Monday, October 24, 2016

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris

Reviewed by Jeanne

Thanks to the movies based on the Marvel Comics version of Thor, a good many people have at least heard about Loki, the Trickster God of the Norse.  However, I’d be willing to bet that few of those folks have gone back to read the myths that inspired the comics.

Now Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, seeks to remedy that with a novel which retells these myths—but from Loki’s point of view.  Readers expecting archaic language and a stiff presentation will be surprised at this gossipy, intimate tale.  Loki’s a beguiling narrator, willing to admit his faults, but equally intent on explaining why someone else is to really blame for the way things will turn out.  He presents himself as being the eternal outsider, a bit of Chaos drawn into Asgard by Odin for reasons of his own.  Loki is always trying to fit in, but held back and ill-treated by some of the more suspicious gods.

Or so Loki says.  From the beginning, he tells the reader to trust no one, not even himself, but he does it in such a charming way that the reader can’t really believe he means it.  Or does he?

His view of the gods is, shall we say, less than worshipful.  The stories stick pretty much to the legends, but have that Loki slant to them.  Thor, for example, is a rather dense, no-nonsense muscleman with no sense of humor.  Odin is a master manipulator who seeks to hold onto power and is willing to sacrifice others to do so.  But is Loki telling us the truth?

One just has to open the book and read the character descriptions to know what sort of a ride one is in for, and it’s an absolutely delightful one.  For example, for Bragi Loki says, “God of poetry.  Two words:  expect lutes.”  For Heimdall: “The Watchman. Not a fan.  Has it in for yours truly.”  I was familiar with a good many of the myths already, enough to “get” the description of Hoder (“Balder’s blind brother.  A better shot than you would think.”)  But knowing the myths certainly isn’t a requirement for enjoying this book. A co-worker who was unfamiliar with the Norse myths gave it a try, and she said she found it quite entertaining and a bit enlightening.

And lest you think that it's all fun and games, Harris doesn't alter the prophecy of Ranarok which foretells the destruction of Asgard and the deaths of many of the gods. The Fenris Wolf, the Midgard Serpent, Hel-- all the dread creatures are there.  The knowledge of what may come is pass is always there , lurking uneasily in the shadows.  But is it a certainty?  Is Wyrd set fast?

Harris does a masterful job of giving the Norse myths new life through Loki. She not only knows and understands the Poetic and Prose Eddas,  but she loves them as well.  It shows in the writing.  Witty, fun, but with dark underpinnings, Harris has written a story to delight those with a taste for mythology and fantasy.

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