Reflections on “The Gospel of Loki,” Joanne M Harris

GospelLokiWhy did I choose to read this book?

Another charity shop find! Although Asatru is not a large part of my path, I do have an interest in Norse mythology, and especially Loki (like so many other fans of the Norse gods!). At first I was dubious – I’ve read a few modernised tales featuring Loki before and not found them fantastic – but then I noticed that this one is written by the best-selling author of Chocolat (another novel with some Pagan overtones), which reassured me enough to spend £1 on The Gospel of Loki

In a nutshell, what it is it about?

It’s very simply a collection of some of the most famous of the Norse legends from the Eddas, told from the perspective of Loki, the Trickster. Told through Loki’s witty, teasing narration, all the favourite stories are here, from the beginning of the Nine Worlds (and Loki’s “birth” from Chaos) to the golden days of Asgard, to its eventual downfall at Ragnarok.

What did I particularly like about it?

First and foremost, I loved how close the re-tellings of the stories are to their originals. There’s no wild deviations or attempts to gild the lily – Harris has retold the tales very faithfully, but also very appealingly, from the point of view of the Trickster God. She captures the real essence and emotion of the stories, including their epic scope and bawdy wit. Harris is at her strongest when dealing with the more humorous tales – some of episodes, and the characters’ reactions to turns of events, are laugh-out-loud funny. Harris polishes and displays the original tales of the Norse gods in such a way that their cleverness and excitement really shines through. I especially loved her account of the origin of the eight-legged horse Sleipnir and the adventures of Loki and Thor in Utgard – although I already knew the stories very well, I still enjoyed experiencing them again through Harris’ lively writing and looked forward to all their twists and turns.

I also liked the ingenious way in which, by making Loki the focal point of the stories, Harris weaves all the various Norse tales into a continuous, flowing narrative – which really enhances the stories and stresses their epic nature. Rather than simply ending, the ending of one story will lead directly to the beginning of another, and the actions of one character will prove to be an important motivation for another character’s actions later. This also allows for a real shift of tone – we go from laughing during the heyday of the gods, to feeling genuinely sad when it all comes to an end.

Was there anything I didn’t like about it?

Surprisingly, I found the depiction of Loki a little derivative and perhaps not as interesting as he could have been. Loki is an archetypal bad boy, using (occasionally jarring) modern American slang to demonstrate his rebel nature (he even uses the phrase Your Humble Narrator just like Alex in A Clockwork Orange). There’s nothing really new and original to his character – we’ve all seen this Loki before in the Thor movies. That’s not to say that Harris’ Loki has no appeal – you’ll end up liking him regardless – but I was hoping for something perhaps a little more developed. On the other hand, the mysterious Odin, with his obscure motivations and complex relationship with Loki, is a very interesting character indeed. Perhaps Harris could have explored the Loki/Odin relationship a little more? Perhaps they could have had some final, revealing words during their last hours at Ragnarok? But perhaps Harris deliberately kept her characters symbol to be more in keeping with the spirit of the Eddas, and to avoid eclipsing the stories themselves.

How has it helped my spiritual development?

It certainly got me interested in reading up a little more about the Eddas and about Asatru in general, as well as filling in some of my knowledge gaps on Norse mythology. I feel after reading The Gospel of Loki, I understand the nature of the Norse Gods, the Nine Worlds and the magic of the runes a little more.

Would I recommend this book to others?

Definitely to those interested in Norse mythology! Veterans will really appreciate how close the stories are to the originals, while newcomers will enjoy The Gospel of Loki as an easy to read and highly entertaining introduction to some of the wittiest tales and appealing characters in the world of ancient mythology.

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