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

9 Responses to "The History of the Mythological Thor and Marvel’s Mistake"

  1. Chris Mythos   July 25, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    Jonathan Gardner, Yes interpretation has something to do with it, but within limits. This gender change move flies in the face psychology! Mythology is interpreted, but was created based on the collective unconscious! And in that unconscious lies the truth about human nature. There are some things that stay masculine, and some things stay feminine. There is no in between or compromise. Thor’s archetype is an example of a constant masculine.

    • Jonathan Gardner   July 26, 2014 at 5:35 am

      Chris, you misunderstood me. I’m not arguing that Thor being female is open to interpretation. In fact, I feel I made the opposite quite clear in the article. I’m simply saying that the placement of certain words, in the case below “wish-son”, in the original text allowed different translators to interpret those words in different ways.

      “Wish-son” was left ambiguous in the original text, as it could have referred to the children of Idunn and Bragi, or it could have been treated as an adjective of Loki. As I stated below, some have interpreted it to have Indunn begging Bragi to protect their children and adopted children (where “wish-son” comes into play) from Loki. Others have interpreted it to have Indunn begging Bragi to protect their children from Loki, the adopted child. If it’s the latter, it seems to imply that Loki was not simply the “blood brother” of Odin, but the adopted child of him.

      This is all based on the assumption that Bragi, the god of poetry, was in the original story in the first place, as it’s been argued that he was actually created in later tellings to honor the famous poet, Bragi Boddason.

      I appreciate the comment.

  2. masha   July 18, 2014 at 12:27 am

    That was a nice read. But even in Norse mythology, Loki wasn’t Thor’s brother. He was Odin’s blood brother, a giant who lived in Asgard, among gods.

    • Jonathan Gardner   July 18, 2014 at 5:52 am

      I believe it all determines on which translation you use and how you interpret the original words. There are a few times that Loki and Odin are implied to have a relationship, and both offer different views.

      In Auden and Taylor’s translation of Lokasenna, Odin and Loki were referred to as “blood brothers”, while Thorpe and Bellows translate it as a mixing or blended of blood. Whether that implies a literal mixing of blood or a familial relationship is unclear. However, it should also be noted that this comes from Loki’s mouth, in a poem where he mocks and insults the rest of the gods, so it would be hard to take anything he says here at face value. He could very well have called them blood brothers in an attempt to shame Odin in front of the other gods.

      Some hint also comes from later in the poem, when Idunn pleads to Bragi not to provoke Loki, and again, it depends on which translation is used. Auden and Taylor simply have Idunn begging Bragi to think of their children. However, Thorpe and Bellows refer to Loki as “wish-son” or “adopted son” in their translations, though again, who Loki might be the adopted son of is unclear, because we know his real parents were the giants Farbauti and Laufey.

      In any case, the genealogical records of the gods tends to get a little iffy, especially given the apparent promiscuity of Odin and the various kennings that have appeared in translations over the years.

      I appreciate the comment.

      • HJ   July 19, 2014 at 8:41 am

        Basically, how one views Norse mythology then, depends on which translation one uses? If that’s the case, then one can argue that it’s up to interpretation. And as far as I know, Marvel never claim their Thor is the Norse god. Marvel based their Thor on one of the interpretations of Norse mythology. As such, why can’t “Thor” also be a title? Because of the many interpretations/translations of mythology says so?

        They’re called myths for a reason. The lore changes as it is told. Not even history is 100% accurate. It all depends on the point of view of the person recounting the event. Just look at the discrepancies of the different accounts of WWII.

        • Brian   July 19, 2014 at 10:02 pm

          HJ, are you affiliated with Marvel out of curiosity? Do yourself a favor and listen to John Gardner, who obviously knows a great deal more about Norse mythology than most of us.

          Thor is a man in any rendition of Norse mythology written in any time period of human history. (Sigh). Marvel, you’re incredibly disappointing.

  3. Jacob Punke   July 17, 2014 at 7:47 am

    I applaud the message you are giving. I understand the reasoning of your concern, and I have them as well. I have had long talks with friends, I being a follower of Odin and Thor have to point to many differences between the comics/movies and the religion/mythology. Instead of saying that power is the individual, they place the power in the item, there by creating the flaw that without the item he is less powerful, also putting the gees on the item that working outside the accepted norms will cost him that power.

    I look at Marvel as using the mythology of the Norse people and the vikings as a means to entertain, for many times that is what it was used for during the winter months, entertainment with a story and a word of warning, their own ‘Aesop’s fables’ of a sort. I have used the comics, and to greater extent, the movies to show where the story of Thor and Odin is different in the mythology. I use this as a means to show that comics are great fun, so are movies, but never, never take them as historical fact or complete truth.

    Along the same lines, there are practitioners and followers of the Greek and Roman Pantheon that feel the same way with Wonder Woman and her interactions with those deities with in the DC universe. If people will see that the comics, TV shows and movies are nothing more than entertainment, then we can have a real discussion about faith as it was and as it is and how it may be in the future.

  4. Tim Warinthorn Lindekilde   July 16, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    It’s just a fact that Marvel’s Thor series just slapped the names of the Norse gods onto some characters, then called it a day. The amount of inaccuracy to the mythology that the series had to begin with is enough to convince me that this won’t be the last foolish move that Marvel will attempt with the series

    • Jonathan Gardner   July 16, 2014 at 2:46 pm

      I doubt it will be. I think what a lot of fans are annoyed at is there were viable options available to Marvel with a bit of forethought, but they took the laziest route. Though, to their credit, one that will generate the most news.

      Thanks for the comment.

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