The Contest of Thor

The Norse mythology overflows with legends involving giants, elves, mighty gods, bloodthirsty snakes, dwarves, and even a mythical tree that connects the Nine Worlds were all these people cohabit. Basically, it is an (even more) extended version of the Lord of the Rings and it comes as no surprise that Tolkien’s works have been heavily influenced by Scandinavian tales.

One of them tells the story of Thor in Jötunheimr, land of the giants.  Accompanied by Loki, he was supposed to reach Útgarð, the main citadel home to the giants of the country. On their way, the gods were joined by Þjálfi and Röskva, two children from a peasant family.

When night fell, the four of them desperately looked for a shelter in the dead of night, when somebody noticed a weird-shaped cavern nearby and all agreed to spend a few hours there. However, sometime later, numerous earthquakes awoke all four of them. Then, they realized they had been staying next to a giant whose glove they had mistaken for a cavern: it is his thunder-like snores that had caused the earthquakes.

I-am-the-Giant-Skrymir
Elmer Boyd Smith, I am the Giant Skrymir (1902). (Source: Norse-Mythology)

The next day, the giant introduced himself as Skrýmir and all five decided to travel together. But the bastion of the giants was still far away, and after walking the entire day, the group stopped for the night in a forest. Overnight, Thor reached out for his hammer and struck it straight at the sleeping giant’s face, but the latter awoke calmly, asking if a leaf had fallen on him. This was a great surprise for Thor whose hammer was amongst the most powerful weapons of the whole kingdom!

On the next morning, the company split since Skrýmir decided to head north, while the rest of the group headed east, and made it to Útgarð on that day. When they took a closer look at the citadel, they realized that the gates were closed and when none of them, after several unsuccessful tries, managed to break them open, they simply slipped between the giant-sized bars of the main entrance.

Inside, they were met by a group of giants sitting at a feast, presided by Útgarða-Loki, master of the bastion. The latter challenged them to a contest in order to prove that none could ever compete with a giant… Loki was the first to come forward, stating that he could eat faster than anyone. Útgarða-Loki then called for the right challenger amongst his people, named Logi. Both were placed next to a table packed with meat, and Loki was defeated by his opponent who had not only devoured his whole share of meat but also the bones and the plate.

utgard-loki-challenge
Thor in the giants’ lair. (Source: The Norse Gods)

The second challenge opposed Þjálfi and the giant Hugi at a racing competition, but once again, Thor’s company lost despite the young man’s speed. His anger beating his temples, Thor decided that he would be the next challenger… into a drinking contest. He was given a full horn of some liquid and was supposed to empty it in no more than tree swallows, which he again couldn’t quite manage. But Thor was not about to give up. The god asked anybody in the room to wrestle with him, confident that he was of hiw own strength. Útgarða-Loki sent some old woman named Elli forward, and in a few moves, she overpowered a startled Thor.

valhalla_5_04_stor
Here comes a new challenger… Thor v. Elli in Peter Madsen’s comic Valhalla 5: Rejsen til Udgardsloke (1989). (Source: PlanetPulp)

Disappointed and tired, Thor, Loki, Þjálfi and Röskva were allowed to spend the night within the castle and provided with some food. The next morning, all four agreed to leave discretely and as they walked towards the gates, they were joined by Útgarða-Loki who led them to the exit.

Once they had stepped outside, the master of the castle admitted that he had never seen such amazing strength and skills from anybody. He confessed that he was Skrýmir, the giant they had met in the forest, and explained why all four of them had failed in their respective tasks.

Loki had competed against fire (Logi means fire in old Norse) and this was why it consumed the meat faster; the racing competition was set between Þjálfi and thought (Hugi) which made it impossible to catch up with; the horn given to Thor was filled with the sea, and though the immense swallows could not quite empty it all, it had created impressive waves throughout the night; last but not least, Thor had wrestled against old age itself (Elli) and nobody can challenge old age.

Even the fact that Thor failed smashing the giant in the face with his hammer was a trick; Skrýmir had slipped a mountain between his forehead and the god’s weapon so as to prevent himself from being knocked out…

Upon hearing this, Thor attempted – again – to smash the giant’s face, but at that very moment, both Skrýmir and his castle disappeared, leaving the companions into a vast and deserted territory.

On a side note: throughout this tale, which remains one of the most famous among the Norse mythology, we’ve witnessed drinking, running, eating and wrestling contests. Frankly, why do we still follow the Greek tradition of Olympics and not the Scandinavian one instead?

 


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