The Key to Understanding Loki the Adopted Child

Louisa Leontiades Beastly & Beautiful, Film & TV, Film/TV-Superhero

In Norse mythology Loki is not adopted… but in the Marvel films (Thor 1, Avengers & Thor 2) one of the key plot points is Loki’s parentage and the consequences of his adoption. Abandoned by Odin’s enemies to die, the baby Loki is taken back to Asgard with the intent of possibly facilitating a future alliance between the two nations. Yet there are few movie reviewers which cover this aspect in depth. It’s either forgotten, mis-described as ‘step-parenting’ or passed off as one factor amid a myriad of reasons as to why he seeks power and vengeance. But his adoption can be viewed as a defining driver for his actions and a key to understanding Loki’s character.

It’s like every sentence ends with …’because I’m adopted.’ said my university friend derisively. ‘You attribute all your problems to adoption, and it’s really not that big a deal. In fact think of what might have happened. You could have been aborted. But you weren’t. You weren’t even abandoned or fostered. You’re one of the lucky ones.’

In most of the western world adoption has been written off not only as inconsequential for the baby, but also lucky. That losing my mother, my heritage, my sense of self, any genetic mirrors and my birthright… was lucky. As if what I should have expected, the natural consequence of my being born, was not to be cared for. And that being adopted and cared for was something for which I should therefore be grateful.

There is no adoption that is lucky. It is always borne out of tragedy… even if some have happier endings than others. But like every problem it has its gifts. I’ve been blessed with the challenges that other people might neglect to the detriment of their character. A primal wound. Fear of rejection. Fear of abandonment. Fear of failure. It also means that I am highly attuned to these attributes in others. But I didn’t expect much of that to figure in a Marvel action movie… until I found Loki.

Odin: Your birthright was to die as a child! Cast out on a frozen rock. If I had not taken you in, you would not be here now to hate me.

The opinion of the world and my friend, is Odin’s. He who saved a child, was the hero. And Loki is the liar, the trickster, and the ungrateful wretch who threw it in his face. But let’s look at that more closely.

  • Loki the Liar

Lying occurs for one reason only. As a survival mechanism. Liars like Loki have been practising for a long time…since they could speak in fact. Why would such a young child lie? Because a pre-verbal and largely subconscious wound created by the separation of the child from the mother exists and manifests itself as a fear of (second) rejection.

A child cannot articulate something he does not know, as he has already suffered trauma and loss it does not know anything different. But the child instinctively knows for its own survival that it must lie in order to meet the new parents’ expectations (especially if they are King and Queen).

So Loki lies out of a desire for admiration and popularity, in competition with the biological son… and it slowly turns into a desperation for power and control in order to feed the craving that has been created by years of compulsive lying to satisfy the holes in his damaged self-esteem. Not to mention that he has as an example to follow… a perfect liar. Someone who has also been lying, albeit by omission, for years.

Loki: You could have told me what I was from the beginning! Why didn’t you?
Odin: You’re my son… I wanted only to protect you from the truth…

  • Loki the People Pleaser

Somewhere between Thor 1, Avengers and Thor 2, the Loki female fan obsession took off. My own personal theory is the hair. I love men with long hair and Loki wears it well. But there’s also a deeper reason. During Thor 1, Loki is still masquerading as a people pleaser (no one likes a people pleaser, Loki, especially not your father).¬† Initially unaware of his adoption and living a lie he spends his time trying to please his father and usurp Thor as the favored brother. Indeed, the entire (twisted) plot of the first movie is driven by this desire.

Loki: To prove to Father that I am a worthy son! When he wakes, I will have saved his life, I will have destroyed that race of monsters, and I will be true heir to the throne!

But his ambition as The Other rightly says, is ‘little. Born of childish need’ …Loki’s need for love and acceptance.

There are two types of adopted child. One – the people pleaser – who tries to achieve and lie his way into his parents’ good books. And the other – the rebel – who tries to precipitate rejection as the inevitable outcome by doing anything and everything he can to force his parents’ hand. A characteristic of many is that¬† they start off as people pleasers… before realizing that this strategy will never succeed. The worm turns…

And so in the second movie, Loki has burned his bridges. He’s angry, a victim and raging at the world in need of the power that he thinks will assuage his pain. But in the third. Well. Loki has found his sense of self, he’s no longer playing the victim. Sure he’s conniving, still an expert and untrustworthy liar… but he’s assumed it. He owns it. He wears it like a badge. He also has a purpose higher than his own petty power obsessions (women love a man with a mission). The vengeance for the murder of his adoptive mother, the only person to ever truly love him, for him.

Be honest. It's the hair.

Be honest. It’s the hair isn’t it.

  • Loki the Shapeshifter

Even though shapeshifting is part of the original Loki myth, this chameleon aspect of his character in the Marvel movies also makes perfect sense within the framework of adoption.

My suspicious new boss was a stereotypical French man. For our first lunch together I ordered steak, cooked ‘blue’, with green beans and herb butter complimented by a red burgundy. As I ordered my meal, he looked at me in surprise and said

‘I’ll have the same.’

We talked of how misunderstood the french were and how subtle their humor was. And then in perfect tandem, we ordered tarte tatin for dessert with coffee, even though I usually drank tea.

You might think it’s being a people pleaser, but it’s subtly different in its motivations. It’s called mirroring. Mirroring is a formative necessity which occurs initially between a mother and child as a part of pre-verbal communication. It’s the identification of familiar genetic markers. It is the basis of self-esteem and what facilitates a sense of self. Take away the mirror or replace it with an adoptive one, and the child is lost without any sense of self, forever destined to seek the missing mirror in everyone he meets.

So Loki has an ability to assume the form of anyone and everyone, he’s a chameleon just like any adoptee. A man without self. Without that first mirror the only way for Loki to find his sense of self is to try on different roles for size and ascertain who he really is by his interaction in these roles with the world. By pushing his own boundaries… not to define them, but simply to find them.

Loki’s jealousy of his brother, his compulsion to lie, his need for power to feed his ego …they all lead to his downfall. But his constant search for his sense of self is what eventually gives him his true power. Because where boundaries haven’t ever been established they effectively do not exist. And that means anything, even assuming the throne to the universe, might be possible.