Friday, September 4, 2015

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris

We know the story of the Eddas, the stories of North Mythology from the creation of the Nine Worlds from a cow and a giant right through to Ragnarok when it call falls apart again.

But this is, as Loki points out, told from the point of view of the Old Man himself, Odin. Who is not entirely a reliable narrator. It’s time for the villain of the piece to tell his side of the story.

This book is a retelling of many of the stories of the Eddas only from a different point of view – this is told from the point of view of Loki.

I have read many of the stories of the Eddas. I like mythology, I like Norse mythology – a book containing mythology of any kind will generally find one of us running to get our hands on it. This book came the closest of any I’ve read to taking so much Norse mythology and so many of their stories and gods and really revelling in it. And, as a fan of those stories anyway, I loved it

I don’t know if I would have loved it more or less if I didn’t know all the stories inside already. In some ways, knowing what was going to happen made it more enjoyable because I could remember the original and see it through this angle the author has considered – seeing things from a different light and turning Loki into a realised and interesting and complex (and certainly not perfect) character just added new appreciation from me for these stories. Of course, if you recognise the stories you’re probably also a mythology fan so would appreciate this book anyway.

The flip side is if you weren’t familiar with Norse Mythology then this book wouldn’t be entirely spoiled for you. At no point in the book did I really not know what was going to happen next – I’ve read these stories, a new angle doesn’t change the progress, the story or the end result. There’s no suspense there and, consequently, there are times when I felt I could have skipped ahead or skimmed, like a book you’ve read several times over

But I don’t think this book can stand alone without the mythology geek’s glee. It relies too much on past knowledge to paint the world, the characters and make this new angle meaningful. The Gospel According to Loki simply won’t be appreciated to the same extent, even after being read, by someone who isn’t already aware of Loki (beyond Marvel adaptations) because that back story is needed.

But even though the story is thoroughly spoiled to me, I still enjoyed it. Loki’s character is fun, complex, deeply imperfect, slightly alien but also very very human and fun. His motives, always kind of put down to being Loki, the chaotic Trickster of extra chaoticness, who does shit because he’s LOKI and he does whatever the hell he wants to. Now we see him, the betrayals, the resentment, his eternal outsider status, how his good deeds are rarely remembered, how he thinks he’s achieved acceptance and then one trick later and everyone turns round and he’s, again, forced into the fringes. His battle between wanting to be accepted by the Aesir and Vanis, thinking he’s achieved it, and the bitterness and rage when he realises, again, how much they all hate him (especially Heimdall). It’s really excellent character development as we see him constantly swap between seethingly seeking vengeance and occasionally backing down as he almost, almost achieves acceptance only to have that hatred return threefold. Of course this leads to him both saving the gods and sabotaging them in equal measure. It also begs the question whether he would ever actually have been accepted if he didn’t sabotage himself repeatedly – or was he constantly being exploited? I like that it’s very clear that, yes, poor Loki is often abused and poorly treated – while it’s equally clear he deserves what he gets quite regularly. He’s not perfect, he gets away with a lot, but he also gets treated poorly when he doesn’t deserve it – it’s not a retelling of the Eddas to make him a saint, but nor to make him a demon – just the chaotic Trickster who turned form Odin’s blood-brother to the bitter enemy at Ragnarok.

Then we throw in Odin and Mimir with their knowledge and cunning and that adds a whole new lot of deviousness and the possibility the dice were always loaded.

Of course while I enjoyed this book and had so much geeky fun, I have to poke at the diversity. I know an argument can be made that the source material is not exactly conducive to diversity. I concede that to a degree but, again, this is an adaptation and what the author chooses or chooses not to change or include and it not so the lack of LGBT characters and POC isn’t entirely justifiable just because of the source material (I believe there was on dark skinned none god).

There are other problems as well – one of which is the gender of Loki, a shapeshifter and one who has always been willing to take female form (and be both a mother and father to monsters). This was not only brushed over but we even have times when Loki disguises himself as a woman rather than turning himself into a woman. While he’s a consummate shapeshifting, this gender blurring that is part of his character is carefully avoided.

I’m also frustrated by the goddesses. With the exception of Skadi, we’re looking almost entirely at rather silly, vapid people with little effect in the story, little character beyond being love interests and, especially in the case of Frejya, sex objects to be bartered. And, yes, bargaining for Frejya’s hand in marriage is a constant theme of the Eddas, Frejya is still more than the Goddess of Sex objects. This is something that constantly frustrates me with depictions of Norse Mythology.

I loved this book but am left in a difficult place on how to recommend it. In the end, I loved it, because I’m mythology fan. If you aren’t and aren’t familiar – I think you’ll like it but probably not enough to fanpoodle as I do.