It's with a whole lot of excitement that I turned off my phone to sit down to an uninterrupted read of Neil Gaiman's newly published 'Norse Mythology' (2017). This is a birthday present to myself—buying a book knowing that it'll turn out great, and having the luxury of time to finish it in one sitting with a pint of imperial stout too. (Reviews here, here and here.)
What a thoroughly splendid read. I went through the book twice. Remember that these 15 stories are Norse myths re-imagined by the author. Don't take them for exactly what Norse folklore has passed down. The book only scratches the surface of it, and certainly doesn't cover all Norse myths. It's also not all about Thor and Loki. And try to forget what Marvel sold you.
Kinda rolled eyes at 'The Master Builder'. Why do people always like the build walls to keep out undesired and unwanted things? "A wall," said Odin. "High enough to keep out frost giants. Thick enough that not even the strongest troll could batter its way through." In the early days when Asgard was undefended, and a huge wall was desired and a stranger offered to build it in three seasons, with the help of his horse Svadilfari. In return the stranger (who's really a mountain giant) wanted beautiful goddess Freya's hand in marriage, and the sun and the moon. And the gods agreed to these strange demands, no thanks to Loki's meddling.
Many people would admire Odin's horse, but only a brave man would ever mention its parentage in Loki's presence, and nobody ever dared to allude to it twice. Loki would go out of his way to make your life unpleasant if he heard you talking about how he lured Svadlifari away from its master and how he rescued the gods from his own bad idea. Loki nursed his resentments.
And that is the story of how the gods got their wall.
'The Treasures of the Gods' is a hoot. When the "trouble-maker of gods" Loki is involved, everything is wicked cruel fun. A drunk Loki had pulled off Sif's (Thor's wife) hair while she was sleeping. He pulled it off by the roots, which meant it would never re-grow, and was forced by Thor to somehow get it back. He came up with a plan to get the dwarves to do it and in the process, held a competition between rival dwarf craftsmen to gauge the best treasures for the gods. This story gave us the 'backstory' of how Thor got his hammer, and how the gods got their greatest treasures.
"Loki," he said. "Loki has done this."
"Why do you say that?" said Sif, touching her bald head frantically, as if the fluttering touch of her fingers would make her hair return.
"Because," said Thor, "when something goes wrong, the first thing I always think is, it is Loki's fault. It saves a lot of time."
Thor found Loki's door locked, so he pushed through it, leaving it in pieces. He picked Loki up and said only, "Why?"