“I know a tale, o sons of earth.
I speak it as I must.
Of how nine trees gave life to Worlds
That giants held in trust.”
Do you remember the romance and the drama behind the Norse myths and the heroic deeds of Odin and Thor and the rest of the family? The beauty, the strength, the deceit of that one among them who was brought into the family by Odin? Loki, who brought tragedy to them all. Or did he?
Ah, Loki. Bless his heart. He can’t understand why he gets no love or respect from the rest of the Norse gods and he continuously undermines every relationship he has and surrounds himself with people who are deceitful and untrustworthy. He can’t win for losing and he can’t resist the easy mark, the quick scheme, the thrill of getting by with something. His chaotic persona never tires and there truly is no rest for the wicked when it comes to Loki.
But, maybe you don’t know dear Loki, adopted kin of Odin and Thor? The miscreant, the trickster, the wildfire, the sharp-tongued meanie with a witty remark perpetually on his lips? If ever Chaos was personified, Loki is that one. The Gospel of Loki attempts to right the wrongs that tarnish the legend.
The pervasiveness of the Marvel Avengers franchise has given us a certain impression of Loki. They aren’t wrong. However, Loki wants to tell his own story and give the “real” version of his story versus history. Loki recounts how he was plucked from Chaos by Odin himself to be Odin’s adopted brother and weaves his tale all the way to Ragnarok, the final bloody battle of the Norse gods. Of course, Loki never quite fits in with Odin and his crew, despite Odin swearing his loyalty to Loki. He is betrayed and is the betrayer, living up to every bad thought the other gods (aka “the popular crowd”) think of him. Loki, our “humble narrator,” explains that the versions of these stories we’ve heard before were nothing but “spin and metaphor,” forced on the rest of us by Odin and his pride – a skewed look, just like any other history that’s written by the victor.
This version of Norse mythology is bitingly funny and has several laugh out loud moments. Loki describes the other gods in modern terms, saying of Freya, she “will sleep with practically anyone as long as jewelry is involved,” or how Thor “likes hitting things,” or Gullveig-Heid, the sorceress, who is “Greedy, clever and spiteful. All my favourite qualities…” There is a great recounting of how the golden apples of Asgard are lost and the gods start to show some wear and age before they are returned. Loki likes to rub that in! When the perp who stole the apples finally falls back into the hands of the gods, the poor creature is described by Loki as being “killed by a gang of old-age pensioners.” Odin and Thor and the gang as old-age pensioners. Hilarious! The tale turns darker, of course, as Ragnarok nears and Asgard falls, and the tragedy of mistrust and treachery comes back to bite all of them in the end, making way for the next wave of gods to rule the world of man.
Joanne Harris is the sublime voice behind Chocolat and, my favorite of hers, Holy Fools, among many other titles. A book like this about Norse gods was not what I expected from her and it was a very entertaining read. There is a link here to Harris’s website where she talks more in-depth about her interest in Norse myths. There are other books by her that are tied together in a loose series and a sequel of sorts, The Testament of Loki, was just published this month. There’s a great interview with Joanne Harris at the Edinburgh International Book Festival here, where The Gospel of Loki is discussed at length.