Joanne Harris is a name that has become synonymous with warmth; her delicate evocation of emotions and sensory writing has won her respect, accolades and an internationally hungry audience awaiting her every move. Therefore her latest journey into Norse mythology is in many ways expected, yet, much like most of Harris’ back catalogue of work, a welcome surprise.
Harris; a teacher from Barnsley of French descent - rose to huge fame due to Chocolat in 1999, a book which later became a film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. Her French trilogy evokes folkloric undertones and is shrouded in magical mythology –something which Harris has explored in all of her bestselling titles ever since. Therefore her new book The Gospel of Loki - a book based around the Norse Gods - Harris sees that “It’s not really a change in direction at all… my work to date has been focused on folklore, the mysteries that surround humanity and the ghostly horror that prevails”. In fact, Harris seems reluctant to genre her work at all – not in a conceited, authorial way – but in a way that seems to truly reflect her style “I suppose it is mythological based fantasy told in a very humane, light- hearted way” - difficult to pin point, despite Harris articulating it perfectly.
Born in her grandmother’s sweet shop to a French mother in Yorkshire, Harris’ existence in itself is shrouded in magic, “I was brought up with folklore and fairy-tales – we were a family of story tellers and academics. So I picked these things up as a child. Strongly influenced. I got the original versions too; the dark, bleak, horror laden versions which any young child would be intoxicated by – of course I loved them.”
It was via this taste for folklore and the underworld that Joanne then became infatuated by Norse Mythology, something explored in her latest title The Gospel Of Loki. Loki, is the Norse god of mischief; often associated with the underworld and malevolence yet Harris recognizes that what hasn’t been portrayed before is his motivations. “He seems to do random things just because he can. They get people into trouble – he doesn’t have an explanation. He has an ‘ It’s not my fault’ rationale.”
Yet the appeal of Loki, the outsider, is one that is prevalent in Harris’ entire backcatalogue of work “not quite belonging and being a foreigner myself has in many ways drawn me to the outsider. The focus of a stranger in the small community can become something very symbolic as is is often the catalyst for a cause for change. It really is the standard fairy-tale beginning and that outsider will then polarize reaction.”
Yet, how has Harris, someone who’s writing is so sensory, brought such ancient worlds to life? “Easy, I don’t see them as ancient times, people don’t change, they are vibrant, modern, the same as now. What you have when you strip away the mythology is people under seige, falling in falling out, making terrible mistakes – the god like thing is irrelevant”.
The world in which Harris resides is one full of love, warmth and a host of complexities and conflict, her own experiences and life have lead the way, but not ostracised her from her own romances. The Gospel According to Loki seems no different – she is humanising and exploring the deity, yet in a way we can relate and explore. If Harris was in fact a Goddess herself, I have a feeling she would be Sága.
Joanne Harris will be at Mansion House as part of this year’s Viking Festival on Sunday 16 February from 2pm. She will then be heading over to Waterstones for a booksigning at 3.45pm.