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Ch. 32: Thor's Visit to Jotunheim


One day the god Thor, accompanied by his servant Thialfi, and
also by Loki, set out on a journey to the giant's country.
Thialfi was of all men the swiftest of foot. He bore Thor's
wallet, containing their provisions. When night came on they
found themselves in an immense forest, and searched on all sides
for a place where they might pass the night, and at last came to
a very large hall, with an entrance that took the whole breadth
of one end of the building. Here they lay down to sleep, but
towards midnight were alarmed by an earthquake which shook the
whole edifice. Thor rising up called on his companion to seek
with him a place of safety. On the right they found an adjoining
chamber, into which the others entered, but Thor remained at the
doorway with his mallet in his hand, prepared to defend himself,
whatever might happen. A terrible groaning was heard during the
night, and at dawn of day Thor went out and found lying near him
a huge giant, who slept and snored in the way that had alarmed
them so. It is said that for once Thor was afraid to use his
mallet, and as the giant soon waked up, Thor contented himself
with simply asking his name.

"My name is Skrymir," said the giant, "but I need not ask thy
name, for I know that thou art the god Tor. But what has become
of my glove?" Thor then perceived that what they had taken
overnight for a hall was the giant's glove and the chamber where
his two companions had sought refuge was the thumb. Skrymir then
proposed that they should travel in company, and Thor consenting,
they sat down to eat their breakfast, and when they had done,
Skrymir packed all the provisions into one wallet, threw it over
his shoulder, and strode on before them, taking such tremendous
strides that they were hard put to it to keep up with him. So
they travelled the whole day, and at dusk, Skrymir close a place
for them to pass the night in under a large oak-tree. Skrymir
then told them he would lie down to sleep. "But take ye the
wallet," he added, "and prepare your supper."Skrymir soon fell
asleep and began to snore strongly, but when Thor tried to open
the wallet, he found the giant had tied it up so tight he could
not untie a single knot. At last Thor became wroth, and grasping
his mallet with both hands he struck a furious blow on the
giant's head. Skrymir awakening merely asked whether a leaf had
not fallen on his head, and whether they had supped and were
ready to go to sleep. Thor answered that they were just going to
sleep, and so saying went and laid himself down under another
tree. But sleep came not that night to Thor, and when Skrymir
snored again so loud that the forest re-echoed with the noise, he
arose, and grasping his mallet launched it with such force at the
giant's skull that it made a deep dint in it. Skrymir awakening
cried out, "What's the matter? Are there any birds perched on
this tree? I felt some moss from the branches fall on my head.
How fares it with thee, Thor?" But Thor went away hastily,
saying that he had just then awoke, and that as it was only
midnight, there was still time for sleep. He however resolved
that if he had an opportunity of striking a third blow, it should
settle all matters between them. A little before daybreak he
perceived that Skrymir was again fast asleep, and again grasping
his mallet, he dashed it with such violence that it forced its
way into the giant's skull up to the handle. But Skrymir sat
up, and stroking his cheek, said, "An acorn fell on my head.
What! Art thou awake, Thor? Methinks it is time for us to get
up and dress ourselves; but you have not now a long way before
you to the city called Utgard. I have heard you whispering to
one another that I am not a man of small dimensions; but if you
come to Utgard you will see there many men much taller than I.
Wherefore I advise you, when you come there, not to make too much
of yourselves, for the followers of Utgard-Loki will not brook
the boasting of such little fellows as you are. You must take
the road that leads eastward, mine lies northward, so we must
part here."

Hereupon he threw his wallet over his shoulders, and turned away
from them into the forest, and Thor had no wish to stop him or to
ask for any more of his company.

Thor and his companions proceeded on their way, and towards noon
descried a city standing in the middle of a plain. It was so
lofty that they were obliged to bend their necks quite back on
their shoulders in order to see to the top of it. On arriving
they entered the city, and seeing a large palace before them with
the door wide open, they went in, and found a number of men of
prodigious stature, sitting on benches in the hall. Going
further, they came before the king Utgard-Loki, whom they saluted
with great respect. The king, regarding them with a scornful
smile, said, "If I do not mistake me, that stripling yonder must
be the god Thor." Then addressing himself to Thor, he said,
"Perhaps thou mayst be more than thou appearest to be. What are
the feats that thou and thy fellows deem yourselves skilled in,
for no one is permitted to remain here who does not, in some feat
or other, excel all other men?"

"The feat that I know," said Loki, "is to eat quicker than any
one else, and in this I am ready to give a proof against any one
here who may choose to compete with me."

"That will indeed be a feat," said Utgard-Loki, "if thou
performest what thou promisest, and it shall be tried forthwith."

He then ordered one of his men who was sitting at the farther end
of the bench, and whose name was Logi, to come forward and try
his skill with Loki. A trough filled with meat having been set
on the hall floor, Loki placed himself at one end, and Logi at
the other, and each of them began to eat as fast as he could,
until they met in the middle of the trough. But it was found
that Loki had only eaten the flesh, while his adversary had
devoured both flesh and bone, and the trough to boot. All the
company therefore adjudged that Loki was vanquished.

Utgard-Loki then asked what feat the young man who accompanied
Thor could perform. Thialfi answered that he would run a race
with any one who might be matched against him. The king observed
that skill in running was something to boast of, but if the youth
would win the match he must display great agility. He then arose
and went with all who were present to a plain where there was
good ground for running on, and calling a young man named Hugi,
bade him run a match with Thialfi. In the first course Hugi so
much outstripped his competitor that he turned back and met him
not far from the starting-place. Then they ran a second and a
third time, but Thialfi met with no better success. Utgard-Loki
then asked Thor in what feats he would choose to give proofs of
that prowess for which he was so famous. Thor answered that he
would try a drinking-match with any one. Utgard-Loki bade his
cupbearer bring the large horn which his followers were obliged
to empty when they had trespassed in any way against the law of
the feast. The cupbearer having presented it to Thor, Utgard-
Loki said, "Whoever is a good drinker will empty that horn at a
single draught, though most men make two of it, but the most puny
drinker can do it in three."

Thor looked at the horn, which seemed of no extraordinary size
though somewhat long; however, as he was very thirsty, he set it
to his lips, and without drawing breath, pulled as long and as
deeply as he could, that he might not be obliged to make a second
draught of it; but when he set the horn down and looked in, he
could scarcely perceive that the liquor was diminished.

After taking breath, Thor went to it again with all his might,
but when he took the horn from his mouth, it seemed to him that
he had drunk rather less than before, although the horn could now
be carried without spilling.

"How now, Thor," said Utgard-Loki, "thou must not spare thyself;
if thou meanest to drain the horn at the third draught thou must
pull deeply; and I must needs say that thou wilt not be called so
mighty a man here as thou art at home if thou showest no greater
prowess in other feats than methinks will be shown in this."

Thor, full of wrath, again set the horn to his lips, and did his
best to empty it; but on looking in found the liquor was only a
little lower, so he resolved to make no further attempt, but gave
back the horn to the cupbearer.

"I now see plainly," said Utgard-Loki, "that thou art not quite
so stout as we thought thee; but wilt thou try any other feat,
though methinks thou art not likely to bear any prize away with
thee hence."

"What new trial hast thou to propose?" said Thor.

"We have a very trifling game here," answered Utgard-Loki, "in
which we exercise none but children. It consists in merely
lifting my cat from the ground; nor should I have dared to
mention such a feat to the great Thor if I had not already
observed that thou art by no means what we took thee for."

As he finished speaking, a large gray cat sprang on the hall
floor. Thor put his hand under the cat's belly and did his
utmost to raise him from the floor, but the cat, bending his
back, had, notwithstanding all Thor's efforts, only one of his
feet lifted up, seeing which Thor made no further attempt.

"This trial has turned out," said Utgard-Loki, "just as I
imagined it would. The cat is large, but Thor is little in
comparison to our men."

"Little as ye call me," answered Thor, "let me see who among you
will come hither now I am in wrath and wrestle with me."

"I see no one here," said Utgard-Loki, looking at the men sitting
on the benches, "who would not think it beneath him to wrestle
with thee; let somebody, however, call hither that old crone, my
nurse Elli, and let Thor wrestle with her if he will. She has
thrown to the ground many a man not less strong than this Thor
is."

A toothless old woman then entered the hall, and was told by
Utgard-Loki to take hold of Thor. The tale is shortly told. The
more Thor tightened his hold on the crone the firmer she stood.
At length, after a very violent struggle, Thor began to lose his
footing, and was finally brought down upon one knee. Utgard-Loki
then told them to desist, adding that Thor had now no occasion to
ask any one else in the hall to wrestle with him, and it was also
getting late; so he showed Thor and his companions to their
seats, and they passed the night there in good cheer.

The next morning at break of day, Thor and his companions dressed
themselves and prepared for their departure. Utgard-Loki ordered
a table to be set for them, on which there was no lack of
victuals or drink. After the repast Utgard-Loki led them to the
gate of the city, and on parting asked Thor how he thought his
journey had turned out, and whether he had met with any men
stronger than himself. Thor told him that he could not deny but
that he had brought great shame on himself. "And what grieves me
most," he added, is that ye will call me a person of little
worth."

"Nay," said Utgard-Loki, "it behooves me to tell thee the truth,
now thou art out of the city, which so long as I live and have my
way thou shalt never enter again. And, by my troth, had I known
beforehand that thou hadst so much strength in thee, and wouldst
have brought me so near to a great mishap, I would not have
suffered thee to enter this time. Know then that I have all
along deceived thee by my illusions; first in the forest where I
tied up the wallet with iron wire so that thou couldst not untie
it. After this thou gavest me three blows with the mallet; the
first, though the least, would have ended my days had it fallen
on me, but I slipped aside and thy blows fell on the mountain
where thou wilt find three glens, one of them remarkably deep.
These are the dints made by thy mallet. I have made use of
similar illusions in the contests you have had with my followers.
In the first, Loki, like hunger itself, devoured all that was set
before him, but Logi was in reality nothing else than Fire, and
therefore consumed not only the meat, but the trough which held
it. Hugi, with whom Thialfi contended in running, was Thought,
and it was impossible for Thialfi to keep pace with that. When
thou in thy turn didst attempt to empty the horn, thou didst
perform, by my troth, a deed so marvellous, that had I not seen
it myself, I should never have believed it. For one end of that
horn reached the sea, which thou was not aware of, but when thou
comest to the shore thou wilt perceive how much the sea has sunk
by thy draughts. Thou didst perform a feat no less wonderful by
lifting up the cat, and to tell thee the truth, when we saw that
one of his paws was off the floor, we were all of us terror-
stricken, for what thou tookest for a cat was in reality the
Midgard serpent that encompasseth the earth, and he was so
stretched by thee, that he was barely long enough to enclose it
between his head and tail. Thy wrestling with Elli was also a
most astonishing feat, for there was never yet a man, nor ever
will be, whom Old Age, for such in fact was Elli, will not sooner
or later lay low. But now, as we are going to part, let me tell
thee that it will be better for both of us if thou never come
near me again, for shouldst thou do so, I shall again defend
myself by other illusions, so that thou wilt only lose thy labor
and get no fame from the contest with me."


On hearing these words Thor in a rage laid hold of his mallet and
would have launched it at him, but Utgard-Loki had disappeared,
and when Thor would have returned to the city to destroy it, he
found nothing around him but a verdant plain.

On another occasion Thor was more successful in an encounter with
the giants. It happened that Thor met with a giant, Hrungnir by
name, who was disputing with Odin as to the merits of their
respective horses, Gullfaxi and Sleipnir, the eight-legged. Thor
and the giant made an agreement to fight together on a certain
day. But as the day approached, the giant, becoming frightened
at the thought of encountering Thor alone, manufactured, with the
assistance of his fellow-giants, a great giant of clay. He was
nine miles high and three miles about the chest, and in his heart
he had the heart of a mare. Accompanied by the clay giant,
Hrungnir awaited Thor on the appointed day. Thor approached
preceded by Thialfi, his servant, who, running ahead, shouted out
to Hrungnir that it was useless to hold his shield before him,
for the god Thor would attack him out of the ground. Hrungnir at
this flung his shield on the ground, and, standing upon it, made
ready. As Thor approached Hrungnir flung at him an immense club
of stone. Thor flung his hammer. Miolnir met the club half way,
broke it in pieces, and burying itself in the stone skull of
Hrungnir, felled him to the ground. Meanwhile Thialfi had
despatched the clay giant with a spade. Thor himself received
but a slight wound from a fragment of the giant's hammer.


Thomas Bulfinch

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