The History of the Mythological Thor and Marvel’s Mistake

Thor Marvel

Marvel comics recently announced that their superhero, Thor, would be going through some changes. Namely, the superhero would no longer be portrayed as a man, but rather, a female superhero would take up the hammer. The reasoning behind the move, in the Marvel universe, is that the male Thor is no longer considered worthy enough to wield the hero’s iconic weapon of choice. While Marvel should be applauded for their attempt to create strong superheroines in a world dominated by male superheroes, the way the company went about it flies in the face of the mythological Thor.

One thing that should have been clear to the Marvel executives: Thor is the name of the mythological god, not a title that can be passed on. He is one of the sons of Odin, birthed by his mother, the earth goddess Fjörgyn, and brother to the trickster god, Loki. His iconic hammer, Mjölnir, was gifted to him by the Dwarven brothers, Sindri and Brokkr, after creating the weapon in a bet with Loki. In Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, the gifting of the weapon is described as such:

“Then he gave the hammer to Thor, and said that Thor might smite as hard as he desired, whatsoever might be before him, and the hammer would not fail; and if he threw it at anything, it would never miss, and never fly so far as not to return to his hand; and if be desired, he might keep it in his sark, it was so small; but indeed it was a flaw in the hammer that the fore-haft was somewhat short.”

Mjölnir has no sentience, in and of itself, and cannot, therefore, determine who is “worthy” to wield it. By all accounts, it is simply a large, magical hammer created by Dwarves and gifted to the god Thor. However, it does require a great amount of strength to wield the weapon. Even Thor, deemed the strongest of the Norse gods, needed the magical belt, Megingjörð, to double his immense strength and the magical gauntlets, Járngreipr, to lift and use the hammer.

Marvel may have gotten the idea of Thor losing his hammer, and Thor changing into a woman, from Norse mythology. In the Poetic Edda, a famous myth discusses the theft of Mjölnir. Thrymskviða, or The Lay of Thrym, begins with Thor awakening to find his weapon missing. After alerting both Freyja, the goddess of love, beauty, and war, and his brother Loki of the theft, they begin to search the realm for the missing hammer. Loki approached the land of giants to discuss the theft with their king, Thrym. Thrym admits to stealing the hammer, and burying it “eight miles down, deep in the earth,” preventing anyone from himself from reaching it. In exchange for Mjölnir, Thrym wants Freyja as his bride.

After failing to convince Freyja to marry the giant, and angering her to the point where “the entire hall shook with her fury,” Heimdall and the cunning Loki creates a plot to dress Thor in bridal gowns to pass him off as Freyja. After receiving an explanation why “Freyja” had a hunger unlike any other woman’s and had terrifying eyes that “seem to be aglow with fire,” Thrym placed Mjölnir on “her” lap to begin the wedding oath. Thor then took his hammer and slayed the giant king, as well as all other guests at the wedding party.

There are a vast number of strong, female role models that Marvel could have elected to create, rather than simply forcing one of their iconic heroes to change gender. The aforementioned Freyja is considered a powerful goddess in Norse mythology. Her beauty is unmatched among mortals or gods, but she is also a fierce and cunning warrior. In the poem Hyndluljóð, she uses her feminine charm to attempt to extract information from the shaman Hyndla. When that fails, she threatens the shaman with death by fire:

“Around the giantess, flames shall I raise,
So that forth unburned, thou mayst not fare.”

In addition to Freyja, there are many Valkyries that exist in Norse mythology, some of which are claimed to be Thor’s daughters. Valkyries oversee the battlefields, choosing who may live or die, and escort the deceased to either Odin’s great hall, Valhalla, or Frejya’s field of the afterlife, Fólkvangr. Again, the dual nature of the mythological figures, both as warriors and protectors, would have been ideal creations in the Marvel Universe. Even passing this new hero off as the daughter of Thor would have been in line with Norse mythology.

Instead, Marvel executives not only confused many fans by switching the gender of one of their Avengers, but seemingly ignored the origins of the Thor himself. There is something to be said about female empowerment and gender equality, but rather than simply change for the sake of change, a new superheroine under the same Norse mythology would have brought the same attention to Marvel’s new outlook without the desecration of the hero’s namesake.

By Jonathan Gardner

The Prose Edda – Skáldskaparmál (Print)
The Poetic Edda – Thrymskviða
The Poetic Edda – Hyndluljóð