No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, April 10, 2014

2014/01: The Gospel of Loki – Joanne Harris

Order is like ice that creeps, bringing life to a standstill ... the ice will creep back. Stagnation will come. My kingdom will fall into darkness. I cannot be seen to break my own rules. But I do need someone on my side who can break them for me when necessary. [p. 42]
The Gospel of Loki is a prequel to Joanne Harris' Runemarks and Runelight, which are set 'five hundred years after the end of the world'. This novel, narrated by Loki himself, is the story of how a creature of Chaos was tamed (ish), brought on board by Odin to do his dirty work. Using the poem Völuspá (a version -- I believe it's Harris' own translation -- of which is appended to the novel) as an outline, it tells the story of Loki from Chaos to, er, Chaos. (Ragnarok, anyway.) Many of the episodes will be familiar from Norse mythology: others are invented, but are seamlessly in-character.

The thing is, I don't find Loki as likeable in the first person as he is in the third, in Runemarks / Runelight, where he's seen from fifteen-year-old Maddy's perspective. Maddy sees Loki as someone sharp, cunning, clever, magical. Loki's certainly clever, not to mention vain: but in his Gospel he's also somewhat whiny. (Justifiably so: nobody treats him very well, even before he's played some of his more malicious tricks.) He doesn't seem to like or respect anyone. Female characters get a rough deal, especially poor Sigyn whose loyalty is portrayed as stubborn stupidity. Male characters don't come off much better. ('As far as I could tell, love made you weak and boring. Balder, who by that token must have been in love all the time ...' [p. 157]) But I blame the narrator -- and note that many of the women who Loki maligns are actually smarter than he is, or at least better strategists. 

In fact, it's a woman (well, a female) who is the cause of Loki's downfall. Gullveig-Heid (who gets speared, roasted and resurrected in the Eddas) seldom appears in modern versions of the myths, but Harris gives her plenty of agency. Between Gullveig-Heid and the Oracle (whose Cunning Plan it all is), Loki -- and the Aesir -- don't stand a chance.

I could have done with fewer colloquialisms (not least because they'll date the book horribly in a remarkably short time). And I'd have liked a bit more about Loki's time in Chaos. Overall, though, this'll go nicely with my growing collection of Loki-centric fiction.
If we believe the Oracle, free will is merely an illusion, and all our actions were written in runes that were pre-ordained from the beginning of time. But if we take matters into our own hands, then we can write our own runes, remake our own reality. (p. 375)

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