Thanks to Marvel, we’ve got a great sense of what a psychotic Loki would look like. In brief, like the Christian devil-prime, Satan, but in armor. In the comics he reeks of demented evil with a wackjob sense of humor, not unlike DC’s The Joker. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s still a serious Satan overtone, but it’s hard to be entirely afraid of the actor playing him; the beautiful and talented Tom Hiddleston. At best the sympathetic fan adds up all the moments when there is fear and remorse in his eyes and multiplies that by the rationalization that the plan he concocted was designed to fail and end up with the end product: a slightly broken character who one wishes could have taken any of the several opportunities for healing and reconciliation. At least the sympathetic fan looks at him and thinks, gosh, I wish his psychotic break had taken a less dramatic turn. And there is plenty of fanfiction out there exploring just such possibilities.
So the psychotic Loki is on a scale, really. On one end you have the depths of a psychotic personality disorder, (or possibly antisocial, which would also make sense). On that end of the scale Loki is violent, cruel, and takes profound pleasure and amusement in other people’s misfortunes. He’s also incredibly powerful. That end of the scale is supervillain territory. On the other end of this scale there is a mischief maker who has a psychotic break when he discovers his life has been a lie. This end of the scale has moments of violence and unintentional cruelty, but Loki’s more of a character on the edge. His chief identifying trait, after the psychotic break, is being on that edge and every time making a bad decision. It seems that the more he struggles, the deeper he is caught in the web of his own bad decisions. This is anti-hero territory, depending on who is telling the story, and whether or not the cut part of the web away. And of course for either end of the scale, the fact that psychotic Loki has the power to bring on Ragnarok (the end of the world) is not just bad, it’s an apocalyptically bad thing.
Now, the mythic Loki described in the Poetic Edda and later in the Prose Edda (both of which I’m slowly making my way through, plus The Masks of Odin, which is a very thoughtful and useful theosophic interpretation of the Eddas), paints a significantly different picture, and you can quickly see where Marvel took artistic license. He looks a lot less like Satan, for one. (No massive goat horns on his helmet. Sorry. Also, not remotely evil.) He’s still a sorcerer, shapeshifter, and Frost Giant. Yes. But… He’s Odin’s brother-by-choice, not Thor’s by adoption. He’s the one who doesn’t follow the rules and norms of society, and so brings to light things that need to be. We might compare him, these days, to a whistle-blower, in that way. He’s a mischief-maker, and he gets people in trouble… but his mischief also gets those same people out of it, too. In this we might compare him to the adventurous Indiana Jones, who arguably causes as much trouble as he resolves, but manages to have a lot of fun along the way. That this mythic Loki will bring on Ragnarok is taken more philosophically: The world cycles anyway. This isn’t the first one, it won’t be the last one, and it’s got to end sometime. No worries, we’ll all be reborn, and maybe a bit better the next time around. Someone’s got to kick off Ragnarok this time around, and, well, yes, of course it would be Loki.
To this I add my own incarnation, because yes, I am 200,000 words deep into writing yet a different characterization of Loki. He started as a fanfic of the MCU Loki, the one with a psychotic break, and he started as a musing, a challenge: Loki joins the Avengers before Thor. After which I had to ask myself: What would it take, in terms of difference in characterization, for Loki to get there first? …What would a non-psychotic Loki look like? The 100,000 word answer is called Loki of Midgard and I’m in the midst of heavily editing it so that it might possibly be published. (Wanna join my mailing list to find out when?) The much, much shorter answer is as follows:
If we can imagine a version of Loki that is close to enlightenment, but not quite there yet, we can imagine the Master of Chaos, Lies, and Mischief who encounters the same stimuli that broke the sanity of lesser versions of Loki, and yet this one would bend, not break. He would be angry. He would have a reaction. But both his anger and his reaction would be tempered by the voice of reason which would only very temporarily be in abeyance. It’s true, that he would not necessarily need to be so very close to enlightenment to have such a reaction, but it could be interesting in other respects, which is why my response to the challenge isn’t half done at 200,000 words, instead of finishing in a neat and tidy 30,000.
Looking closer, let’s examine this whole Chaos-Lies-Mischief thing, yes? I’ll put off looking at Ragnarok, because that would be a big honking spoiler to the last 100,000 that haven’t been written yet. (Even naming it thusly is a spoiler, but come on people. If you didn’t see that coming, you should have.)
Lies: At home with lies, lying, and liars, (which, come on, is kind of all of us at one point or another) Loki has the capacity to look through the lies we tell ourselves, perhaps the most difficult to notice and pervasive form of lying on earth. I throw a little magic in there for fun and plot, but really, Loki Liesmith doesn’t care about what you say, he cares about what you think is true in your head.
Chaos: He’s not a planner. On the Myers-Briggs, Loki is NOT A J. He’s all the way over on the intuitive side, which means when he’s around nothing goes according to plan, but it always goes better than you imagined. It also means that in D&D terms, Loki will do the right thing for the right reason, but not necessarily because it’s a rule. He fully embraces the truth spoken by Hafiz, “Right and wrong are but training wheels we won’t need when we can live in veracity and love.” Again, I’m free and loose with the magic and weirdness, because hey, it’s science fiction/fantasy, but Loki of the Chaotic Morals doesn’t really care about your rules, and he thinks it’s both funny and sad that you still need them to be a good person.
Mischief: He’s usually the first to get the joke. Seen in the right light, this life is terribly humorous, and it helps if you categorically refuse to take much seriously. For instance, my Loki ends up bringing down HYDRA, one of the big, crazy, Marvel bad guys in organizational form, in one fell swoop by giving all HYDRA-SHIELD double agents the stomach flu. It took him five hours with the Director of SHIELD and all the magic he had for four days, but he did manage to make HYDRA collectively vomit. And he chose this instead of a mundane way because… well, come on. It’s funny. Super easy to spot which agents to arrest: the ones who are green and vomiting. Also, hard to execute a mass-murder plot when you’re busy vomiting. Even the most hardened mercenary needs to pause at that point.
So there we have it. There’s the deeply psychotic Loki (which I have to say, if I were Asatru, might seriously offend me), the psychotic break Loki, the mythic Loki, and this nearly-enlightened Loki. And if you want to be in the know about when the book comes out, sign up on my writing mailing list! But back to the character study of Loki. Thoughts?