Study Guide

Tor in Midwinterblood

By Marcus Sedgwick

Tor

Tor might live over and over again like Eric and Merle, but he sure isn't using his extra lives to bake Girl Scout cookies on Tuesday nights. That's right: Tor is our antagonist and he's usually up to no good.

Evil Throughout the Ages

Tor might not pop up in every story or play a major role like Eric and Merle do, but you'll spot him here and there ruining everyone's good time. Check it out:

  • June 2073: Here, Tor is the Ward of Blessed Island, the one who pushes to sacrifice Eric and gets gravely injured after getting on the wrong side of Merle's knife.
  • July 2011: In this tale, Tor appears as a bag of bones. Literally. Edward finds his bones wrapped up with Eirik's in the old Viking tomb.
  • September 1902: This Tor is the guy from the National Museum who pans Eric's Midwinterblood painting. Tor is a total crusher of dreams.
  • November, 10th Century: And here, Tor is a guy who claims he fathered some children and nothing—not even death—can stop him from laying his claim to them.
  • December, Time Unknown: In this life, Thorolf orchestrates the execution of King Eirikr. After the island recovers from famine, Thorolf swears off the dragon orchid juice, just to be safe.

Kind of makes you wonder how many more times Tor popped up but wasn't named, doesn't it? Where else might he cause some trouble? Maybe he was Merle's dad in the ghost story from 1848? Or the old innkeeper who rents rooms to Edward in 2011? You never know where you might run into this bad dude, but one thing's clear: Chances are decent you will, and when you do, trouble's not far behind.

Everyone Knows He's Bad News

Unlike Eric and Merle, we only see Tor from an outside point of view. And he's a pretty fascinating guy. Most people report feeling uneasy around him. For instance, even though Tor is super nice to him, Eric Seven can't shake the fact that Tor is actually a wolf in sheep's clothing. And when Melle first spots her uncle, she has no clue who he is, but instantly fears him anyway. And King Eirikr can't read Thorolf's expressions at all. Pro tip: Inspiring a feeling of dread in others is not a good sign.

Even his name should not be taken lightly. Tor means thunder, and comes from the Norse god Thor who would reign down thunder with his super special hammer. It's not a coincidence that Thorolf wields a golden hammer at the sacrifice of King Eirikr, or that the 2073 version of Tor hammers his fists on a table to regain order after an argument with the other wards of Blessed Island. This guy will literally bring down the hammer on you if you get in his way.

Tor is also referred to as a devil a couple times. When Merle sees him on Blessed Island, she says her signature line, "Forthwith the devil did appear" (1.7.21), except this time she really means it. Wulf also says that the vampire Tor "is a devil now" (6.10.16). And the thing about the devil, of course, is that you don't get much more evil than that.

There is one bright spot for Tor. In 2011, Nancy has a nice assessment of him. Well, of his bones at least:

"Well, my guess," says Nancy, "is that it's a parent and child. They must have died at the same time—probably disease—and were buried together. The child in the arms of the mother. Or father."

"That's so sad."

"It's kind of nice, too, though," Nancy says. "It's so protective. As if the parent is keeping their child safe. Even in death." (2.8.7-9)

Like the reader at the time, Nancy doesn't know the backstory of these bones, so she imagines that father and son are cradled together in a warm embrace. And maybe she's right. Even though Tor was a ruthless jerk in trying to claim his kids, his actions could also have a loving spin. He rests in his grave hugging Eirik for all eternity, which certainly looks like love, so maybe he's not quite so selfish after all. Maybe…

Let's Be Bad

Nah. Tor is a pretty big meanie throughout the story. In fact, the one quality that sets him apart from everyone else is how freaking ruthless he is. In 2073, Tor will stop at nothing to get some babies on Blessed Island—even if it means murdering a guy. Geez. How 'bout not drinking quite so much dragon orchid tea? That might help. And in the 10th century, Tor just cannot leave well enough alone with his brother's kids:

Tor declared that Eirik and I were his children. He claimed that he, not Wulf, had fathered them on our mother. He demanded satisfaction; he demanded that we be given to him, and he did not care who he abused or whose honor he insulted to get his way. (6.6.27)

Not only does Tor get banished for his insistence that the twins are rightfully his, when he comes back to town, he immediately starts the same stuff up again. Dude, this cannot end well for you. He's so devoted to his mission that he even comes back from the dead and murders multiple people and animals to see it through. And Eric and Merle thought they could escape in a boat in 2073. Ha. They obviously don't recall the lengths this guy is willing to go to for what he wants.

We could spin this whole ruthless quality into something a little more positive, though. Tor is devoted, he's ambitious, when he develops a plan, he sticks to it. In a way, he's kind of like Eric, who also doesn't back down once he makes a decision; or Merle, who sticks to her word for well over a thousand years. But unlike Eric, Tor's plans don't usually involve any sacrifice on his part. He likes to force other people to do his dirty work and then stay around to reap the benefits. Oh, Tor.

Curtains for Tor

In the end of our story, Tor is injured pretty badly as Merle and Eric try to escape the stone table:

With another stroke, she slices at the faces of Tor and Henrik […]

Tor tries to shout. He tries to speak. He tries to tell the others to stop Merle and Eric, but he cannot, for she has sliced his throat, not deeply, but enough to stop him from doing anything but writhing on the table, and now it is his blood that washes from the spout […]

Tor lies on the hot summer earth, bleeding into it. (7.5.22, 26, 38)

So basically, Tor is left to bleed to death on the stone table just like Eric and Merle. It's unclear whether he dies or not, though it seems like he's losing a lot of blood and is suffering. Since he hasn't been such a nice guy, we're not too sad for him. Everyone is too busy bumping off Merle and Eric to care at the moment, so it's possible that the islanders try to help him after that deed is done. That is, if he hasn't lost too much blood. It's not looking good.

It's ironic really. Tor is so single-minded in his mission to save the island that he is even willing to cut another person's throat to do it, yet he's the one who ends up bleeding out all over Blessed Island. He orchestrate the sacrifice, but he becomes a part of it in the end. Oops.

And this leads to a pretty big question: Will Tor's grand plan work? Sure, King Eirikr's death ends the famine and saves the people, but will this particular sacrifice work the same magic and end infertility on Blessed Island? Tor doesn't seem to know it (or maybe he does), but simply laying off the dragon orchid would have helped a lot. His bad.

Then again, though, maybe there's something to the fact that the three of them—Tor, Eric, and Merle—meet their end in the same place. If the magic of the dragon orchid has a price, have these three paid it? Maybe the blood of these three time-travelling immortals is just what the island needs to help. Maybe their sacrifice will bring the children back after all.

Here's hoping.

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