the first issue of the new Godzilla: Cataclysm series, written by Cullen Bunn, art from Dave Wachter and letters by Chris Mowry, published by IDW. This being the King of the Monsters 60th anniversary, and what with a fairly successful film out this year from Legendary (we reviewed it a couple of months ago, relatively spoiler free, in this episode of the Weekly Rapture podcast), it seemed worthwhile picking up, especially as I already enjoy Bunn’s writing anyway. I’ve always been particularly interested in Godzilla and kaiju films in general. They manage to be big, exciting and (on the surface) dumb while often having an intelligent underlying theme. Unfortunately, the last two outings for Godzilla on the big screen have been somewhat lacking. The 1998 film is pretty terrible, completely missing anything that made the films great (though I seem to remember really liking it at the time. I was 10. Plus that Jamiroquai track was great. You know it was. Don’t lie), and this year’s was only great for about 10 minutes total, the rest was fairly average if not dull.

Cataclysm picks up nearly twenty years after the destruction of ‘the world that was’, where human civilisation has been all but extinguished by the dozens of kaiju appearing all over the world, both through collateral damage as a part of their own fighting, or through directly being targeted by these ferocious leviathans. Humanity was brought to  the brink in this age of monsters, but then almost as soon as they turned up they disappeared again. We are shown this in the form of an old man’s dream, remembering the events that led to the world being as it is now: crumbling overgrown cities, shanty towns full of the survivors and hunter-gatherer groups heading into the city ruins for supply runs. No one has seen a kaiju for decades, to the extent that there are those that no longer believe them. It is reflected that they have been allowed to become myth and legend. Gods and devils as part of a new mythology. But this old man (I don’t think he is given a name…) knows better, because he is one of the few still around that actually remembers it all happening, and he is convinced that the monsters will return. His grandson Arata isn’t convinced, and he heads out with his friend Shiori (and a bunch of nameless other characters destined to die) into the city to look for supplies for their village. Things go sideways pretty quickly, as you would expect, and by the end of the issue we see that Arata’s grandfather was right. For whatever reason, the kaiju are coming back. And the titular character is one of them.

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It is early days for the story yet, and I’d like to see where it is going to go besides awesome giant monster throw downs and the potential clean up of the rest of humanity through the ancient art of stomps and nuclear breath, but this is a strong first issue. The dream/nightmare/memory sequence at the start is a nice exposition device to show us how we got to the world now. Bunn’s script is solid, with none of the dialogue seeming wasted, though the lack of names for ancillary characters basically made them red shirts in my eyes – doomed from the start. The musings about where our myths and religions come from at the start was especially interesting. The art is excellent. The bleak, ruined cityscape near the village looks chilling, with the overgrown metropolis the group walks through (complete with giant footprint they walk straight over) adding to the impending doom. The insect creatures Wachter draws look terrifying, with their dripping mandibles and sharp legs, and they are around just long enough to make the impact of something even worse killing them seem all the more scary. The best piece though is the image above, from the old man’s flashback dream at the start of the issue, with Godzilla, Anguirus, Mothra and King Ghidorah brawling in the middle of a city, and military jets pointlessly trying to have any impact on the fight.

A good start to what I hope will be an interesting story, and the art is particularly strong. I may be biased because I like this brand of fiction, but it is a bleak read that manages to be fun at the same time. Check it out at your local comic book shop, or on your digital media doohicky, before the cataclysm happens, destroying all the shops and probably the infrastructure for digital comics too.

Score: 8 Kaiju out of 10