If there’s one guaranteed warning sign that your child might grow up to become a fantasy writer, it’s this: an early obsession with myths and legends.
Of course, it’s not inevitable. There are some children who will immerse themselves in myths and grow up to become perfectly functional members of society. Sadly, though, many will avoid proper work, and instead amuse themselves by inventing worlds, writing about wizards and dragons, and spend hours puzzling over questions like “How would it feel to be a manticore?” or “What does a witch do on her holidays?” Famous cases have included Neil Gaiman and JK Rowling. I, too, am a sufferer.
Joking aside, myths and legends are something special. As a kid, I shuddered at the story of Grendel and ate up the tale of the golden apples. My proto-feminist self hero-worshipped Scheherazade (and also wondered why the hell she didn’t just wait until her murderous husband was asleep and run for it. That way, she’d live, and he’d never know the end of the story, which would serve him right).
I particularly loved the Norse myths, and as I’ve grown up – or at least grown older – that love hasn’t gone away. A lot of people look to Greek myths for scary monsters, but the Minotaur has nothing on Fenrir. Odin is that rare figure, a god-in-charge who also has a first-class brain. The Norse myths have Valkyries and undead warriors and a goddess with a chariot drawn by cats.
And they have Loki.
Out of all of my favourite mythical figures (and there are a lot), Loki is the one I like best. In anticipation of everyone rolling their eyes – this isn’t because of Tom Hiddleston’s eerie good looks (or his fantastic dancing, or his lovely voice, or his adorable personality, or his captivating smile…)
Although, to be fair, those things haven’t exactly hurt. Loki probably planned it that way.
I love Loki because he’s one of my favourite kinds of characters – a complete bastard, but one with style. He has an audacity that’s exceptional even for a god, and you can’t help but wonder if half of his plots and schemes were made according to how funny they would be. When Mjolnir was stolen by the giants, Loki came up with the plan to get it back – a plan that involved disguising Thor as the beautiful goddess Freya, and presenting him to one of the giants as a potential bride. Of course, Loki could have thought of a more sensible plan. But then he wouldn’t have been able to tease Thor about it later.
He always manages to fool me. I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve read books – books that are very obviously about the Norse pantheon, like Runemarks and American Gods – and found myself wondering “But where’s Loki?”: and then suddenly, bam, there he is, a character that’s been there all along, hiding in plain sight. This is clearly because he’s a trickster, practically the poster boy for the archetype, and not because I’m a dozy prong.
Loki is a gift of a character, because he’s so many different things. He’s chaos embodied, good sometimes, bad most of the time, and thoroughly evil when pushed. He’s both mother and father to monsters, including Fenrir, the original big bad wolf. His practical jokes could cause you a lifetime of embarrassment – or kill you stone dead. It took Odin’s omniscience and terrifying powers to keep him even remotely in line, and even that didn’t last forever.
And yet, despite all that, you can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Loki. With the exceptions of Sigyn, his wife, and Odin, who is too busy pulling everybody’s strings, all of the gods hate him. (All right, so he cut off Sif’s hair, and told embarrassing stories about Freya in front of everyone…and killed Baldur…but still, style!) Over the course of the legends, he gets his mouth sewn shut, his face melted off with snake venom, and, at one point, he’s impregnated by a giant’s horse. And that last one’s just so the gods won’t lose a bet. Talk about taking one for the team.
One day, I really want to write a Loki story. Hundreds of authors have written about him before me, but that’s the best thing about using such a chaotic character as Loki – he’s always got a different side to show. I’m slightly wary, though. My own characters are wilful and stubborn enough, and there have been plenty of times when they’ve changed their stories, completely against my expectations. But Loki’s been around for much, much longer, and he’s already a master manipulator. When it comes to his adaptations throughout the ages, I can’t help but feel that he’s playing a long game.
It’d be fun, though, to see how it turns out.