I finally finished reading the latest collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology. It is a collection of fables, foibles and stories that Neil picked up from a fantastically long time that he has been involved with the world of stories. As a narrator, he is amazing here: he picks up threads at random and weaves patterns with dexterity and finesse that will have even the three sisters at the roots of Yggdrasil give a nod of acknowledgement. And while, much can be said about him, I do believe the book is more about the stories than the storyteller.
Mythology is a tricky chapter in the annals of fiction. It is too rooted in the graveyard of our evolution to be flicked aside as mere making up of stuff. Tolkien, said something on this lines:
Trying to figure out the origin of mythology, is trying to figure out the origin of thought.
The words are how I remember them, and therefore may not be verbatim, but that is the essence. Essentially, what I think he means is, we started making stories the moment we realized that sounds can be associated with meaning. And then again, it stands to reason that the first of stories, that we now see as myths were lived and not told. The first of stories were lives that were being lived. These then became recollections and memories of older generations. This grew and diverged as we grew and became populous until there came a time when an entire generation listened to myths sitting on the laps of their grandparents. Myths that were once lives. There is a reason that all grandparents are the best storytellers: they have lived their own stories. They know what to hold back, what to let on. They know what makes a good story, essentially. But I digress. Mythology then is simply, subtracting the fantastic, what once happened.
And I come to this conclusion another way too. I was talking to my brother after I read Norse Mythology and we were discussing how common the characters are between the Indian mythologies and Norse mythologies. Gods, check. Women and booze, check. Bets on stuff that should not be wagered, check. One troublemaker, check. Brothers fighting between themselves, check. Wars to end all things as we know it, hell yeah. And while I know little and less outside these two behemoths, I am sure there will be parallels in cultures as alien and distinct as Nordic and Indian. Back when it began, human life, as we know it was a finite set of experiences. That first rain. A first berry. The very first love. The first sight of the sea. The first taste of flesh. The first murder. All of us, everywhere, were living the same lives. And thus, we came up with similar stories in an attempt to explain what we were living and experiencing. There’s a reason why all mythologies will absolutely have a story where the sun and the moon are being stolen: for then we still did not have any other explanations of eclipses.
And that brings me to the last thing that I want to say. Mythologies are important. They are a small reminder that we all began the exact same way. And even today, an average human life is the same set of experiences juxtaposed in this mad, mad world. And reading these stories reminded me that the word they made up: sonder, a very beautiful word, and entirely true. Everybody you meet is living the same insane, complex life as you: a human life. And that is all these myths tell us to respect in the end. In their crazy, not-respecting, obtuse, apocalyptic ways.
Stories die. As all things do. They pass from being, to something that was once in fashion, to memories, to tears in someone’s eyes, to legends, to myths, to nothing. They live, breathe, influence and die. They are stars in the sky that fall and burn out before reaching the earth. Before reaching the ground of our consciousness. Neil has pulled off the impossible and reincarnated gods with Norse Mythologies. Probably with a hope that we believe.