As with the Greeks, it was Roger Lancelyn Green who introduced me to the world of the Aesir, Vannir and Ice-Giants through The Saga of Asgard. But it is now Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Penguin Book of Norse Myths which I consult for the details I have forgotten [or never knew, and feel I shouldn’t invent]. As with the Greeks, Lancelyn Green creates the illusion of a structured story out of the fragments, each one contributing to the inevitable arrival of Ragnarok, the Last Battle, and I value that, and keep it in mind when I tell.
Which is probably why I want to put Loki at the centre of everything. Think about it. When the Gods built Asgard, they wanted walls round it, but they’d never have agreed to hire that wandering labourer [who turned out to be a Giant] because he demanded Freya as his price – it was Loki who persuaded them, and when it all seemed to be going pear-shaped, it was Loki the Shape-Shifter who turned up as a mare and seduced the giant’s helpful stallion, without which he was unable to finish the job in the specified time. Talk about “taking one for the team”! The result of Loki’s involvement with the giant’s horse was Odin’s faithful eight-legged steed, Sleipnir.
And what about Loki’s three children by the Giantess Anghur-Boda? Hel, the goddess of – yes, you’ve guessed it – one side of her young and beautiful, the other dead and rotten; Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, who fled into the sea and now surrounds the world, biting his own tail [when people who should know better aren’t trying to fish him up]; and Fenriswolf, who will eat the Sun on the Last Day, but in the meantime has to be bound with a Magic Chain – an enterprise which cost Tyr his right hand.
It is Loki who goes with Thor to Utgard, for the contests against the Giants; it is Loki who betrays Iduna of the Apples of Youth to the Giant Thiassi – and then rescues her; when Thor has to regain his Hammer by pretending to be a bride, it is Loki who helps him [having put him in that position in the first place]; Loki cut off the golden hair of Sif, Thor’s wife, and had to have a golden headpiece made by the Dwarves in Svartalfheim – where he also tried to disrupt the forging of Mjollnir, Thor’s hammer;but, having failed to win his bet with Brokk, Loki’s head is forfeit! However, none of his neck – so, having escaped beheading, he has to submit to having his lips sewn shut.
Would that he had remained so! Then he could not have engineered Baldur’s death, or shape-shifted as an old woman to be the only living creature that did not want Baldur to return from the realm of Hel. Then he could not have told all the scandal about the Gods and Goddesses at the Feast in Aegir’s Hall. Then they would not have hunted him and caught him in the shape of a salmon and bound him in his own shape with ropes made from one of his son’s entrails, a serpent above him whose venom drips into his eyes until the Last Day – Sigyn, his wife, catches it in a bowl, but when she has to empty the bowl, the venom drips into Loki’s eyes and he threshes with such pain that the earth shakes.
This re-telling by Padraic Colum has some excellent illustrations: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/ice/coo/
And here are six more http://www.germanicmythology.com/works/EBOYDSMITHART.html [one of which is above]
Incidentally, the depiction of Loki to the left is on the Gosforth Cross in Northumberland.