Continuing with the theme of the 5 Stages of Grief which began with ‘Denial’ yesterday, we’ve moved onto ‘Anger’. I wanted to write another myth or folk tale and a retelling of one of the most famous stories about Thor and Loki seemed a good way to achieve this.
I first discovered Norse mythology at the age of eight or nine when I would be sent to choose reading books of my own from a selection of ‘more challenging’ texts. I loved these tales, and so recently, I bought Neil Gaiman’s ‘Norse Myths’ but felt let down by his ‘bare bones’ approach and prosaic language. (Sorry, Neil.) I know the stories are taken from a combination of prose texts and poetic ones, but I was looking for something more lyrical. Roger LancelynGreen’s version was closer to what I was looking for – but then he was an Oxford academic who had been part of the Inklings along with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
In my version, I’ve attempted a poetic style but I’ve also tried to bring out the humour of the story. I found myself actually feeling quite sorry for Þrymr when I wrote this as I’ve made him someone who genuinely believes he’s found the perfect woman, only to be disillusioned when he discovers her true identity.
How Thor retrieved his hammer
In the morning of time, when the gods still lived in Asgard, Thor awoke one morning to find that his hammer, Mjölnir, was missing. His anger shook the walls of the chamber about him, and he pulled his beard so hard that tufts came away in his hands and shook his head so furiously that a mighty wind whistled through Asgard’s halls and great was Thor’s wrath as he set off to look for his weapon.
And he found Loki the mischief-maker and, seizing him by the throat, he shook the fire-god so vigorously that his teeth rattled in his head. Then Thor demanded in a voice like the rushing of waterfalls, “Where hast thou hidden it, thou trickster?” For he knew that wherever there was roguery afoot, Loki would be at the heart of it.
But Loki stared sullenly at Thor and answered that he knew not of what the thunder god spake, and though Thor’s anger threatened to erupt once more like a trembling mountain when the earth about it shakes and fire spews from its mouth, he dampened it down and bethought himself of how to find his hammer.
And when Loki realised that it was Mjölnir Thor sought, he agreed to aid Odin’s son in his quest, “For,” he said to himself, “is not Odin my blood-brother? And while I am of the Jötnar and not the Æsir, I dwell in Asgard and Thor has been my companion through many an adventure.”
Then went Thor and Loki to the goddess Freyja and begged of her the feathered cloak she wore when she transformed into a falcon. And Loki took the cloak and wrapped it about his shoulders, and his shape shifted to that of a keen-eyed, swift-winged peregrine and he set off to scour the earth and discover the whereabouts of Mjölnir.
And Loki the jötunn flew to Jötunheimr to the land of his people, and there he found Þrymr the King of the Jötnar sitting on a burial mound and picking his teeth with the legbone of an ox.
And Þrymr recognised Loki despite his falcon-form and greeted him, saying, “I know why you are here, Loki, son of Fárbauti, betrayer of your people, and you shall not have Thor’s hammer for it is hidden deep in the ground and no one knows where it is save I.”
And Loki tried to bargain with his kinsman for he knew full well that Mjölnir was Asgard’s only defence against the Jötnar, but Þrymr was deaf to his pleas, saying, “What care I for the Æsir? They have been our sworn enemies since time began.”
Three days and three nights did they argue back and forth until eventually Þrymr agreed to return Thor’s hammer if the Æsir would give him something in return. “I would take Freyja the goddess of love and beauty to be my bride,” he said, for he was crafty and thought the Æsir would be loath to attack a people wedded to one of their own.
So Loki returned to Asgard and told Thor of Þrymr’s request, and they went to Freyja and told her to put on a bridal headdress and accompany them to Jötunheim where her husband awaited. But Freyja’s eyes gleamed with rage and her anger shook the halls of Asgard as she declared that she would not be traded like a horse and that she would die rather than marry one of the Jötnar.
An assembly was called and the gods met together to discuss Freyja’s incalcitrance and how they would persuade her to marry Þrymr, but Freyja would not yield to their threats nor to their honeyed words and she was adamant that she would not wed the King of the Jötnar.
Then spake Heimdallr, the guardian of the Bifröst, saying, “Then Thor must put on the bridal headdress and go to Jötunheim with his face veiled and Brisingamen about his neck, and Loki will accompany him as a bridesmaid and they shall retrieve Mjölnir.”
And Thor would have refused, but Loki spoke eloquently, reminding them all that if the hammer were not restored to Asgard, there would be no defence against the Jötnar and they would make the Hall of the Gods their home.
So Thor was dressed in a gown and his hair braided and a thick veil was placed over his face that the groom might not guess his identity; and he was most displeased to be garbed thus and he shouted and swore so that his anger shook the halls of Asgard, and then he sulked for he liked not this plan and thought that Loki would have made a better bride than he.
“Not so,” said Loki, grinning at Thor’s discomfort, “for I am slender of build and the Jötnar like women with meat on their bones.”
They set off for Jötunheim, riding in Thor’s chariot drawn by two goats. Freyja’s necklace Brisingamen glittered at Thor’s throat and Loki could not resist telling him how beautiful he looked – which made Thor seethe even more. And his eyes burned like coals in his anger and mountains burst into flame along their way.
Eventually, they came to the river Ífingr which divides the land of the Æsir from the land of the Jötnar, and Þrymr’s servants saw them and galloped to tell their master that his bride was on her way.
Þrymr had prepared a feast to welcome Freyja to his home and his banqueting hall was lit with torches and their flames cast strange shadows on the faces of the bride and bridesmaid. But he was pleased to see that Freyja was tall and well built and that her arm muscles rippled beneath the folds of her gown. And he thought how fine the rest of her figure must be and that she would have child-bearing hips and a magnificent bosom, but when he reached towards her to lift her bridal veil, she slapped him so hard that his ears rang and his head filled with stars.
“You must forgive Freyja,” Loki said smoothly. “We have been travelling for eight days and eight nights and she is overtired from the journey.”
And Þrymr was so enraptured with his bride’s strength that he made no rebuke but led her to the banqueting table and set before her a golden platter that she might help herself to delicacies.
But Thor ignored the dainty morsels of pigeon and quail and reached for a roasted ox. And grabbing it by the haunches, he proceeded to tear off great slabs of meat with his teeth and the juice dripped down his face and onto his gown, but he cared not for he was ravenous.
Þrymr sat and watched his wife with pride, for he had a hearty appetite himself but Freyja devoured three oxen in as many minutes, and when she had finished, she belched loudly and then looked around for more.
“She has not eaten nor drunk these past eight days and nights,” Loki whispered, “excited as she was to see her husband. Now she builds up her strength for the wedding night.”
And Þrymr tingled at the thought of his bride and the babies they would make together.
Then Thor called for mead, and instead of taking the goblet offered him, he seized the barrel in both hands and tipped it over his head so that the sweet, honey-flavoured liquid ran over his face and some of it into his mouth. And when he had emptied the barrel, he called for another and then a third, and Þrymr’s respect for Freyja increased even more.
And burning with desire for his bride, Þrymr leaned towards her once more to lift her bridal veil and her eyes burned like coals and he withdrew hastily.
“See how you have ignited the flames of her passion,” Loki murmured. “You and she will sport prettily tonight.”
Unable to wait a moment longer, Þrymr called for the goddess Vár to come forth and sanctify the marriage, and twelve of the Jötnar staggered in, bearing Thor’s hammer between them, and laid it in the bride’s lap as a sign of consecration.
And Thor’s eyes gleamed and his heart sang when he felt the weight of Mjölnir on his knees, and he grasped the shaft and stood up and whirled the hammer about his head. And Þrymr watched in horror as his bride’s veil fell from her face and he beheld the thunder-god.
Anger and delight danced in Thor’s mind. Turning to Þrymr, he slew the King of the Jötnar and the force of the blow was so strong that Mjölnir passed right through him and clove another giant in two. And as the bewildered guests shrieked and started to run, Thor set about him with the hammer, crushing skulls and maiming limbs until the entire company was no more.
Then Loki crawled out from beneath the table, and when he saw that the rest of the Jötnar were all dead or departed, he sat down once more and he and Thor feasted and drank with Mjölnir still clasped in Thor’s fist.
And that is how Thor got his hammer back.