The Gospel of Loki
Joanne M. Harris
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature nominee
Joanne M. Harris’ The Gospel of Loki reads like someone at Simon & Schuster said to themselves, “You know what would be awesome? If we could figure out how to capitalize on how HOT everyone thinks the Marvel Movie Loki is, while ALSO introducing them to the Real Mythology.”
That’s not to say this isn’t a successful book. Harris’ voice of Loki mostly works. He is kind of, sort of, modernized, while mostly staying true to mythological form. In the cast of characters we have his description of Sol as “The Sun. Drives a hot car.“ You can totally imagine Tom Hiddleston saying most of his lines, even though Harris goes to some length to make it clear that this is not THAT Loki. The author reminds us, quite often, about Loki’s wildfire nature and the fact that he has RED hair.
See. RED. That’s very different. Totally different than the movie.
Except so much else is the same, including our sympathy for him. I mean, I think that is one of the greatest things that Hiddleston brought to the first Thor movie: the idea of Loki as conflicted, as a villain with a sympathetic motive, a tragic backstory. The way in which Hiddleston gives us those pained eyes while causing mischief goes straight to the heart. So, the potential surprise undercurrent of this book was ruined for me because I was already solidly Team Loki.
Similarly, I have long had a problem with the Norse Mythology because they spoil their own damn story. Right up front, those early Norse myth weavers tell you how the whole shebang is going to end. Ragnarok, aka everybody dies and the world is destroyed, the end.
Dudes! You don’t start a story by telling me the end! How am I supposed to care about anything that happens when you’ve already pre-warned me not to get too attached to anyone!?
So, yeah, I didn’t not enjoy this book, but I was never surprised.
I suppose the value of this book is for anyone who is unfamiliar with the original sagas. Have you heard the one where Thor crossdresses? How about where he’s wrestled to one knee by an old female giant? If you haven’t and you don’t want to read the translation of the Old Norse, this book could be a fun way to introduce you to some of those gems. Alas, I was already spoiled for all that too. I have a dear friend who happens to be a scholar of Icelandic/Norse tales, so I’ve heard her versions several times over the years. Harris tells them well, but you can’t beat having Eleanor Arnason regale you personally over a cup of coffee (or beer, as I imagine the first myths got passed on,) with a sharp, intelligent gleam in her eye that rivals the Trickster himself.