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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1054

There are a number of quotations and lines in Norse Mythology that stand out as particularly noteworthy in how they relate to characterization, theme, or tone. The first, however, actually appears in its introduction, in which Gaiman admits to the limitations in the project and just how much in the...

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There are a number of quotations and lines in Norse Mythology that stand out as particularly noteworthy in how they relate to characterization, theme, or tone. The first, however, actually appears in its introduction, in which Gaiman admits to the limitations in the project and just how much in the literature has been lost to time (I should note that this passage is very lengthy, so I've made liberal use of ellipses):

There are so many Norse stories we do not have, so much we do not know. All we have are some myths that have come to us in the form of folktales, in retellings, in poems, in prose. . . . We have lost so much.

There are many Norse goddesses. We know their names and some of their attributes and powers, but the tales, myths, and rituals have not come down to us. I wish I could retell the tales of Eir, because she was the doctor of the gods, of Lofn, the comforter, who was a Norse goddess of marriages, or of Sjofn, a goddess of love. Not to mention Vor, goddess of wisdom. I can imagine stories, but I cannot tell their tales. They are lost, or buried, or forgotten. (13–14)

This introduces a level of tragedy, not within the narrative itself but in the meta-narrative and in the larger historical record from which Gaiman draws. It suggests that the reality of story and myth is so much richer and more vibrant than what we can access. All we have left is a small remnant of a once great tradition.

Beyond this, entering into the body of the text, there are several passages and conversational exchanges that stand out strongly.

Odin and Vili and Ve killed the giant Ymir. It had to be done. There was no other way to make the worlds. This was the beginning of all things, the death that made all life possible. (32)

A key theme in Gaiman's Norse Mythology is the power of sacrifice, and this quote is probably the boldest invocation of it. The world itself was created through murder and literally built from the corpse of a primordial giant. At the same time, this sequence also mirrors future Ragnarok, where, once again, the world will be remade, this time through the death of the gods.

The norns will decide what happens in your life. There are other norns, not just those three. Giant norns and elf norns, dwarf norns and Vanir norns, good norns and bad, and what your fate will be is decided by them. . . . They will shape your fate, there at Urd's well. (41)

Note the extent to which the norns govern the concerns of fate: these aren't just mortals. The Vanir, giants, and dwarves are all under the jurisdiction of the norns, and we can assume from this that the Aesir are no different. Indeed, this suggestion is certainly be confirmed in the mythology itself, given how Ragnarok plays out. All things are ultimately subject to destiny.

The next quote is really centered around the dialogue exchanged between Odin and Mimir. With that in mind, I'm excising a large portion of the text, to focus only the words exchanged.

"One drink. With a drink from your well, Mimir, I will be wise. Name your price."

"Your eye is my price," said Mimir. "Your eye in the pool."


"Give me a knife," was all he said. (46)

Alongside that exchange, I want to focus on a second quote, much later in the text, which hearkens back to that moment and provides a rather memorable and effective summation of this entire scene: "You are Odin, who was sacrificed by himself to himself so long ago" (233). This is probably the moment which most crystallizes Odin as a domineering force among the gods, summing up and defining the core of who he is. It's a remarkably powerful scene, which conveys much in very few words. It portrays the theme of sacrifice, for one thing, but also a very unyielding kind of personality—Odin commits this act of horrifying self-mutilation without wavering or hesitating. He is that intent and dedicated to achieving his goals.

The next quotation that really stands out comes from "Hymir and Thor's Fishing Expedition," and it is a memorable bit of foreshadowing and a dramatic scene illustrating the sheer extent to which fate, and ultimately Ragnarok, dominates the lives and stories of the Norse pantheon. In this story, Thor has just pulled Jormungandr up from the depths of the water, and here we get the following passage:

Thor said nothing, just hauled the line in, hand over hand, his eyes fixed on his enemy. "I will kill you," he whispered to the serpent. ... "Or you will kill me. This I swear." (222)

This is one of several scenes that look forward toward Ragnarok, but it is particularly powerful for two reasons: firstly, we're essentially seeing a prelude to the final battle, where Thor and his opponent clash long before their fated battle. Secondly, and just as importantly, Thor himself is fully aware of just how significant this enemy is and of the degree to which their fates are intertwined. Later, in the final battle, at the end of the world, the two do kill each other.

The last quotation I'm pulling out of the text comes from Loki, after the death of Balder. Here, in disguise as a giantess named Thokk, Loki says the following:

Old Thokk won't weep for Balder . . . Alive or dead, old Odin's son brought me nothing but misery and aggravation. I'm glad he's gone. Good riddance to bad rubbish. Let Hel keep him. (247)

To give some context to this quotation, Loki had already earlier orchestrated Balder's death, and the gods went to Hel in order to negotiate for his return. Hel agreed that she would return Balder, but only "if all things in the world weep for him and want him to return" (245). This is naturally impossible request for anyone to clear, and yet the gods almost manage to achieve it. The only holdout, the only voice barring Baldur's restoration, is Loki himself. This moment really shows the extraordinary degree of malice that Loki is capable of, and it is one of those key moments on the road to Ragnarok. Not long after this moment, Loki will himself be captured, imprisoned, and tortured.

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