Study Guide

The Walling of Asgard and the Birth of Sleipnir The Jotun Stone-Mason (Master Builder)

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The Jotun Stone-Mason (Master Builder)

Who is this guy who suddenly shows up in Asgard one day and, out of the blue, offers to build a gigantic wall around it? Why does he ask for Freyja, the sun, and the moon as payment? The stone-mason in "The Walling of Asgard" is what folklore-scholars (yup, they exist) refer to as the "Master Builder" or "The Helper." This character is a mysterious stranger who appears suddenly when a hero is faced with a daunting task – in this case, the construction of an enormous wall to keep the giants out of Asgard – and just happens to possess exactly the skill needed to accomplish it.

Still, the use of The Helper's services always comes with a catch. Sound familiar? You may be thinking of the classic fairy tale "Rumpelstiltskin," in which a dwarf helps a miller's daughter spin straw into gold in return for her first-born child. Just like in "The Walling of Asgard,"The Helper who appears in "Rumpelstiltskin"seems at first to be the answer to a prayer, but turns out to drive a terribly hard bargain. When The Helper's identity is discovered, though, all his power disappears. In this case, once the gods learn that the "stone-mason" is actually an angry Jotun, or giant, they know exactly how to destroy him: with one well-aimed blow of Thor's hammer.

We don't know about you, but we've always felt kind of sorry for The Helper in these stories. Sure, he may drive a hard bargain, but it's not like anybody's forcing the hero to agree to it. The narrator of "The Walling of Asgard"in the Prose Edda seems to feel a similar sense of the injustice of The Helper's death, detailing how the Jotun in this story has his skull "burst into small crumbs" (Prose Edda, Gylfaginning, Chapter 42, pp. 55 – 56) by Thor's hammer, despite all the well-witnessed oaths and promises of the gods not to harm him. Yes, he was an angry giant, but wouldn't you be p.o.'ed if someone made a deal with you and then purposefully kept you from keeping your side of the bargain? After reading this story, we almost don't blame the Jotuns for all the trouble they give the gods of Asgard.

What do you think? Did the Jotun in this story deserve what he got, or was he treated unfairly?

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