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Northern European Gods

Picking a favorite traditional mythology series is as difficult as picking a favorite dish. (Sometimes I want Thai food, sometimes sushi is more to my liking, and sometimes I just want to eat the home-cooked food I’ve grown up eating.) But if I really had to pick a favorite, my answer would probably be Norse mythology.

My first encounter with Asgard and its inhabitants happened when I was a young boy. I was barely seven years old at the time and was reading the Thor comic series by American comic book artist Jack Kirby [1]. Kirby and Stan Lee [2] wrote the plots for these stories, and Stan Lee's brother Larry Reeb created the dialogue for them. Kirby's Thor is handsome and strong; his Asgard is a sci-fi city full of skyscrapers; his Odin is noble and wise; his Loki is a sarcastic prankster wearing a horned helmet. I loved Kirby's hammer-wielding Thor and wanted to know more about him.

So I borrowed a copy of The Myth of the Norse Peoples by Roger Lancelyn Greene [3]. I read it with joy and doubt: in this book, Asgard is no longer the futuristic sci-fi city described by Kirby, but instead a Viking temple and a bunch of buildings towering over the frosty poles; Odin is no longer the gentle, wise and irritable father of the gods, but now he is a resourceful, knowledgeable, but also very dangerous figure; Thor is still as strong as in the comic book Thor, God of Thunder Strong, his hammer also still has divine power, but he ...... how to say it, smart is not his strong point; and Loki is no longer evil, although he certainly is not a positive character. Loki well ...... very complicated.

In addition, I also found that the Norse gods are destined to have the day of destruction: the twilight of the gods, the end of everything. The gods will fight the frost giants, and they will come to an end together.

Has the twilight of the gods already happened? Will it happen again? I didn't have a clue at the time. Now I still don't know.

The whole world and the story fell tragically and was reborn after the end, which made the gods, the frost giants and various other characters take on a tragic tone and become tragic heroes or tragic villains. The twilight of the gods made the Norse world reside in my mind, making it seem so close to us. Other systems of mythology, some more thoroughly documented, feel like history, an ancient legacy that has passed away.

Norse mythology comes from a cold region with extremely long winter nights and endless summer days. The people of this mythical native land did not fully trust or love their gods, although they did respect and revere them. The most we can know is that the myth of the gods of Asgard came from the region of present-day Germany, spread throughout the peninsula of Scandinavia, and then spread throughout the world ruled by the Vikings - reaching Orkney and Scotland, Ireland, and Northern England. In each of these places, the myths left their footprints in their own way, with many place names named after Thor and Odin. In English, these gods also left their mark in the names of the seven days of the week. You can find Doktor (son of Odin), Odin, Thor, and Frigga after the gods, who are hidden in Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday [4].

We can also find shades of ancient myths and old religions about war, about the peace agreement between the Warner gods and the Asa gods. The Warner gods seem to be nature gods, brothers and sisters, not very warlike by nature, but just as dangerous as the Asa gods when it comes to the real thing.

This is likely to be the case - it is a hypothesis worth exploring. Historically, one tribe of people believed in the Warner gods, another tribe of people believed in the Asa gods, and these Asa believers invaded the territories of the Warner believers, and then made a series of compromises and arrangements. The gods of Warner, like the twin siblings Freya and Frey, lived in Asgard with the members of the Asa clan. History, religion and mythology are synthesized together, from which we whim, imagine and speculate. It is as if we are trying to piece together the details of an unsolved mystery that has been forgotten in the distant past.

There are many stories from Nordic mythology that have survived to this day, but a significant number have been lost, and we don't know what they are really about. The only ones we have available are the myths that have come down to us in the form of folk tales, through retellings, poetry and bardic poetry. People began to write down these stories at a time when the worship of Christianity had begun to replace the worship of the Norse gods. Some of the stories were recorded and passed down because people feared that if they were lost, the allusions from these myths would become meaningless. For example, the poetic allusion to "Freya's tears" was used to refer to gold. In some versions of the story, Norse gods are portrayed as kings and heroes in their prime or in their old age, and they tell these adaptations of Norse myths within the framework of the Christian world. These handed down Norse mythological stories simultaneously echo and tell other stories, yet unfortunately, we do not know those stories.

If we were to draw an analogy, it would be as if the only stories that have survived from Greek and Roman mythology were about the actions of Theseus and Hercules.

There is no doubt that many stories have been lost.

There are many Norse gods. There are gods whose myths, stories, and rituals have not been passed down, although we know their names, the matters they govern, and their divine powers. How I wish I could retell the story of El, the goddess of medicine, the story of Lophine, the consoler of marriage, and the story of Thuphin, the goddess of love. Not to mention Val, the god of wisdom. Yes, I can make up some stories about them now, but I can never "retell" them. These stories are lost, buried, or forgotten.

I have done my best to retell these myths as accurately and as vividly as possible.

Sometimes the details of the stories are contradictory, but I hope they give us a picture of the world at a certain point in time. When retelling these stories, I try to imagine myself in the land where they were born and first told, in the very distant past. Maybe it was an extremely cold night, under the aurora borealis, or sitting on an endless midsummer's day, in front of an audience that was eager to know what Thor had done, what rainbows were made of, how they were supposed to get through life, and where the bad acid poems came from.

When I wrote the whole story and went back to read it, I was amazed. Because it's all like a journey that begins with everything in the midst of ice and fire and ends with everything in the midst of ice and fire. Along the way, we meet many characters, each with their own characteristics, once seen and then difficult to forget, such as Loki, Thor and Odin, and those we want to know more about (my favorite is Angrboda, Loki's giant wife, who conceived three monster children for him, and reappeared in the form of a ghost after the death of Badr).

I did not have the courage to go back to my most beloved Norse mythological narrators, to Roger Lancelyn Green and Kevin Crossley Hollander to reread their stories. I put my efforts into studying Snorri Sturluson's Edda in Prose and the Edda in Verse with Rhyme, which is over nine hundred years old [5]. I selected from them the stories I wanted to tell, deliberating on how to tell them for my readers. I made mergers or excerpts from the prose and poetry versions of the stories. (For example, the story of Thor's visit to Himmel in this book is a hybrid version of the story I tell in this book: it begins with the Poetic Edda and then adds the part where Thor goes on a fishing adventure based on Crossley's version.)

In the course of this research, I had a priceless treasure - a copy of the Dictionary of Norse Mythology that I had torn to shreds. It was written by Rudolf Simok [6] and translated by Angela Harr. I have been consulting this information-packed book in the course of my writing, and it has often brought me unexpected new knowledge.

Special thanks to my old friend Eliza Whitney for her work in editing this book. She is a wonderful wall of echoes, forthright, thoughtful, very reasonable and extremely intelligent. She made this book possible because she kept pushing to see the next story. I am grateful to her because she also helped me organize and make time to write this book. I also want to thank Stephanie Montaigne, whose vast knowledge of Norse mythology and eagle eye helped me identify several errors I hadn't realized were there. Thank you to Amy Cheney of Norton Publishing Group, the most patient editor in the world, who made this prescient suggestion at my birthday lunch eight years ago-"You might try retelling the mythology.

All the errors, all the absurd conclusions, all the strange ideas in this book belong to me personally and to no one else. I sincerely hope that my retelling is both faithful to the original and full of joy and creative sparks.

That's the joy of myths. That joy comes from telling them yourself - and I hope with all my heart that you will do the same. Read the stories and keep them for yourself, and then, on a dark, cold winter night, or a long, sunless midsummer night, tell your friends what happened when Thor's hammer was stolen and how Odin reclaimed the nectar of poetry for the gods. ......

Neil Gaiman

in Ritson's Orchard, London

May 2016.

[1] Jack Kirby (1917-1994), a famous American cartoonist, editor, and screenwriter, is one of the most famous and prolific cartoonists in modern American comics.

[2] Stan Lee (StanLee, 1922-), American comic book artist, actor, and screenwriter.

[3] Roger Lancelyn Green (RogerLancelynGreen, 1918-1987), British biographer and children's book author.

[4] Norse mythology has profoundly influenced Western cultural practices, and has had a great impact on the origin of the week. Tuesday (Tuesday) comes from Tyr, the god of war; Wednesday (Wednesday) comes from Woden's day (Woden is the Old English name for Odin); Thursday (Thursday) comes from Thor, the god of thunder; Friday (Friday) is Friday is from the goddess Frigg.

[5] The Edda is a classic of Norse literature handed down from the Middle Ages, and an important source of Norse mythology. It is divided into two parts, the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda.

[6] Rudolf Simek (1954-) was an Australian Germanist and philosopher.