Book Review: The Gospel of Loki

10:48 07 February 2014

The Gospel of Loki - Joanne M Harris

The Gospel of Loki - Joanne M Harris

Archant

These ain’t your ancestors’ Norse myths...

By Joanne M Harris

(Gollancz, £14.99 hardback, £7.99 eBook)

Thanks to the show-stealing performance by Tom Hiddleston as the Asgardian trickster Loki in the recent Thor and Avengers films, Joanne M Harris’ new interpretation of the character’s history is remarkably timely.

Had Hiddleston not brought the god of mischief into the mainstream, few people would be aware of his role in Norse mythology, or even his contemporaries Thor and Odin. But whereas Harris could rely on book sales on the strength of her name and reputation, the movies have guaranteed that the subjects of her first fantasy novel are recognised by a much wider audience.

Loki’s relationship to the Gods varies from source to source, and in this version Harris has him as a demonic shapeshifter brought into Asgard by Odin as his brother, rather than the half-man, half-giant adopted brother of Thor seen in the Marvel movies and comics.

However, what remains are the traits which have characterised the trickster throughout his long existence: his arrogance, his wit, his deviousness, his charisma and his untrustworthiness. He is the original charming rogue, and his exploits are thoroughly entertaining as a consequence.

Based on many of the stories featured in the poem Lokasenna (“Loki’s quarrel” in Old Norse), there’s a deliberate contemporary approach in Harris’ storytelling. As a lifelong expert on Norse mythology, she obviously realises a direct translation of these centuries-old tales would be lacking the pace, characterisation and development modern readers would expect to find in her work.

The aim of this version of the myths is to put across Loki’s side of the story, from his recruitment as the Asgardians’ dirty tricks operative, his initially playful pranks and misdeeds, his perhaps inevitable fall from grace, and his role in the events of Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods…

Fun, witty and wholly entertaining, this is a neat retelling of classic legends which maintains their ancient roots without diminishing them in any way through the use of a modern filter.

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