Themes

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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 518

Norse Mythology is Neil Gaiman's adaptation of Viking mythology, and it is not so much a novel as it is a collection of myths. Between all those myths, a larger narrative unfolds, which covers the squabbles, conflicts, and adventures of the Norse gods. All of this happens under the shadow...

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Norse Mythology is Neil Gaiman's adaptation of Viking mythology, and it is not so much a novel as it is a collection of myths. Between all those myths, a larger narrative unfolds, which covers the squabbles, conflicts, and adventures of the Norse gods. All of this happens under the shadow of Ragnarok—the end of the world.

A key part of this book (or collection of myths) revolves around the dramatic and larger than life personalities of the gods themselves, who emerge as a warrior society. Here we see recurring motifs of a more personal sort: deceit, violence, and fallibility, which are all tied together in drama and tragedy.

The first thing to note is that the world is violent; it was created in murder and will end in a single apocalyptic battle. The gods are as violent as their world is. The gods fight wars and feud constantly. Violence runs throughout the book, and death is almost always present. Odin is a warrior-king. Thor delights in killing giants and fighting Jormungundr, the world serpent.

Another theme is deception. Most obviously, Loki is deceptive in his role as the trickster-god. Odin also has his own adventure of deceit in "The Mead of Poets," where he takes on a false identity. Odin tricks the giants in order to steal mead from the giant Suttung. There is also "Thor's Journey to the Land of the Giants," where it is Thor and Loki who are tricked by a cunning giant.

Even though they are gods, there is fallibility in Norse Mythology. For all their might, the gods are not all knowing—not even Odin—and they make mistakes. Loki has a tendency of getting in over his head; in the end, his malice will result in the death of his children and his own torture and eventual death. When the gods capture Loki's children, he is acting according to the dictates of his dreams, but he cannot interpret the meaning of those dreams. Loki is not alone in his fallibility, however. Notably, there is Odin's failure to foresee and avert Ragnarok. In the story where they deceive and enchain Fenrir, Fenrir states that they had created an enemy from someone that could have been a friend. One last example is the story of Frey, who trades away his sword to pursue his bride—a trade which will prove fatal in the coming of Ragnarok.

There are certain themes which perhaps run even deeper within the core of the narrative and transcend the various failings, foibles. and personalities of the gods it follows. One is sacrifice, which is present in a great many of these stories. Odin sacrifices his eye for wisdom. Tyr sacrifices his hand in order to bind Fenrir. The primordial giant, Ymir, is essentially a blood sacrifice to create the world, and Ragnarok itself can be viewed in the much the same way.

Other key motifs are the power of fate, prophesy, death, and rebirth—all of which are tied together in the ever looming presence of Ragnarok. Ragnarok is both the end of the world and its renewal.

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