Hay Festival managed to make an already brilliant line-up even better on the day, with the addition of Chris Riddell’s live-drawing prowess, and a guest reading from Amanda Palmer. Quite the way to bring the myths to life.
It’s quite simple: Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology looks at exactly that. Stephen Fry begins the event by noting he “almost had my bowels fall out” when he heard about the book. He was working on a similar title on Greek Mythology and feared a series was on hand – luckily, that’s not the case, and bowels remain firmly in tact.
“I just wanted to know more about where this stuff came from.”
So, why choose Norse mythology? “I’ve always been addicted to Norse myth,” explains Neil. He discovered them as a child in the reprints of the Adventures of the Mighty Thor. “I just wanted to know more about where this stuff came from, and what I discovered was something else entirely.” Thor isn’t a blonde hunk, he’s more dim – Odin isn’t a great father figure but has an agenda, the characters were very different.
He thought about doing the book for several years; the retelling was easy, but it was finding the voice that proved the tricky bit. The pair compare their respective choice of myths, but revel in the idea of simply retelling the stories themselves and letting the reader interpret the meanings, rather than trying to add a layer of explanation to the work.
You got us into this, you get us out of it.
“If you try and explain them, they get less – they don’t get more,” agrees Neil. “The more you add in, the less they become. You have to figure out a way to tell them.” It was important for Neil to find a voice that children could cope with, and he instead watched the stories tell themselves, rather than force himself to tell them. He was building up the whole writing time to Loki insulting everybody he’s having dinner with, for example, ready to write him throwing shade left, right, and centre – by the time he got there, it felt more fitting to just be a paragraph that said he insulted everyone, and so that’s what he did. The stories often guided their own telling.
“Loki is the most interesting character in Norse mythology for me,” notes Neil. Repeatedly he gets people into trouble by being the smartest person in the room, but not quite as clever as he thinks he is. The God’s repeatedly turn to him and say: you got us into this, you get us out of it. He liked that.
Neil reads The Children of Loki, Stephen reads a sneak glimpse of his book focusing on Midas, both accompanied by Chris’ brilliant live-drawing. Chat continues on which god they most identify with, and Stephen’s recent comments on God in an Irish interview, before Amanda Palmer takes to the stage to read The Mushroom Hunters, a poem on Neil wrote on how science began with women for Brain Pickings. A really poignant and lovely way to end and enthralling event, moving from mythology back to the real world.