Archive for May, 2021

Norse Mythology

Posted: May 17, 2021 in Book reviews

By Neil Gaiman

It should be noted that much of what I know of Norse mythology comes courtesy of Gaiman, even before I read this. There’s obviously American Gods, but even back in his Sandman days he’d slip in Odin, Loki and co. Here he commits to a deep dive into Norse mythology that goes way beyond the usual suspects like Thor, though as he says in his foreword, sadly many tales have been lost over the years.

What’s amazing is the way he takes what appear to be disparate stories on the face of it, and weaves them into a narrative arc that takes us from the creation of the nine worlds though to the final days of Ragnarok- in between are takes of giants and dwarves, gods and mortals, betrayal, humour and love. You might know some of what’s in here, but it’s doubtful you’ll know it all-I certainly didn’t!

Gaiman has always been a master wordsmith and this book is no exception. His prose is excellent, yet sparse, making this a rip-roaring read, a real page turner that never outstays it’s welcome and leaves you wanting more. I really enjoyed it.

by Darryl Jones

Why do we frighten ourselves for fun? Why is horror such a huge genre? Books, films, TV shows. Darryl Jones, English Literature professor from Trinity College Dublin, strives to explain.

I’ve always enjoyed horror, right from being a kid and watching old Hammer films. I remember being terrified of the original Blob, and the thought of sleeping with the curtains open still gives me the shivers thanks to the miniseries of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, shown on the BBC in the eighties, so Jones’ book appealed. It helped that it had such a groovy cover as well.

It’s a slim text, less than 200 pages, but no less interesting for that. Jones splits his treatise into various sections; Monsters, the Occult and Supernatural, Horror and the Body, Horror and the Mind, Science and Horror, and dips into books and films related to each section. From vampires to zombies to the devil, serial killers to mad scientists. And he doesn’t only talk about (relatively) modern horror, pointing out that horror predates Stephen King, MR James, and even Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Shakespeare deals with horror, and Jones goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks.

Horror has always been with us and always fascinated us, but it isn’t some one size fits all, generic genre, and Jones makes an important distinction between Terror and Horror; Terror is about fear, Horror is about shock (and below both is Revulsion, the gross out.)

Jones has interesting things to say, and even when going over old ground he seemed to find something new to say. I won’t say I always agreed with him, but Jones’ scholarly approach is always interesting, even when I didn’t, and I learned a lot, because for a small book its chock full of little morsels of information; For example the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould who wrote an influential treatise on werewolves in 1865, was also the man who wrote the words to Onward Christian Soldiers, and Jones makes an interesting link between the rise of the supernatural and Darwin’s Origin of the Species, as Darwin strove to explain the world, those of a religious bent reacted by emphasising the spiritual.

An interesting read for anyone interested in horror, or why people gravitate towards horror, that emphasises the cathartic nature of horror, and makes the point that many of those involved in the enjoyment and creation of horror are well adjusted level-headed people. Horror is good for you!

Well I could have told you that 😉