"Before the beginning, there was nothing - no Earth, no heavens, no stars, no sky: only the mist world, formless and shapeless, and the fire world, always burning."
Neil Gaiman was a huge fan of Norse mythology, but it was only a coincidence that the publication of "Norse Mythology" came out before Marvel Studios would release "Thor: Ragnarok" and Rick Riordan's third book on Magnus Chase hit the bookstores. The British author grew up reading Marvel's issues on Thor. Asgard resembled a sci-fi community, not too different from Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Roger Lancelyn Green depicted a different Asgard in "Myths of the Norsemen", which would be Gaiman's basis for his book. (The same thing could be said of Riordan for his Magnus Chase series.) It wouldn't come as a surprise that most tales revolved around Odin, Thor, and Loki (or Odin, Thor or Loki). Gaiman wanted to write about Eir, the doctor of the gods. He liked Vor, the goddess of wisdom. (It's safe to say that Vor is the Nordic counterpart of Athena.) He was interested in Lofn, the goddess of marriage. It happened that their tales were lost, buried or forgotten.
The Vikings were a seafaring race, who were able to reach as far as Greenland during the height of their powers. Some might have wondered why there wasn't a Norse counterpart of the Great Pyramids of Giza. Could there be remains of the Norse equivalent of the Acropolis? It may have been covered in thick layers of snow. There could have been stone tablets that would reveal about their beliefs. In fairness to the Vikings, they weren't the only race who didn't have the foresight to preserve their legacy. Peace was an elusive, if not foreign, concept. They were too preoccupied on domination, such that they haven't thought about the importance of the arts. Whatever survived the time and elements provided scant information on the likes of Green, but it was more than enough to fire the imagination of succeeding generations of writers.
Odin, his son Thor, and Odin's blood brother Loki would confirm the significance of three in mythical and religious takes. It could have been seven, as in Seven Wonders of the World. It may be better with twelve, as in Twelve Apostles. Think about the triangle, and the belief about the powers it could yield. There won't be a coincidence between the pyramids in Egypt and Mesoamerica. The inverted triangle might yield sinister results, but it would be a case of proving a point. Moreover, "Norse Mythology" had similarities with some Biblical stories. Gaiman did the best that he could, and he didn't fall short on this one. His leanings towards gruesome happenings would appear in some parts, though. (It may be an option to skip the part where Odin took his eye out and offered it to Mimir. Renowned for his knowledge and wisdom. It was the only way for Odin to seek Mimir's counsel.) This would be a Gaiman trademark nonetheless.
Here are the must-read episodes in Gaiman's latest book:
The Mead of Poets. If not for Odin, then mankind won't be composing stirring verses. Odin must revel on his devious side, as he outwitted Suttung and Gunnlod, his daughter. Both were giants, traditional foes of the gods. (Kvasir, who was believed to invent poetry, was slain by selfish elves Galar and Fjalar. Suttung took the mead of poetry as his means of avenging the death of his parents. It wasn't hard to figure out the culprits.) Gaiman was in mischievous mood, which showed the other side of the all-knowing Odin. If readers find it a romp, then they shouldn't be embarrassed about it.
Hymir and Thor's Fishing Expedition. Thor may be the fearless god, whose courage was unquestioned by the other deities in Asgard. But he was far from the thoughtful, wise deity that Odin was known for. Aegir was the greatest of the sea giants. He promised Thor and the other gods in Asgard a great feast if the God of thunder could provide a gigantic cauldron. (Aegir didn't want it, but he didn't want to fight the gods.) Hymir, a giant who had little love for the gods in Asgard, happened to possess the cauldron. Thor must beat Hymir in a fishing duel. It was an engaging story, to say the least. The mighty Thor may not make a good guest, but he was true to his words. No one, not even a god, would be perfect.
The Last Days of Loki. Green depicted a complicated Loki, who was far from the law-abiding inhabitant of Asgard. He brought endless trouble to the gods, but there were instances when he made up for it. He was capable of being intensely jealous of anyone particularly Odin's beloved son Balder. It was apparent that Gaiman consulted Greek mythology, as this particular episode was far from a coincidence. If the abduction of Helen resulted to the Trojan War, then the death of Balder set the events leading to Ragnarok.
"The Final Destiny of the Gods" showed a laidback look at Ragnarok (or the Apocalypse). If you're familiar with the Bibilical chapter on the Revelations, then you can sense that Gaiman would end his book on a bittersweet note. It will be good news for Riordan's fans, who are hoping for a sequel to the Magnus Chase series. Riordan can write about Lofn, Vor and Sjofn. The three gods may appear in "The Ship of the Dead", the title of Chase's next adventure, instead.