This curious image, created around 1902 by the artist Elmer Boyd Smith (c. 1860-1943), depicts one of the more humorous tales of Norse mythology. The grumpy-looking bearded man in the center of this image is the Norse god, Thor, whose natural strength and his beloved magical hammer, Mjölnir, made him perhaps the greatest warrior among the gods. In the prelude to the scene illustrated above, however, Thor’s mighty hammer was stolen, causing a great panic among the gods. Mischievous Loki aligned himself with the Norse gods in this tale, and he went out to scout for the hammer. His search proved fruitful, and he discovered that the hammer had been stolen by a giant named Thrym. Loki also learned the giant’s terms for the return of the hammer. It was a steep price—Thrym would only return the hammer if the goddess, Freyja, became his bride. As the story goes, Thor was at first more than willing to trade Freyja for the hammer, but the goddess raged at the idea and the other deities backed her, instead of Thor, in this instance. To Thor’s great annoyance, the gods concluded that Freyja should not be sent to the giant’s court, but instead that Thor, himself, should be dressed up in wedding garb for the mission of retrieving the hammer. Thrym’s Poem, included in the 13th-century Poetic Edda, described the godly deliberation that led to the scene illustrated above:
“Then Heimdall said, the whitest of the gods—
he knows the future as do the Vanir too:
‘Let’s tie on Thor a bridal head-dress,
let him wear the great necklace of the Brisings.
Let keys jingle by his side
and women’s clothing fall down over his knees,
and on his breast display jewels,
and we’ll put a pointed head-dress properly on his head!”
(Poetic Edda, Thrym’s Poem, stanzas 15-16).
Thor was not the only one who was given a makeover, for Loki was outfitted to look like Thor’s maid. They traveled to Thrym’s hall and participated in a marriage feast, where the disguised gods gave the giants ample opportunity to notice that something was amiss. Thor spent much of the evening glaring angrily at the giants, insulting anyone who tried to talk to him, while eating whole oxen and downing several barrels of mead. As the feast continued, the giants eventually made the poor decision to let the bride hold the stolen hammer. As can be expected, once Mjölnir was reunited with the annoyed and angry Thor, the wedding feast quickly turned into a massacre.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jesse Byock. New York: Penguin Classics, 2005.
- Thrym’s Poem, an old poem which was preserved in the 13th-century Poetic Edda which was produced anonymously in Iceland. Translation by Carolyne Larrington (Oxford University Press, 2014).