Thursday, March 23, 2017
The Gospel of Loki, by Joanne M. Harris
I think the biggest problem I had was it's been a long time since I did any reading of Norse mythology. I remember some of the important bits, like when Loki's lips were stitched shut, or the adventures Thor and Loki had together, or the death of Baldur, but I was fuzzy on the exact details. And even the source material conflicts. There are the both the Prose and Poetic Eddas which vary slightly in their tellings of Norse mythology, as well as the numerous oral traditions which inevitably cause some variation in a story over the years. But aside from telling the story from Loki's perspective, I was left with the feeling that this book didn't vary a lot from the stories that have been passed down over the generations.
The biggest changes I could identify, as I said, are towards the beginning and the end of the book. Loki provides a slightly different account of the Aesir-Vanir war and questions the official version of events for the creation of the nine worlds. After all, Odin was the only one who was there, so it's hard to gainsay his version of events. Loki also makes ominous references to Odin's brothers who helped kill the frost giant Ymir, but are never heard from again. Furthermore Loki in this book is depicted as springing fully-formed from the primordial chaos rather than being born, which at least the source materials suggest because he has parents. There's also the ending but that would legitimately spoil the entire book so I'd rather not mention it here.
I guess the biggest change is Loki's rationalizations for doing what he does. In the source material there isn't a lot of explanation, Loki just causes problems and annoys everyone until they finally get fed up with his shenanigans and chain him under the earth with poison from the world-serpent dripping into his eyes. In this book there are a lot of rationalizations that Loki provides. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons why he does things, such as he got himself into trouble and needs to cunningly get himself back out of trouble. But a lot of the time it feels like he does things just for petty spite. Or, as he repeatedly says throughout the book, ''It's just in my nature. So shoot me.'' Which comes across as a worthless explanation in my opinion, about as legitimate as, ''The devil made me do it.'' If Harris is trying to make Loki a more sympathetic character in her re-telling of Norse mythology, I'm not sure if she's really accomplished that. Loki comes across as just as petty, just as ill-tempered, and just as much of a jerk as he did in the source, but now he adds the insult of saying he tries to be good, but it's the chaos inside him that makes him act bad. It just doesn't improve on his character in my opinion.
Overall this book is pretty okay, and I think part of that is because it sticks so close to the various source materials. The fragments of Norse mythology we've gotten passed down to us are pretty awesome so they make for some really good stories. But I'm not sure how much this work improves on or reinterprets the original source material as a result. But I guess if you're a fan of everything Loki it's worth a look.