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Book Review(s): Norse Mythology and The Gospel of Loki

Popular media tends to take a theme and run with it until it’s been pretty much done to death, whether it’s cowboys and indians, aliens, witches, vampires or serial killers. The recent fascination with Norse / Viking history and lore is likely to fare no differently and I’ll confess I’ve been following the (fairly mixed but overall positive) output with interest.

So when Neil Gaiman published his Norse Mythology title last year (now available in paperback as well as hardback) it was promoted to the top of the reading list and rapidly devoured for a number of reasons (not least my love of so much of his existing writing). Fast forward to a couple of month’s ago when I was paid forward Joanne M. Harris’ (of Chocolat fame) The Gospel of Loki to read (and then sell on second hand with proceeds to charity). This did not inspire quite the same alacrity, partly because of the timing and partly because, well, frankly what more could it really add for me?

I’m quite struck by the similarity of the two titles. They should not be confused with modern re-tellings, or really re-tellings at all, but instead are accounts of selected Norse myths using contemporary language and characterisation. I’ll admit that I’m used to reading ‘old-style’ myths, legends and fairy tales which were largely documented by academics, historians and researchers rather than storytellers, and it took my brain a little while to adjust to the differences in style and tone, but not in a bad way and I certainly think it’s a benefit in opening the tales up to new audiences).

Loki naturally features heavily in the Harris title being that the whole book is his telling of the tales he was involved in from his own perspective, but unsurprisingly is also prominent in the Gaiman book – of the Norse myths that are known to us many of the most well known star the Trickster, he’s one of the easier archetypes to relate through and of course he’s a major player in the overall ‘arc’. Much of the rest of the pantheon is also portrayed similarly but, given these are extrapolations of the same source material, this probably isn’t remarkable either.

And finally both are composed in fairly short chapters, meaning you can dip in and out and get through each separate myth in fairly short order. I struggled to get into the Harris’ a bit in this regards, I found it a little stilted for me to get really absorbed but then again this could easily be a positive depending on your preferred reading style.

Overall the Gaiman probably tips it for me if for no other reason than it includes a wider array of the myths – naturally The Gospel of Loki is dedicated to those where the titular god is prominent – but I would have no qualms in recommending either, particularly to anyone looking for a less dry but thoroughly well researched and represented exploration of the Norse myths than previously available.

(Note: I’m not planning to stock The Gospel of Loki as standard until it is available in paperback format, but am of course happy to specifically order the hardback version for anyone who wants it)