Tag Archives: fiction

Pagan, Shinto & Spiritual Book Reviews August 2016

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August is summer holiday time here in the UK so perhaps it’s no surprise that I’ve been relaxing and reading a lot of fiction recently, as you can see from this month’s reviews which include:

  • Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
  • Joseph Cali & John Dougill, Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan’s Ancient Religion
  • Witi Ihimaera, The Whale Rider
  • Brendan Myers, The Earth, The Gods and The Soul – A History of Pagan Philosophy: From the Iron Age to the 21st Century
  • J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2, Special Rehearsal Edition Script

But which one have I awarded Read of the Month? Read on and find out!

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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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Reflections on “The Magicians,” Lev Grossman

TheMagiciansAs I’ve already reviewed one fiction book of Pagan interest, I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to review another fiction book that might be of interest to those who work with magic – The Magicians by Lev Grossman. [You can find the rest of this review here]

 

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Reflections on “Gods Behaving Badly,” Marie Phillips

godsbehavingMy first review of a novel! I actually read this one years ago but seeing as they’ve now made a movie adaptation, I thought now would be a good time to review it, from a Pagan perspective.

The story is about the Greek gods all living together in a dilapidated flat in London. Their powers are mysteriously dwindling, forcing them to live rather mundane mortal lives – Apollo is a TV psychic, Artemis is a professional dog-walker, Dionysus is a DJ, and Aphrodite is a phone sex worker. In between all this, they get up to all the usual family business – squabbling, backstabbing and lots and lots of somewhat incestuous sex (really, that’s how the book opens, and it’s pretty funny).Then one day their lives collide with those of two highly unremarkable humans….and comedy and adventure ensues.

So how will Pagans react to seeing their beloved deities star in what’s essentially a rom-con novel at heart? To start with, they may find the very simplistic caricatures of the gods downright annoying. Gone, for example, is the complex mixture of tenderness and passion from Apollo and Aphrodite – they are merely portrayed as shallow, air-headed sex maniacs. Artemis fares a little better, but even she lacked the mystery and wildness that I attribute with her mythic counterpart. And portraying Athena, who is as much a goddess of war and glory as she is a goddess of wisdom, as a timid and awkward nerd is just plain wrong! Pagans may also find it quite upsetting to see the gods they respect and worship reduced to the weak, foolish buffoons that appear in this novel (the depiction of Zeus, when we finally meet him, is particularly disturbing). I think one has to bear in mind that Phillips was never writing for a Pagan audience, or even for an audience that is a little more educated than usual in Greek mythology – she’s playing on all our most basic associations with the Gods that most people half-remember from school or from depictions in movies and TV shows.

For the purposes of a rom-com, I at least can forgive this. The book is funny, after all – there is something inherently amusing about imagining the supernatural beings coping with modern London life. There’s some great little touches too – I found it particularly amusing that Eros has converted to Christianity, much to his mother Aphrodite’s annoyance!

And what’s more, it gets better and better and more and more fantastical further in. Surprisingly, the two human characters – Neil and Alice – are at least, if not more, interesting than the immortals. I would go as far as to say that Alice is perhaps one of the most unusual and yet realistic heroines I’ve encountered in a novel – she’s highly intelligent and analytical, yet with a crippling shyness and humility that holds her back, but this doesn’t really get her down. She’s introverted but not angsty – she enjoys her modest life. I found that I liked her a lot and really felt for her when she was going through some very, very tough times at the hands of the gods.

This book also has some unexpectedly strong fantasy elements. One of the highlights for me being the depiction of the Underworld, which is not only very creative but also allows for some strong emotion; like its ancient Greek counterpart, Phillips’ Underworld isn’t inherently a blissful Heaven-like place and there’s some moments of sadness and bleakness to be had here. I also found the depiction of the river Styx both imaginative and appealing – I would have loved to have seen a little more of this element, in fact. In addition to the Underworld, I also liked the book’s depiction of Hera – she was perhaps the closest to what I imagine her mythological counterpart to be out of all the Gods, mixed with a feeling of both great dignity and great dread.

There’s a feel-good ending to the story –  everything works out for everyone and you do get a nice warm feeling inside. No, it’s absolutely not a deep book and Pagans will find their eyes rolling (if not their stomachs churning) at what the author has done to their gods, but if you can look past this, it’s quite an enjoyable, sweet and funny read. Good for when you’re looking for something light after all those dusty, heavy tomes on arcane rites.

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