I’ve been reading books on Norse mythology recently.
After watching some of the Marvel movies(Thor(2011), The Avengers(2012), and Thor: The Dark World(2013)), I felt kind of obliged to know about Norse myths at least a little to pay respect to the original.
And I’m now fascinated by the universe of Norse mythology and legends. According to the books I read, the myths hold that the first life was born from the collision of fire and ice, and the world is made from the flesh of the first giant killed by gods(!) It sounds very intense and violent, yet the account of the origin of the nine worlds bound by the world tree Yggdrasil is so colorful. And there is Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods. Is it in the past, or is it yet to come? The idea is bizarre and obscure and I love it.
And how interestingly flawed Norse gods are! Cunning and secretive Odin, mighty and simple-minded Thor, and mischievous and crafty Loki, to name a few. I’m so sorry to learn that huge part of the myth has lost through time. I wish I could read about many other gods and goddesses.
My favorite character so far is Loki, the doer of good and evil (and maybe beautiful, spontaneous Fraya, who is almost the only goddess the surviving folklores give a lively portrayal). While Loki’s mischiefs often put his fellow gods in peril, he also saves them from the crisis (which he initially brought about) with his unmatched cunningness. Like when he cuts Sif's golden hair, he compensates it with treasures crafted by dwarfs, not only the hair made of fine threads of gold but also other invaluable items such as Odin's spear Gungner, Thor's hammer Mjolnir, Frey's foldable magical boat Skidbladnir and so on.
Without Loki's trickery and capriciousness, nothing good or evil would come about. He is the one who gives life to the myths. I've always had a thing for characters who have a complicated, inconsistent personality. Loki is definitely one of those characters. Odin might be very interesting as well, but he is so much inscrutable and omnipotence as to be frightening. He is beyond likes and dislikes.
When I first started reading Norse Myth, I simply wanted to compare the Marvel and the original myths. I assumed that Loki in the old legends would not be such a volatile, self-destructive, yet very handsome and hot badass like in Marvel universe.
But I was apparently mistaken. Loki in the myths toes the line between good and evil like he does in the Marvel movies. Snorre, the 12th-century Icelandic historian and the author of the Prose Edda, accounts Loki "the originator of deceit. ......Loke is fair and beautiful of face, but evil in disposition, and very fickle-minded. ......He has often brought the Asas into great trouble, and often helped them out again, with his cunning contrivances." Old Norse Loki is, of course, free of sibling rivalry and does not experience an identity crisis: he is not Thor's little brother, and he is apparently openly acknowledged as of giant heritage, though he is complicated nonetheless. My hat's off to Marvel and Tom Hiddleston for giving him the hidden vulnerability and thirst for love and acknowledgment.
So far I’ve read Padraic Colum’s The Children of Odin, R. I. Page’s Norse Myths, Kevin Crossly-Holland's Norse Myths: Gods of the Vikings, and Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. Now I want to know a little more about kennings (poetic metaphors) and Volsunga saga, which is said to have inspired Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Some books I've read and liked
Padraic Colum's The Children of Odin is available for free in both text and audiobook formats. The language is simple and poetic. I recommend this book to English learners who are interested in Norse mythology.
If you want more fresh and engaging style, I'd recommend
Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology.
I listened to the audiobook read by the author and immensely enjoyed it. His obvious love for the Norse myths and gods makes the reading even more fascinating.