Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Hero, Thor

I like Thor. He was a very popular god with the masses and why not. He was the protector of mankind. The humble dead went to his halls. His popularity was the biggest obstacle to converting the Norse to Christianity.
We were reading the story in the Grimnismal where Thor went on a trip with Loki. Loki behaved himself for once. They stopped at a peasant's home where Thor slaughtered the goats that draw his chariot and allowed them to be cooked for dinner, since the peasant did not have enough to feed his guests. The only proviso was that the bones were to be left intact but the peasant's son, Thjalfi, broke one of the bones for the marrow. So, in the morning, when Thor hallowed the bones with his hammer and brought the goats back to life, one of them was lame. Thor was angry but the peasant was so frightened that he took pity. Rather than kill the entire household, he took Thjalfi and his sister as servants with him.
Then, when they were looking for a place to sleep that night, they found an empty hall and slept in a small side chamber. The next morning, they realized that they had been sleeping in a giant's glove and a rather large one at that. Thor's normal reaction upon seeing a giant is to take up his hammer, Mjollnr, and give him/her a smack with it. When Skrymir stood up; Thor was too astonished to give him a whack. Snorri makes fun of Thor and makes him look like a meat-head. He said Thor failed to hit him and then what follows is some comical attempts by Thor to open the food bag, which he cannot untie, followed by Thor losing his temper and giving the sleeping Skrymir a thwack over the head. Skrymir wakes up and asks him if a leaf has fallen on his head. Thor waited for him to fall asleep again and struck him again, with the hammer going deep into his skull. This time Skrymir woke and asked if an acorn had fallen on his head. Thor tried one more time just before dawn and still Skrymir woke up and asked if some birds had dumped some litter on him.
Is Snorri making fun of Thor? Maybe. Snorri was a Christian. I think Skrymir's size makes it understandable that Thor was taken aback at first. At least Thor was capable of thinking and not just mindlessly going in to attack mode. I think his difficulties make him endearing. When Thor and his companions went to sleep in the glove, Thor stood at the entrance to keep watch. The Old Norse said that Thor took thought to protect himself. The pronoun 'sik' is in the accusative form, object of the infinitive, and is the most damning part of the story. However, Thor did stand in the doorway and keep watch all night. Anyone who wanted to get at Thjalfi, Roskva and Loki would have to get past him first. Clearly he was not just taking thought for his own protection alone. Later in the tale, Thor's strength and determination impress and frighten even Skrymir.


Tracy said...

Thor was angry but the peasant was so frightened that he took pity. Rather than kill the entire household, he took Thjalfi and his sister as servants with him.
I guess that's pretty compassionate, for a Viking God - but what had the sister done to deserve such treatment?

The Red Witch said...

It was the father who, since he is responsible for the behavior of his household, is being punished by losing his children. But..... if you could choose between being married off to who knows who and dying of old age or travelling around the world as Thor's companion, what would you prefer to do? Thor treats Thjalfi well. Roskva kinda vanishes from the stories. Maybe she gets sent back to her father with a bun in the oven. :-)

Anachronist said...

I bet Roskva just died or was sent back but without the said bun - a child of a god was too dangerous to be left alone. Girls were often treated like animals at those times - sold or given away. I think the farmer just wanted to get rid of her.

I still prefer Loki. Hey, he could behave if he really wanted to!

Tracy said...

You need to read Neil Gaiman's American Gods!

The Red Witch said...

Loki rarely ever wanted to behave. :-)

The reviews on American Gods are mixed. I don't think I like his premise of different incarnations of the gods created by the believers. There can only be one Odin in spite of all the different names.

Tracy said...

There is only one Odin in American Gods - but it's a battle between the original Gods, of all religions, and the new Gods - of the Internet, of TV, of cancer and all of those other strong beliefs, for power.

It's not the easiest book to like, but it's pretty unforgettable.

Anachronist said...

If I find American Gods I will read it for sure.

Loki was a kind of anti-God with his pranks and praktical jokes but I like the idea of a god with a sense of humour even if it is sometimes lavatory humour.

The Red Witch said...

@There is only one Odin in American Gods

I got the impression there was an Icelandic Odin who was closer to the original and Mr. Wednesday who is an American incarnation.

@ I like the idea of a god with a sense of humour even if it is sometimes lavatory humour.

Then you should like Thor.