Book You Haven’t Read By An Author You Love

I guess I’m in a mood for legends and lore lately. What with Song of Achilles, Beowulf, Gospel of Loki, and now this one – what’s a girl to do but indulge herself! There’s definitely something to be said for all of these larger than life heroes and heroines and the way they inspired the human race through the years. Aside from storytelling, it’s easy to forget just how much the gods have trickled down into our daily lives. After all, every Thursday is Thor’s Day!

Anyway, Gaiman’s version covers no new ground. It’s very old ground, to be honest, but his rehashing is just as good as anyone else’s. He takes us from creation to Ragnarok and all of the side trips in between. There are always differences in somebody’s version of familiar tales. Tomato, tomahto. Same stories, different days. I don’t have a lot to say about the actual content. All of the usual suspects are here: Odin, Thor, Freya, and Loki, to name a few. Unlike American Gods where Gaiman put old gods (of all kinds), in new, modern adventures and took creative liberty with how they would fit into the 21st century, Norse Mythology is pretty straight forward in the retelling of the Norse legends. Gaiman is entertaining nonetheless. He uses the character commonalities found in other versions to comedic effect in his storytelling – Freya is narcissistic (see what I did there?), Thor is not the brightest bulb on the porch, and Loki is still the conniving trickster everybody loves to hate.

It was an interesting listen, especially right after listening to The Gospel of Loki. You have a point of view from Loki, an unreliable narrator, in one, and, in Norse Mythology, you have Gaiman’s lyrical storytelling from a more neutral POV. Plus, if you listen to the audio, Gaiman reads the text and the experience is sublime!

Gaiman has an intro where he talks about his love for Norse mythology and how it influenced his early years as a reader. He cites Kevin Crossley-Holland, Snorri Sturluson, and Rudolf Simek as his preferred resources for inspiration although he does say he has many, many Norse tales that he loves. Interestingly, Gaiman unwittingly sparked a debate about who actually has final authority in retelling myths since there is difficulty in finding an authentic source for Norse tales in particular. This article from The Atlantic is insightful. The Washington Post article here reviews both Gaiman’s book and The Norse Myths by Carolyne Larrington, sort of a compare and contrast piece. NPR also has an interview with Gaiman here and a more personal interview about other writings and life topics here (from 2015).

This book is a great primer if you’re unfamiliar with the Norse god origins and a refresher for the things you may have forgotten.

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Book You Haven’t Read By An Author You Love

“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.