Sun-swallowing wolves, clouds made out of brains, and other insane aspects of Norse mythology just waiting to be used in the next Thor
Most of us know that Thor is loosely based upon Norse mythology, a religion so metal that they believed the sun and moon only move across the sky because they’re being chased by hungry wolves. But while we’ve all heard of Loki and Odin and Valhalla, far fewer are aware of the depths of badassery contained within the canon of Norse myths, much of which would be a welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Loki’s Daddy Issues
In the movies, Loki spends 80% of his time trying to take over the universe, and the other 20% pouting. But in Norse mythology, while still keeping a busy calendar of murder and deceit, he manages to find the time to get busy with the giantess Angrboda. (Although I’m not 100% sure how someone hooks up with a giantess – are there prosthetics involved? A back brace? A lot of apologizing?) Whatever the mechanics, we can only assume that Angrboda drank heavily during the pregnancy, because she gives birth to a pretty nightmarish litter.
There’s Fenrir, the giant wolf who’s chained by the frightened Asgardians, bit off the god Tyr’s hand, and eventually consumed Odin. There’s Hel, half beautiful woman and half rotting corpse, who becomes the goddess of the underworld. There’s the serpent Jormungand, called the World Serpent because it’s so vast that it wraps around the entire Earth beneath the sea, biting its own tail. And finally there’s Madison Lynn, a sarcastic five-year-old who seems to have mastered cruelty long before addition and subtraction. Just kidding, it’s only the first three. The last one is my cousin, and I fear her.
Loki’s disturbing children have already cropped up as individual villains in different issues of Thor, and all three would be welcome in the MCU. Thematically, they play into Loki’s feelings of exclusion, with the other gods seeing his offspring as beasts instead of equals. Asgard treats them like monsters and so they become monsters, threatening Asgard’s dominion. They could take human form, or animal, or some combination of the two, with allegiances to Loki or to no one, but regardless of the specifics, a serpent, a wolf, and a zombie queen is the most terrifying group of siblings since the Kardashians.
A Bloody Origin Story
The Norse world is born of violence, much like my family’s Thanksgivings. In the beginning there was only a void, separating fire and ice. The frost and flames met in the middle, and from their melting the giant Ymir was created. More giants sprang from Ymir’s sweating armpits (seriously) and from his feet that procreated with each other while he slept (still seriously), while other gods were gradually uncovered in the melting ice. After a few generations of giants and gods getting frisky – there probably wasn’t much else to do in a humid void – Odin and his brothers were born. And they did what any self-respecting god would: they killed their ancestor for no apparent reason.
Here’s where it gets gruesome. After killing Ymir, the gods built the world out of his rotting corpse. The same way a carpenter might look at a tree and see a table, they looked at their grandfather and saw a tree. His skull became the sky, his blood the oceans, his flesh the earth, his hair the plants, and his brains the clouds. And now you can never unlearn that the Norse people thought clouds were made out of brains, so good luck seeing them as bunny rabbits or horsies ever again.
It’s a sweet idea that the usually holier-than-thou Asgardians built their civilization on the bones of another. Perhaps the primal ancestors of Asgard could return, seeking revenge on their misbehaving children. It could even take a more literal form, with the land or power sources that Asgard relies upon being constructed out of the remains of the ancients. And it’s finally the Thor / Soylent Green crossover we’ve all been waiting for.
Odin the Know-It-All
The Norse gods’ very human flaws are what make them so interesting and endearing, that plus their pointy helmets. We’re all well acquainted with Thor’s temper and headstrong attitude, as well as with Loki’s deceitful nature. Odin, however, has his own foible that the MCU largely ignores: an obsessive thirst for knowledge. (His iPod is nothing but podcasts, and not the fun ones either.) Odin’s seemingly innocuous need to know has led to some pretty ridiculous encounters.
For example, when he wanted to gain knowledge of the runes, ancient and powerful letters carved into the tree of life, he was told that the runes only reveal themselves to those who prove that they are worthy. So, of course, Odin hung himself from the tree and pierced his body with a spear. He hung there, impaled, for nine days until the runes appeared (which is very similar to how I first learned the alphabet).
And Norse mythology’s explanation for Odin’s one eye is a little more selfish and less heroic than Marvel’s. Odin journeyed to Mimir’s Well, whose waters he’d heard imparted cosmic knowledge. Mimir offered Odin a drink, but only in exchange for Odin’s eye. Odin didn’t bat an eye, but he did gouge one out, and helped himself to a drink. Yeesh.
Odin is willing to sacrifice both himself and others to expand his knowledge because he knows that, amongst ancient beings, knowledge is both power and currency. After being largely glorified in the Thor movies, it would be a striking change of pace to see Odin’s curiosity backfire, and to see him truly hurt himself or his people as his selfish desire gets the best of him.
Gods and Demons and a Really Big Dragon
A few particularly nasty characters from Norse mythology deserve their chance in the spotlight. Vidar, one of Odin’s sons, avenges his father’s death and is one of the few gods to survive Ragnarok. He is, among other things, the god of silence and vengeance, which as far as badass combinations go is right up there with the god of slow motion explosions and pizza bagels.
It would also be amazing to see a film rendition of Valkyries that, instead of presenting them as beautiful warrior maidens, focused instead on the ancient Norse version, complete with black wings, riding atop wolves (they really love their wolves), and weaving the destiny of warriors on looms made of severed heads and intestines. A bit of advice: do not check out their Pinterest boards; they are disgusting.
Then there’s Nidhogg, for all those who see the ocean-circling serpant Jormungand and say, “Yeah, I guess he’s big.” Nidhogg is the world-sized dragon who’s spent eons gnawing at the roots of the tree of life Yggdrasil, attempting to kill the tree because he wants to drag the universe back into darkness and chaos, and maybe a little because he wants to be the only famous creature with double g’s in its name. Look out, Iggy Azalea.
And while the frost giants have gotten their moment in the sun, it’s about time we heard from their counterparts: the fire giants. Surtr, “The Black One” (that’s his actual name, I’m not just a guy trying and failing not to sound racist at the office) and lord of the fire giants, has made several appearances in the comics, and with any luck the rumors that he’s the villain in the next Thor film will prove true.
Ragnarok Done Right
Thor: Ragnarok is slated for release on July 28th, 2017 (and I guess Soulja Boy’s 27th birthday is as good a day as any for the end of the world). While the movie will likely draw from one of the several Ragnarok cycles in the Thor comics, if you’re looking for unfathomable mayhem you gotta go with the OG Norse rendition of Armageddon.
Ragnarok isn’t some namby pamby, feel-good Book of Revelation where the righteous are saved and sinners punished. EVERYBODY dies, save for a pair of humans and a few gods who start a new civilization from the ashes of the old. So sure, it’s cyclical, in the same way the dinosaurs might call their extinction cyclical (although I’m pretty sure the word the dinosaurs would use is “bullshit”). The Norse people wrote their own death, and the death of their gods, into their religion. That’s pretty hardcore. Imagine a minister preaching, “Oh Jesus Christ, help us through our time of need, at least until you’re burned to death alongside us by a giant dragon. Amen.”
In a nutshell, the frost giants, fire giants, various monsters, and the dead join forces and storm the gates of Asgard, with elves, dwarves, and humans teaming up with the gods to fight back. Thor slays the serpent Jormungand only to stagger nine steps backwards and drop dead himself. Fenrir the wolf swallows the sun (the sun!) and then consumes Odin before being slayed by Odin’s son Vidar. Loki and Heimdall kill one another. Finally, the fire giant Surtr roasts anyone on Earth still alive with him flaming sword, and the world officially throws in the towel. In case you can’t tell, Norse mythology loves mutually assured destruction, sort of like how I love to murder a Chipotle burrito even though I know it’s going to murder my asshole later.
Thanks to countless comic book hero “deaths” and subsequent resurrections, we know that Marvel is never going to risk permanently killing off one of its heroes. If anything they’ve probably got the next thirty years of sequels and prequels and Christmas special crossovers planned out. But at the least Marvel could commit to some serious devastation and kill off a few of its favorite characters to give the Thor series a sense of stakes.
I’d love to see Asgard reduced to rubble, Odin killed by Fenrir (being swallowed by your grandson has a nice Shakespearean ring to it), and the Asgardians left scattered and decimated. And while Tom Hiddleston has had a great run, I’m ready for new arch villains and would be thrilled to see his epic death at the hands of (and while slaying) Idris Elba. Plus that’d be two fewer British people stealing our roles. Damn limeys with their perfect accents! Go home! No, not you, Cumberbatch. You can stay, but only if you dance for me.