Much like Mr Gaiman, I too grew up loving myths and in due course, developed a partiality to the Norse variety. I cannot recall when I was first introduced to them but the twin influence of the real-time strategy game Age of Mythology, and Bellingham, Whitaker and Grant’s Myths and Legends solidified that affection for Norse myths in my youth. There is a specific quote from Myths and Legends that wormed itself into my head and had not left since,
“[Loki] shows that rarest of things in a mythological personage: character development.”Myths & Legends: Viking, Oriental, Greek (1992) by Bellingham, Whitaker and Grant
That forever coloured my understanding of the stories revolving the vikings’ gods. The authors of Myths and Legends were not contented in merely presenting the Norsemen’s stories as they were, but chose to anchor them with Loki as the linchpin, making him out as some sort of tragic figure who evolved from a trickster to a more malevolent creature, and even pointed out moments in the Eddas that had prodded Loki’s descent into darkness. It was one of my first encounter with complex storytelling and an equally complex villain protagonist, and it is for this simple reason alone that Loki holds a special place in my heart. All of this happened years before I encountered the Marvel comics’ and films’ versions of the Norse gods, of course.
Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology was not written for me. This is a book written for those whose only knowledge of Norse stories is limited to those Marvel films because it lacks even the complexity of Bellingham et al’s retelling of these tales (in an encyclopedia). To use an analogy, this book is as if Mr Gaiman published a book titled Grimm’s Fairy Tales and simply rewrote the stories in his own words, adding a few artistic flairs here and there, but left them structurally and thematically intact, offering no new insights or revelations. I imagine that Mr Gaiman thought to employ his not inconsiderable fame to bring these stories anew to the uninitiated—and for this purpose alone, I deem this book to be quite adequate—but it has absolutely nothing to offer hoary old mythology junkies such as myself.
As I was going through Mr Gaiman’s basic short story collection of Norse mythology, I found myself missing Joanne M. Harris’ The Gospel of Loki more and more. Not simply contented with a simple retelling, Ms Harris took pain to organise all the disparate stories into a coherent narrative, narrated in the first person, no less, by the Father of Lies, Loki himself.
“… behind my human disguise he knew me for a child of the Fire. A demon, if you prefer the term; although to be honest, the difference between god and demon is really only a matter of perspective.”The Gospel of Loki (2014) by Joanne M. Harris
If you find, like me, that Mr Gaiman’s version of Norse mythology to be inert and lacking bite, you’ll find no shortage of teeth in Ms Harris’ Lokabrenna. It is not that his book is bad. Baby food, I understand, is quite nutritious but as an adult, my palate demands flavour and spice. The Loki formulated by Bellingham et al is three-dimensional, but Gaiman had somehow succeeded in reducing him back to two.