The Gospel Of Loki
by Joanne Harris
reviewed by Adam Armstrong
There has always been a special place in my heart for Norse mythology. Maybe it stems from learning basic mythologies when I was around ten (they taught things like that years ago). We covered mostly the Greek/Roman stuff, barely touching the Norse. Or maybe my fascination comes from how Norse mythology has permeated every aspect of pop culture, but it doesn’t feel quite right. And while Loki is gaining more and more admirers mainly based off of Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal in the silly, bloated Marvel movies, he is almost always portrayed as the bad guy.
In The Gospel of Loki we are given mythology from a self-aware perspective; its participants know it is the reigning belief pasted over the previous and preparing for its ultimate replacement by something different. We see the Norse myths through the eyes of Loki, the Trickster, as he watches the Norse Pantheon be built from the ground up, or from Ymir’s dead body up.
Loki lives in the fires of chaos and watches as Odin and his brothers make the nine worlds.
By choosing Loki as the protagonist, Harris chose an interesting viewpoint. She gives us the first person perspective of a being that is generally viewed in a pejorative manner. We get the Trickster's insights on everything that is happening, a unique take on Norse creation.
Odin builds alliances and makes a home for the gods and the humans to live in. Loki watches the old man (Odin) on his never-ending quest to gain knowledge and remain in power. But Loki sees something else in the other gods. He doesn’t see them as powerful beings to worship or be feared. He sees them as vain, stupid, careless, and greedy beings. Beings that don’t deserve the opportunities Odin gives them. Beings that should be tricked and made to look foolish in the eyes of eternity.
Odin offers Loki a chance to join him in Asgard. Many promises are made but both sides know that they won’t be kept.
Loki comes to his new home to a less than warm welcome. None of the other gods trust him, nor should they. His nature is to be a trickster. But they find that his deceiving nature can be useful. Loki uses his trickery to help Asgard gain better defenses. It awards the gods with new treasures, including Thor's hammer. The only issue is that Loki usually has to pit his life in the bargain. Each time the adventure nearly fails and only Loki's quick thinking pulls him out of the fire.
Each times that gods are happy with the ultimate result but couldn't care less about what happens to Loki.
As ages go by Loki begins to resent how the others treat him. He starts by taking petty revenges such as cutting off Sif's hair to the more extreme orchestration of Balder's death. Odin breaks his word and imprisons Loki to be forever tormented. Loki breaks free to battle against the gods in Ragnarok but his fate is a bit different from those recorded in the mythologies.
Joanne Harris is no stranger to writing good books; she is the author of the award winning Chocolat that was later turned into an Oscar nominated film. She takes her skills and applies them here to a specific take on Norse mythology. While she strayed a bit from the source material here and there, she did a wonderful job of breathing new life into these old tales. Harris puts an interesting twist on the unreliable narrator by the narrator stating upfront that he is unreliable. Harris also did a wonderful job of not making the characters "good guys" or "bad guys." She presents them as very human with their concerns, personalities, and pettiness. The novel focuses less on the heroic and noble deeds of the Norse gods as is typical. And it completely stayed away from the utter rubbish that was spawned out of the Marvel comics (versus the DC/Vertigo comics which are rather good).
This was a wonderfully written and entertaining novel. There didn't seem to be anything too inappropriate in it, so I recommend that the younger crowds pick it up and have a look. If you already know the stories, the novel follows the same general outcome with a few twists and turns along the way. While it wanders from the source material a bit, it can serve as a good starting point, or a pique of interest for those wanting to learn more about the Norse Pantheon.
Pick it up and read it now.
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