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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 April 2019

The Norse star: British author Joanne Harris on her reimagining of Scandinavian mythology

The British author, best known for her award-winning 1999 novel Chocolat, is now making headlines with her new book The Gospel of Loki.
The British author Joanne Harris. Courtesy Emirates Airline Literary Festival / Kyte Photography
The British author Joanne Harris. Courtesy Emirates Airline Literary Festival / Kyte Photography

Afshan Ahmed

There was something about Loki, the trickster among the gods of Asgard, that intrigued Joanne Harris when she started reading Norse mythology as a child.

Harris, best known for her award-winning 1999 novel Chocolat, published her new book The Gospel of Loki last month and will be at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature this weekend.

“Looking at the original source material, it seemed clear to me that Loki is the character that binds all the stories together,” says the 49-year-old British author.

While Marvel comics made Norse folklore part of popular culture by putting Thor on a superhero pedestal, Harris always felt drawn to Loki who, although not a god, was the instigator of drama.

“He is the catalyst for action in many ways. We have this community of gods under pressure living in their citadel and he brings the chaotic element. He is the catalyst – and yet his actions are never explained.” She says the shape-shifter’s story had to be told. “Loki is a complex, flawed character and he can also be very funny. I wanted to bring out some of the freshness of the original myths, yet approach it with a modern spin.”

Her fascination with Norse mythology began at the age of 7, when she checked out Thunder of the Gods by Dorothy G Hosford from the adult section of her local library. She went on to learn the language of the Vikings, to understand more complex material in the area.

“I come from two very different cultures,” says Harris, who has written more than a dozen novels since 1989 and was made an MBE – a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – last year. “I have the Yorkshire side and the French side, and both have a strong tradition of folklore, which I inherited.”

Harris kept going back to Myths of the Norsemen by the historian H A Guerber, first published in 1908. “I found my audience, particularly young readers, weren’t familiar with the actual myths. I started getting requests for more of the originals. So I thought of working on a retelling from an angle that hadn’t been used before.”

Harris says Thor’s brawn is the reason Marvel’s reinterpretations have been well received. But she does not agree with the way the comics have distorted the mythology. “Marvel’s Thor is entertaining but does not go close to the original myths. It also contains a lot of things that have nothing to do with Norse myths.”

• Joanne Harris will be speaking at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Visit www.emirateslitfest.com for more information

aahmed@thenational.ae

Updated: March 4, 2014 04:00 AM

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