THE OTHER SIDE OF ASGARD: JOANNE M. HARRIS’ GOSPEL OF LOKI

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris
The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

There’s something about Norse mythology that makes it just a bit more intriguing than Greek mythology.  Maybe it’s because we as a culture aren’t as familiar with the Norse gods and their stories as we are with the Greeks. Maybe it’s because the Norse gods and goddesses seem a little more fallible, a little less elevated, than their Greek counterparts. Or maybe it’s the sense of doom that underlies Norse myths, the ever-present knowledge that all this is going to come crashing down in a battle between good and evil that everybody’s going to lose.

Or maybe it’s Loki, who occupies a unique place in Norse mythology, one of the gods at Asgard but not really one of the Aesir or the Vanir, an outsider who’s never quite one of the gods though he often works with them (and against them), a trickster character who lives by his wits, for good or bad.

A terrific book about Loki is Joanne M. Harris’ The Gospel of Loki, told by the Trickster himself in a voice that is snarky and engaging, cynical and modern.  Most of the great and famous Norse myths are here — how Asgard was built, how Frey lost his magic sword (which he would need, come Ragnarok), how Thor lost his magic hammer, Mjolnir and Loki helped him get it back again, and the adventure of Thor and Loki in the Giants’ city — but because they’re told from Loki’s perspective, they are a little different from the usual versions.  If Loki’s not always the hero of the stories (and he can’t be, because at least half the time he’s the one who gets the gods into trouble in the first place), then he is at least the most interesting character, the one who commands our attention and brings us around to his point of view.

He’s not a nice guy, that’s for sure. He betrays the gods repeatedly. Sometimes he acts out of what seems like nothing more than pure malice (though, to hear his version, that’s never REALLY what’s going on).  He causes endless trouble and suffering, and he never seems to learn from any of his misdeeds. And yet, there’s something appealing about him, especially in Joanne M. Harris’ version: yes, he causes chaos, but that’s because he started out as a creature of chaos and he never entirely loses that aspect of his personality.  Yes, he hurts other gods, but in his version, they were all against him in the first place, and they give as good as they get (for the most part; he doesn’t have any real justification for causing Baldur’s death, or for abandoning his selfless wife).  He’s cunning (maybe a little too much so), opportunistic, quick to take offense and always looking out for himself, but he’s a most entertaining character.

You don’t need to be very familiar with Norse myths to enjoy The Gospel of Loki, but the more knowledge you have of them, the more you’ll enjoy this book, and it might spur you to dig a little deeper into other versions of the myths.  This one is a quick, funny book threaded with a darker strain of destiny and doom, and a wonderful introduction, or reintroduction, to the world of the Norse Gods.

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