Loki, the god of mistletoe mischief

Loki – the mischief-maker

The Norse God Loki is, usually, considered a major mischief maker, often evil, and the primary baddie in mistletoe-themed slaying of his fellow-god Baldr.

But he is also often portrayed as helpful and useful, though somewhat mischievous, so what is the truth (can you have a truth about a mythical god?).

Baldr slain with a mistletoe-spear, with Hod brandishing the weapon, overlooked by Loki (looking over Hod’s shoulder)

The Baldr story is fairly damning: Baldr, whose death has been foretold, has been given special protection by his mother (Frigg) who has made all animals, birds and all plants that grow in the soil swear never to harm him.

His fellow gods then amuse themselves by attacking him with weapons that cannot hurt him – until Loki makes a weapon from mistletoe. Mistletoe, which does not grow in soil, did not take the vow, and so can kill Baldr. That’s bad enough, but Loki makes it worse by persuading Hod, Baldr’s blind brother, to innocently make the fatal blow with the mistletoe-tipped weapon, ensuring that Hod gets the blame for Baldr’s death, at least initially.

Many accounts claim that this was Loki’s last act – his ultimate folly, and that he was imprisoned as a result.

But what of his career before this? What did Loki do, and was he good, bad or a bit of both? If you research the details online you’re likely to get very confused – as there are so many differing versions, and traditions, relating to Loki and his fellow gods. Even Wikipedia, normally such a reassuring source for information, has an instantly confusing entry for him – here’s the first paragraph:

In Norse mythology, Loki, Loptr, or Hveðrungr is a god or jötunn (or both). Loki is the son of Fárbauti and Laufey, and the brother of Helblindi andBýleistr. By the jötunn Angrboða, Loki is the father of Hel, the wolf Fenrir, and the world serpent Jörmungandr. By his wife Sigyn, Loki is the father ofNarfi and/or Nari. By the stallion Svaðilfari, Loki is the mother—giving birth in the form of a mare—to the eight-legged horse Sleipnir. In addition, Loki is referred to as the father of Váli in the Prose Edda.

Loki, in a Marvel Comics version

Lots of stuff to think about there, and that’s just the first para!

If you prefer your villains a little less complicated you might try assessing Loki via the Marvel Comics version of him – where he is portrayed as an arch-enemy of Thor, and was even voted the 8th Greatest Comic Book Villain of All Time in an Imagine Games Network poll. And he is a primary baddie in the recent Avengers and Thor: The Dark World films.

Joanne Harris’ new book, The Gospel of Loki

But the older traditions are more interesting than these new comic book-based movies. So what is available, in modern literature, on those traditions? Well, the most interesting-looking offering is not yet published – and we’ll have to wait until after Christmas to read it.

This is a new novel, The Gospel of Loki, by Joanne Harris (best-known perhaps for Chocolat, but also known for her many other excellent books) which is to be published in February 2014.

This tells the story of Loki in the first person, describing him as – “the Light-Bringer, the misunderstood, the elusive, the handsome and modest hero”  – which certainly sounds intriguing!

Here’s an extract where Loki and Thor, travelling together in disguise, reveal their identities…

 Well, a good time was had by all, if you enjoy that kind of thing. We ate, we slept, and in the morning Thor gathered up all the bones from the feast of the previous night and prepared for a breakfast of bread and bone marrow. But on investigating the discarded bones, he saw that a thighbone had already been split, and knew someone had disobeyed.

“What did I tell you not to do?” he said, revealing his true Aspect.

Thialfi opened his eyes very wide. “Wow. Oh, wow. You’re Thor,” he said.

“Yes I know that,” said Thor.

“I knew it!” said Thialfi. “I mean, the Thor. The Thunderer. The thunder god.”

“Yes,” said Thor. “And if you recall -”

“Oh, wow,” said Thialfi. “I love your work. That time you dressed up as a bride -”

“Don’t mention that!” said Roskva.

“Oh. Well, the time you rescued Idun from the Ice People, and -”

“Actually, that was me,” I said.

Roskva’s doe eyes opened wide. “Oh, my gods, you’re Loki,” she said. “You’re absolutely my favourite of all the gods in Asgard. Thialfi, you dope, this is Loki. Loki, the Trickster in person. Thor and Loki, in our house, and we never even suspected !”

“Whatever,” said Thor, still irate. “You disobeyed my specific command. You all deserve to pay with your lives.”

I pointed out that killing his loyal fans would hardly help his public image. By then all the family were bowing, scraping and I-am-not-worthy-ing as if they’d never seen a celebrity before. I was frankly revolted, but it seemed to have an effect on Thor.

“All right, all right. I’ll let it pass.”

Thialfi and Roskva jumped for joy. Roskva brought out a little pink notebook and a stick of charcoal and asked me to write my name inside. Thialfi wanted to feel Thor’s arms, to see if they were as thick as they looked.

“So, how do you get to be a god?” said the father of the family. “Is it something that can be taught? Or is it something you’re born with? Because my son’s always saying that he wants to be a god someday, but I don’t know if there’s a career in it. Not like there is in farming.”

Thor assured him that there was.

“So, did you train?” said Thialfi. “Or were you, like, recruited?”

Thor told him it was a bit of both.

I wonder which recruitment agency that was?

For more of this extract you’ll need to visit Joanne Harris’s blog!

The big question for me is – does the mistletoe incident get a mention? But I’ll have to wait until February to find out (though the book can be pre-ordered now…)