The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

I bought my copy of The Gospel of Loki (with its frankly gorgeous cover!) during our bookshop crawl last year.

imageLoki, that’s me. Loki, the Light-Bringer, the misunderstood, the elusive, the handsome and modest hero of this particular tissue of lies. Take it with a pinch of salt, but it’s as least as true as the official version and, dare I say it, more entertaining. So far, history, such as it is, has case me in a rather unflattering role. Now it’s my turn to take the stage.

In the Norse cycle of myths, Loki is the baddie. He’s a trickster god, usually out to cause trouble, make fun of the other gods, or get them killed. He’s not supposed to be the one you sympathise with. But this is Loki’s version of events, and it turns out that,. as usual, there are two sides to every story…

I’ve read retellings of Norse myths before, including Ragnarök by AS Byatt, but always been left feeling somewhat baffled. The gods never came alive as characters for me before, and the stories are confusing, and often truly weird. This retelling is different — the narrative weaves the various fragments of myth you’ve heard of (such as Thor and his hammer, or the fall of Asgard at Ragnarök) together neatly into a coherent whole with an overarching plot, something I’ve always wanted for the Nordic cycle.

Then there’s the revisionist aspect. Loki, the narrator of this particular telling, is a very engaging narrator. Even when recounting deeds he’s not proud of (“So shoot me”) he’s endearing, and at no point are you, the reader, not on his side. The rest of the gods at Asgard come across as petty, manipulative and mean, although are perhaps a little close to broad brush stereotypes.

The story turns on the relationship between Loki and Odin. They call each other brothers, and although they never really trust the other, each of them needs the other. Loki needs Odin’s protection, as a demon alone in the house of the gods. Odin needs Loki’s chaotic character — he’s supposed to be a god of order, but a world of perfect order is unrealistic, and he needs Loki to do chaotic things for him that Odin himself couldn’t get away with.

The climax of the book is Ragnarök, the destruction of Asgard where the gods live, and the death of all the gods themselves. Around this is a prophecy told to Odin detailing exactly how this will happen. But how many of the things that happen are fated, and how many of them happen because Loki knows the prophecy, and so does the things that it says? This is the question of the final part of the book.

This retelling is faithful to the source material, and hugely enjoyable. These versions of the characters are the ones that will live in my head now, and I’ll definitely look at Loki differently from now on!

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