Thursday, July 30, 2015

Book: The Gospel of Loki

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris is a very good novelization of Norse mythology, told from the perspective of Loki. Harris has clearly read The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson at the very least and studied other texts on Norse mythology in order to formulate one of the best representations of Norse mythology that I have seen in popular media. Of course, her scope is limited to those stories that Loki plays a major part in, so the book is not a great primer on all of Norse mythology, but since Loki is a major player throughout the universe and especially during Ragnarok, there is still plenty of interesting material for Harris to work with. 

In a mark of true hypocrisy though, I will say that my primary issue with this book is that it does not really expand upon the original stories. Harris does great work in weaving together the disparate stories about Loki that appear in Norse mythology, as they are primarily presented in The Prose Edda. She expertly switches their order around to construct a more coherent storyline and creatively provides Loki some motivation for the mischief he reeks upon the other Asgardians by slightly changing his origins and place in the universe. However, Harris does not give a lot of thought or time to Loki’s motivations, beyond the basics of his nature as a trickster and his sense of betrayal by Odin. Also, Harris does not give much characterization to the other gods beyond their epithets and brief descriptions, making everything feel rather flat and without real, understandable motivation.

I understand, of course, that it is difficult to really expand upon mythology without running the risk of projecting too many modern ideals and interpretations onto a different culture, but Harris did not shy away from that at all. She uses many modern phases and descriptions for what Loki does to make it accessible to a modern audience, but instead of feeling like a natural part of the world as Loki describes it, it ends up feeling very out of place. Again, perhaps it would work better if Harris had taken the time to flesh out the characters a bit more, invented a few new stories to bridge some of the gaps that still exist in the narrative, and really made the whole Norse universe feel more modern, but that is not what Harris chose to do. 

Credit where credit is due, however. On the whole, I do believe that Harris does a wonderful job of writing a novel that makes some sense out of the various stories that exist about Loki in what remains of Norse mythology. I think many people who are not already familiar with the stories will find this book very interesting and entertaining, and I have to praise Harris for remaining so true to the source material in a way that many modern writers do not care to. However, as someone already familiar with Norse mythology, I am disappointed to not see anything particularly new or clever in the presentation of these stories. Harris does not add much to our understanding of Norse mythology and does not provide a unique perspective on how these characters might have acted in different circumstances.

Harris, J. M. (2015). The Gospel of Loki. London; Saga Press. 
Sturluson, Snorri. (2005). The Prose Edda. (J. L. Byock, Trans.). London: Penguin Classics.

No comments:

Post a Comment