Neil Gaiman and Norse Mythology

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Introduction

Master story weaver, Neil Gaiman has ignited the literary society (which he has helped integrate more into popular culture) with the recent news that his next work will be a novelistic retelling of Norse Mythology. The gods of Asgard (Thor, Odin, Loki, etc.) have enjoyed a resurgence of popularity due to Marvel Comics franchise, and Gaiman’s inclusion. Norse Mythology represents archetypal symbols from the collective human unconscious which are seeking recognition and inclusion from the depths of the psyche in order to help balance humanity’s largely polarized psyche. Contemporary story shaman, Gaiman understands this cyclical relationship of creation and destruction via storylines which have the capacity to renew the human spirit. His fans wait with baited breathe and itching psyche for his latest gift to the human unconsciousness.

Keeping the Mystery Alive

Norse Mythology is a strong balancing factor to the puritanism of Christianity. This balancing force often appears overly dark to those without integrated unconsciousness (via the process of individuation) 3 and Gaiman uses this association with the dark to probe the rooted grounds of human nature. Norse mythology has run like veins of gold throughout all of Gaiman’s work, and his next move is to “will take the Norse mythos and fashion the stories and characters into a ‘novelistic arc’ that begins with the beginning of time and ends with the mythical apocalypse of Ragnarök” (Liptak). While this will no doubt be entertaining and educational, it also serves a deeper spiritual function for humanity;

People believe, thought Shadow. It's what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen. (Gaiman) 4

Post-postmodern thought today is suffocatingly linear, while the ascending and descended arcs of human psychological and spiritual evolution is cyclical in nature (and like nature). The clearest example of this type of thought is Christian thought which processes in linear fashion towards an inevitable end. However, as Gaiman points out in American Gods, “Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you” (Gaiman). While the Christian concept is relatively safe even if it is terrifying in its subtext of determinism, a fuller understanding of the matrix of reality reveals the multiplicity of worlds in dizzying fashion. Coming into deeper relationship with the powerful and magnificent figures of Norse mythology is one way to connect with those aspects in oneself, expanding out of the stifling polarization of the willful dumbing down of the contemporary consumer. 

For Gaiman Norse mythology has always been at the forefront of his creative consciousness. As a young boy, “When he was about 7, he read Jack Kirby’s comic ‘The Mighty Thor,’ about the hammer-wielding Nordic god. He moved on to Roger Lancelyn Green’s ‘Myths of the Norsemen,’ which he read over and over until the book fell apart” (Alter). Reading during childhood is a magical time to enlarge and populate the vast realm of imagination, and Gaiman held on to the magic and mystery which he cultivated as a child which now is the fuel for his creative gifts to culture. Gaiman remembers this time;

I will never forget the first time I encountered the Norse myths…I was a small boy with a borrowed paperback in a friend’s bedroom, but I was also walking with Thor and Loki through a pine forest, on their way to be made fools of by crafty Ice Giants. Those Norse tales have accompanied me through pretty much everything I’ve done. (Maloney)

Considering that the Norse mythology has provided such consistent inspiration for the author, it is surprisingly then that it was his publisher, W.W. Norton, who suggested Gaiman write on the myths. However, often creative types get so wrapped up in their projects that the infinite vistas of new opportunity must be broken through the clouds by those who have the means to support its generation. Gaiman reflected,

To get the opportunity to retell the myths and poems we have inherited from the Norse was almost too good to be true…I hope the scholarship is good, but much more than that, I hope that I have retold stories that read like the real thing: sometimes profound, sometimes funny, sometimes heroic, sometimes dark, and always inevitable. (Alter)

Much More to be Discovered

Set to be published in February 2017, “Norse Mythology” will delve into and expand the vast pantheon of the genre. Even though much has been elucidated and explored of the Norse world lately, much still awaits revealing. After all there are nine Norse worlds, “which are populated by elves, fire demons, the Vanir gods, humans, dwarves, giants and the dead. There are ice giants…familiar deities like Thor, Odin (the wise and occasionally vengeful highest god)and Loki (the giant trickster)” (Alter). As cannot be escaped with human mythmaking, the Norse stories are allegories for the complexities of human existence, consciousness, and culture. Understanding the threats, desires, and adventures of these figures aid people in understanding their own world. 

Gaiman has a strong background in Norse mythology from which to prepare for his epic retelling, both in personal interest and professional intrigue. A few appearances of the Norse in his work:

The gods Loki and Odin the All-Father make appearances in his novel American Gods, as well as his groundbreaking comic series Sandman.

Gaiman also contributed the screenplay to the 2007 Robert Zemeckis animated version of Beowulf.

His 2008 children’s novel, Odd and the Frost Giants, tells the tale of a young Norse woodsman who takes on the task of saving Odin, Loki, and Thor. (Thomas)

Gaiman is busy enjoying the many fruits of the inception age of his creative career, and “Norse Mythology” will be released along the same time as the television adaption of “American Gods” will be airing (Maloney). The public cannot seem to get enough of the spicy and accurate imagination of Gaiman, who continues to be in demand (Moore). 

The Gods Come to Television

“American Gods” has been embraced as Gaiman’s best novel, and it has been a long time coming to be realized as a cinematic drama. The drama will air on Starz, and has a hit cast for a lineup: Gillian Anderson as Media, Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon, Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday, Cloris Leachman as Zorya Vechernyaya, Peter Stormare as Czernobog, Chris Obi as Anubis, and Mousa Kraish as The Jinn (Den of Geek). For those unfamiliar with the unique plot arc of American Gods;

The plot posits a war brewing between old and new gods: the traditional gods of biblical and mythological roots from around the world steadily losing believers to an upstart pantheon of gods reflecting society’s modern love of money, technology, media, celebrity and drugs.  Its protagonist, Shadow Moon, is an ex-con who becomes bodyguard and traveling partner to Mr. Wednesday, a conman but in reality one of the older gods, on a cross-country mission to gather his forces in preparation to battle the new deities. (Den of Geek). Likewise, the popular Game Of Thrones series on HBO highlights mythology for their old and new gods.

Conclusion

The myths are alive, and the energy in which people invest in them returns with the spice of infinite possibility. Neil Gaiman’s next work “Norse Mythology” will continue to delve into and excavate the dark caverns of the unconscious collective consciousness, bringing up jewels of opportunity for reflection, play, and fuel for dreams. Considering the multitude of challenges and the possible bleakness which one could gaze upon the future, the role of storytellers has become all the more necessary to keep the human spirit invigorated and interested in the realities of living. How those realities can bend and flux between worlds continue to intrigue and entertain the hungry curiosity of culture.

Notes

1: Neil Gaiman’s masterful novel American Gods investigates the role of human collective consciousness on the myth-making function which gives life to and creates religions, gods, and customs. When these concepts lose the attention of collective conscious they fade and eventually disappear.

2: The old gods have the paradoxical attraction of power and familiarity while similarly repel attraction for the same reasons. This complicates their lingering in the present psyche.    

3: Carl Jung introduced the concept of Individuation, whereby a person integrates and unifies the light (conscious-animus) and dark (unconscious-anima) elements of their psyche in order to become 1) Sane, and 2) A real self. 

4: Spoken by the main character in American Gods, Shadow takes a hard hitting look at the reality of his world even as he peaks behind the curtain. 

5: This moment from “American Gods” points out that a lack of attention, concentration, and the patience to travel with a story is as deadly as disinterest.

Works Cited

Alter, Alexandra. “Neil Gaiman Delves Deep Into Norse Mythology for New Book.” The New York Times, 29 Jun. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/30/books/neil-gaiman-delves-deep-into-norse-myths-for-new-book.html?_r=0

Den of Geek. “American Gods TV Series: First Photo of Gillian Anderson as Media.” Denofgeek, 30 Jun. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.denofgeek.com/us/tv/american-gods/236939/american-gods-tv-series-first-photo-of-gillian-anderson-as-media

Gaiman, Neil. “American Gods Quotes.” Goodreads.com, 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1970226-american-gods

Liptak, Andrew. “Neil Gaiman is rewriting Norse Mythology in his new book.” The Verge, 29 Jun. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.theverge.com/2016/6/29/12058144/neil-gaiman-is-rewriting-norse-mythology-in-new-book

Maloney, Jennifer. “Neil Gaiman to Retell Norse Myths in New Book.” The Wall Street Journal, 29 Jun. 2016. Retrieved from: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2016/06/29/neil-gaiman-to-retell-norse-myths-in-new-book/

Moore, Trent. “Neil Gaiman's next project is an ambitious, nonfiction retelling of Norse mythology.” Blastr, 30 Jun. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.blastr.com/2016-6-30/neil-gaimans-next-project-ambitious-nonfiction-retelling-norse-mythology

Thomas, Gautham. “Neil Gaiman to Tackle Norse Mythology With a New Nonfiction Novel.” Io9, 29 Jun. 2016. Retrieved from: http://io9.gizmodo.com/neil-gaiman-to-tackle-norse-mythology-with-a-new-nonfic-1782823501