The Original Norse God Thor Was an Insecure Manchild
How does Chris Hemsowrth's portrayal stack up to the Thor of Norse mythology?
Marvel’s Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok is loosely based on three Thor comics: The Unworthy Thor and the Ragnarok story arc, both of which derive from Norse mythology, and Planet Hulk, which, to our detriment, does not. But aside from the fact that the original texts do not have a Hulk, how does Norse mythology stack up to the plot of Ragnarok?
Karl E. H. Seigfried, creator of the Norse Mythology Blog, says the plotlines in the movie franchise are almost completely divorced from those in the myths.
“I wouldn’t say Thor’s destructive adventures are shirking his responsibilities because he’s defined by his role of protecting the worlds of gods and humans from the giants, who would overrun us all if given a chance,” Seigfried tells Inverse over email. “That’s why the business in the first movie about Thor sneaking off to Jötunheim to smite giants against the wishes of Odin makes no sense. In the myths, that’s what he does for a living.”
Here’s what you need to know about Thor’s ego, what’s going on with people taking his hammer, and what we can learn about where the MCU is going from Norse mythology.
Is there a period in mythology where Thor shirks the responsibility of his rightful throne and just wanders anonymously, feeling sorry for himself?
Nah. According to Seigfried, the surviving Icelandic texts have Odin ruling Asgaard right up until Ragnarok — Norse doomsday — at which point everyone just dies, Thor included. Thor does do some wandering, but it’s neither prodigal son-like nor especially introspective. His activities consist of eating, drinking, fighting, scheming, and smiting, which might qualify as someone’s definition of self-destructive but is pretty much just Thor doing Thor.
“There is never any idea that Thor is a young prince who will someday inherit the throne of Odin,” explains Seigfried. “That courtly sort of plot was imported into the mythology by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who created the pop culture version of Thor for Marvel Comics in the 1960s.”
Most of the characteristics people associate with Thor’s mythology actually come from the comics and not mythology. Loki is not Thor’s adopted brother, for example. The hammer is not so heavy Thor alone can lift it. He doesn’t really ever need to prove he’s worthy; he has lots of privilege, and people make allowances for him. It is, however, his responsibility to protect the realm from bad guys — giants — so if we are feeling generous we can probably interpret him fighting the Incredible Hulk, or his “Friend From Work,” as a nod to that original motif.
Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster makes Thor fight Hulk gladiator-style in Ragnarok. Discuss.
In a way, Thor’s been preparing for this fight his whole life. In another way, though, we wonder why the fuck should the frost giants of his youth be in any way comparable to the Incredible Hulk, beyond the fact that they are both large? For his part, Siegfried puts his money on Myth Thor versus Myth Hulk but says Comics Thor versus Comics Hulk is anyone’s guess. He’d have preferred a true Hulk film to tie off that trilogy, but is resigned to the fact that that didn’t fit in with “Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Whatever-This-Is.”
But the hammer still gives him powers, right?
A 13th Century Icelandic poem called the Edda holds that Thor can use the hammer to strike as powerful a blow as he chooses and never miss, that it would never break, and that it would loyally zoom its way back should they ever be parted from each other. Seigfried says it’s also conveniently shrinkable, so Thor could keep it in his pocket, which was possibly an homage to the smaller pendants of his pagan ancestors.
Does Thor fall in love with a human woman in the myths?
Does anyone ever actually steal his hammer?
People steal the shit out of his hammer; Seigfried confirms that it happens on multiple occasions. After concluding the interview to conduct some more research of our own, many of us here at Inverse find the best of the hammer-stealing genre to be the ballad Thrymskvitha. In this tale, Thor awakens one day to find that the hammer is gone. He is mad about this. He complains to Loki, who does 100-percent of the legwork to learn that Thor’s hammer is being held hostage by a frost giant who wants to exchange it for marriage to Freyja, a literal Sex Goddess with whom he is obsessed, probably because she is a Sex Goddess.
Unfortunately, when the men inform Freyja of her impending ransom/marriage, she has some weird kind of problem with it and says a lot of things about not being that kind of girl. Eventually, everyone arrives at the only logical conclusion, which is that Thor must put on a wedding veil and pretend to be Freyja in order to get his hammer back. It is here that we learn Thor is a colossal fuckboy, a pinnacle of fragile masculinity who opened the story by waking up and yet remains not woke, like, even a little.
“Me would the gods | unmanly call / If I let bind / the bridal veil.”
To be clear, Thor is tasked with saving the kingdom from the giants, who could overrun them all with the power of his hammer, but he would prefer to sulk and let it all go to shit rather than put on a dress.
Of course, we’re never really meant to think he’ll do this; Thor is still the hero, and — 21st Century progressive lens aside — if he were actually that selfish we wouldn’t be able to believe in him. But the point of the whole scene is still pretty clearly to absolve him of any cuck-ish characteristics for the benefit of the reader. He doesn’t want to wear a wedding veil. But he has to, for his people, and so will bravely endure this ordeal — for his people.
Thor’s fake bridegroom, believing himself to be Freyja’s real bridegroom, keeps noticing suspicious things like his betrothed’s tremendous appetite or pupils made of fire. He tries to kiss Thor and fails, while Loki spins off clever excuses for Thor’s unladylike behavior and Thor himself phones it in entirely. Finally, the hammer is brought out and unwittingly placed in Thor’s hands as a gift, at which point Thor does a lot of murdering. Ostensibly this is all for Kingdom-protecting purposes, but we’re also pretty clearly supposed to infer that the pent-up anger he unleashes has a lot less to do with securing borders than it does his being forced to submit to the indignity of dressing as a woman. Thor is an asshole.
What’s Thor’s relationship with Loki?
The Norse word for Thor’s fear of emasculation here is argr — the connotations being unmanliness, unseemly sexual perversion, and cowardice. While Thor flies around being muscular, Loki is changing genders, changing species, or on occasion really going for it and getting pregnant by a stallion. Loki also spent the bulk of the Thrymskvitha dressed as Thor’s bridesmaid, and not once did he feel the need to prove his virility by eating eight salmon.
Even back then, though, there was the construct of the Alpha male and the one of the Beta, and the fact that Loki is branded as a “trickster” whose “deceitfulness” is at the root of everyone’s misadventures is sure indicative that he had homophobes feelin’ some kinda way.
In Norse mythology, a prevailing plot structure has each god at some point forced to let go of their most prized possession in order to gain greater control of it. Odin gives up an eye and acquires his “second sight.” Tyr lets a wolf bite off his hand and becomes a great warrior. Thor puts on a dress and journeys out to retrieve his mighty dick-hammer, apparently so that he might become even more of a dick.
Luckily for us, Ragnarok director Taika Watiti has already demonstrated an affection for making Thor look silly, as opposed to self-serious and aggro. In Watiti’s shorts, we see Thor pouting because he wasn’t invited to the Avengers’ Civil War, and drawing little doodles of Thanos, whom he calls “The Man in the Purple chair” while wondering aloud why he doesn’t like standing up. Though Marvel’s Thor has gotten further and further away from the mythic original, Ragnarok will at least play with some of the themes present in the original stories.
Thor Ragnarok hits theaters November 3, 2017.