Saturday, October 5, 2013

Series Post: Meet the Monsters (Norse Mythology Style)

So, I wrote a couple books a few years back about Norse mythology which left me with a bunch of random knowledge that I am now going to share with you.

In the spirit of the month of October and approaching Halloween, I figured I'd start with the monsters.

Everyone has heard of Loki, right?  I'll probably cover him at some later point, but for today, we're more concerned with the monsters he conceived. Yep, that's right, Loki is the baby daddy of some series Norse monsters.

Most records show Loki as the father of three children, at least with common mother: the wolf Fenrir, the serpent Jörmungandr, and the female Hel. The baby mama is a giant, or jötunn, Angrboða. The gods were given prophecies for all three of the children, partially due to their mother, but largely due to the fact that they're Loki's kids.


Talk about a monster - he's a monstrous wolf. He's also preordained to kill Odin in the fight at the end of the world, Ragnarok. Yep, that's right, he kills the Allfather. Of course, he later gets killed himself, but that doesn't stop him from being one of the most feared creatures in the Norse pantheon.

In fact, he's so feared and the foretellings of what he's supposed to do, the gods decide to bind him. They try a couple of times, and each time, Fenrir breaks free, no matter how strong the chain is. So the gods commission an unbreakable chain from the dwarves, known as Gleipnir, which is thin as a silken ribbon, but stronger than any iron chain.

The gods lured Fenrir in by praising his strength (after all, hadn't he broken the last two chains), but Fenrir was suspicious and didn't trust that the gods would release him from Gleipnir, if he couldn't break free. As a show of faith, the god Týr placed his hand in Fenrir's mouth. And once Fenrir figured out he was chained, yep, he bit off Týr's hand at the wrist.

But even Gleipnir wasn't enough to keep Fenrir down - he tried to bite the gods and as a result, they had to stab a sword through his mouth.

So now he lies there, sword in mouth, bound, waiting for his release so he can kill Odin. Friendly puppy wolf, right?

Jörmungandr (that's a mouthful, right?):

Also known as the World Serpent or the Midgard Serpent (Midgard being the Norse realm we know as Earth), this bad boy is sea serpent. The gods took Jörmungandr and tossed him into the ocean on Earth (Midgard). There, left to his own devices, Jörmungandr grew large enough to encircle the Earth and bit his own tail. I bet he doesn't snuggle in Loki's lap.

The story about Jörmungandr is that when he lets go of his own tail, that's when the world ends. Oh, and he's Thor's arch-nemesis. Not bad for a big snake, right?

What happens is this: Jörmungandr lets go of his own tail and rises out of the ocean and poisons the sky. Thor will kill Jörmungandr, but only walk nine paces after doing so before collapsing, killed by the serpent's venom. Yeah, locked in a death struggle, they both die.

Of Loki's three kids, the least is written about the serpent, but it seems like ending the world and killing Thor is enough to qualify him as a monster.


Hel is the adorable little sister of those two delights above. She rules over a realm of the same name, a land of the dead (hence the whole "going to hel" thing.)

She sounds like a charmer. Apparently half of her body is normal, and the other half is dying and decayed. Of course, some other translations just say she's half flesh colored, half black, so who knows. Either way, I'm guessing she isn't going to win Miss Norway. At one point, she's described as "rather downcast and fierce-looking."

Of the three, she's actually the least monstrous. All she does is rule over the realm of Hel, which, for the Norse, is the realm where those who died of sickness or old age go. Still, it doesn't sound like that cheery of a place:  Hel has "great Mansions" with extremely high walls and immense gates, the entrance threshold is named "Stumbling-block"

Hel is written as having a dish called "Hunger," a knife called "Famine," and servants whose names translate to "lazy walker." All in all, not the place (or person) with whom to spend a relaxing weekend.

She's not going to be counted out of the fight in Ragnarok either. Although, unlike her brother's, she doesn't get to kill any of the big  names, it is reported that when Loki arrives on the field of battle, Hel and all of her people (aka the dead in her realm) will come with him. That's a significant army to bring to the table.

And those are only a few of the monsters the Norse keep locked up in their vaults. Fun, right?

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