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Remember how in the Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion are on a mission to find a heart, a brain, and courage? But when they finally meet the wizard, he tells them that those things were inside them all along? That's actually something that happens a lot in fairy tales and myths.
Here's how it works: The hero thinks that the source of his power is some sort of object, but he learns in the course of the story that his power actually comes from inside himself. It's a great lesson for the hero. Plus, it's an exciting story for the reader. That's because often, the hero only discovers his inner strength by losing his special whiz-a-ma-gog. And when that happens, we're left on the edge of our seats. Will Spidey / Harry / [insert favorite hero here] manage to pull it out of the bag without his special "magical" object?
That's exactly what we're wondering in the myth of Thor and the Jotun Geirrod. Loki convinces Thor to travel to a giant's hall without his invincibility-granting belt and even (gulp!) without his hammer. And we're left wondering how he'll ever be able to defeat mean ol' Geirrod without it. See, his hammer is kind of Thor's thing. It's no ordinary hammer: It never misses its mark, and always returns to its thrower.
But it's more than just an awesome hammer. When people think of Thor, that's what they think of. You might even say that it's the source of his whole identity. Thor without his hammer is like Harry without his wand, Katniss without her bow, Bella without her, uh... you get the picture. Thor without his hammer is just an oversized oaf without much in the way of brains.
Nope. Turns out Thor doesn't need his hammer to kill him some giants. (Although this being Viking mythology, he does need some weaponry, which a friendly giantess is happy to lend him.) He crushes Geirrod's daughters with one effective shove against the ceiling and punctures Geirrod's stomach with a fastball worthy of the best major-leaguer. And then, oh yeah, he kills all the other giants there, too. Because Thor without his hammer is still Thor: A masculine, hard-fighting, bone-crushing warrior dude.
When it comes right down to it, we can all learn a little something from Thor's story. Take Shmoop, for instance: If we didn't have a computer, we'd still be Shmoop. It would just be a little bit harder for us to achieve our plans for world domination. Moral of the story: Our computers and magic hammers may make life easier. In the end, though, we are who we are inside, no matter what special magical objects we carry around.
This website illustrates the Norse myths with cool medieval manuscript images and late-19th-century wood cuttings. Plus, it includes a list of Viking movies. Skoal!
Dr. Karl Siegfried's blog about Norse mythology includes a link where you can email him with any burning questions. Like why Grápr decided to take a pee in the River Vímur.
What Was it Like to be a Viking?
Interested in learning what Thor might have seen when he walked into Geirrod's hall? Check out the BBC's guide to all things Viking.
And if You're Really Into Vikings…
Maybe you should consider becoming a member of Hurstwic, a living-history organization focused specifically on Viking weaponry and warfare.
Just like he does in the myth of Thor and the Jotun Geirrod, Thor, here played by Chris Hemsworth, must battle frost-giants allied with Loki.
Thor and Loki: Blood Brothers (2011)
Is Loki a bad guy or just misunderstood? This four-episode animated TV series from Marvel promises to show you a kinder, gentler side to the villain.
In Praise of Thor
Feeling ambitious? Try making your way through Eilífr Goðrúnarson's Þórsdrápa, or "praise poem for Thor." It's our earliest source for Thor and the Jotun Geirrod.
Snorri Says: Skáldskaparmal
If you don't feel like wading through Þórsdrápa, Snorri Sturluson provides a much more accessible version of the story in his early-13th-century collection of poetry and poetic terms. The encounter with Geirrod begins at Stanza 18.
Even Better Live
Watch the trailer for Thor here.
This five-part documentary series from the BBC explores the history of the Vikings. But make sure you have lots of time on your hands before you sit down to watch: It's as long as a jotun is tall.
D'Aulaires' Norse Mythology
D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths includes beautiful illustrations to accompany the (sometimes very imaginative) retellings of Norse mythology.
The Norse Myths
Young-adult fiction writer Kevin Crossley-Holland turns his hand to Viking legends in this collection, which includes a useful general introduction to Norse mythology and culture.
How it All Began
Want to know where our stories of the Norse gods and giants come from? Read the Poetic Edda, one of the very earliest written sources for them.
Get All the Dirt
Early-13th-century author Snorri Sturluson fills in a lot of gossipy details left out of the stories recounted in the Poetic Edda. Plus he adds some stories of his own—not bad.