Study Guide

The Walling of Asgard and the Birth of Sleipnir

  • Introduction

    You don’t have to read very much Norse mythology before you get a bit weirded out. These stories can be seriously strange and wacky. Sometimes, it’s not so much the plot of the stories themselves, but the little details, that raise eyebrows. Isn’t it a little crazy – and very gross – that, in Norse mythology, the whole race of giants (called Jotun) grew out of another giant’s armpit? Talk about bad b.o. Or consider that, during Ragnarok, the enemies of the gods will supposedly be ferried by a ship made entirely of dead peoples’ toenails. How did they think this stuff up?

    Somewhat less gag-worthy, but still very weird, is Odin’s preferred mode of transport. If you’ve read the myths about "The Death of Balder" or "Thor and the Jotun Hrungnir," you may have noticed that Odin gets around on an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. Sleipnir’s pretty awesome. Odin uses him to outrun Hrungnir and trap him in Asgard. Sleipnir’s also the only horse that can carry his rider to the Underworld, Hel. Sleipnir’s general awesomeness explains why Odin calls him "the best of horses" and prefers him to any other ride. But you might still be wondering about where Sleipnir came from. And, oh yeah, why the heck does he have eight legs?

    Well, inquisitive Shmooper, you’re in luck. Because, unlike the armpit-origin of the Jotun race or the ship made entirely of toenails, Odin’s eight-legged horse has a thorough explanation in Norse mythology – a whole story, in fact. It turns out, Sleipnir’s the offspring of a stallion named Svadilfari and the trickster-god, Loki.

    The story of Sleipnir’s origin also explains the huge wall around Asgard, and adds yet another reason to the long list of reasons that the gods and giants hate each other so much. So, if you want to impress people with your deep understanding of Norse mythology, this story is a pretty important one to know. After you read our guide, you’ll never again have to wonder where the eight-legged horse named Sleipnir came from. As for the ship made entirely of toenails? Sorry, can’t help you there.

    • Best of the Web

      The Walling of Asgard and the Birth of Sleipnir Resources

      Websites

      Hurstwic Norse Mythology
      Here's an illustrated version of "The Walling of Asgard" from Hurstwic Norse mythology. The Hurstwic Society's mission is to educate people about the history of the Viking Age.

      Timeless Myths: Asgard
      Timeless Myth's account of the walling of Asgard begins with a detailed description of the Norse cosmology and provides hyperlinks for many of the characters and places involved in the story.

      Historical Documents

      Prose Edda: Gylfaginning
      The first book of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, the Gylfaginning, or Tricking of Gylfi, contains a question-and-answer game in which Gylfi's questions reveal the nature of the Norse cosmos. The story of the walling of Asgard is found in Chapter 42.

      Codex Upsaliensis
      Here's an image of the first page of the Codex Upsaliensis, the 14th-century manuscript of the Prose Edda, from a page about the Early Scandinavian Philology department at Uppsala University.

      Books

      Prose Edda
      Like it so much you want to own the book? The Penguin Classic's edition of the Prose Edda provides a modern, accessible translation by a professor of Icelandic and Old Norse studies at UCLA.

      d'Aulaire's Norse Myths
      A classic among mythical anthologies, with great artwork.

      Kevin Crossley-Holland's The Norse Myths
      Renowned young adult literature author Kevin Crossley-Holland tackles Norse mythology.

      Images

      Where do all of those legs go?
      This artist puts six of Sleipnir's legs in front, and two in back. Hmm. we're not sure what to think of that.

      Four and Four
      This picture has Sleipnir with four legs in front and four legs in back. Is that how you picture him?

      Audio

      Chatterbox Audio Theater
      Chatterbox Audio Theater offers a radio play of "The Walling of Asgard."