Thor's Unlucky Journey to Jotunheim

Thor, god of thunder, was the most ardent enemy of the Giants; yet
he did not always come out the victor in his encounters with them. Once
upon a time he drove off with his goats, attended by Loki; as night fell, they
found lodging with a countryman. Here Thor slaughtered his goats, flayed
them, and caused them to be cooked; then he invited the countryman, with
his wife, his son, and his daughter, to share the meat with him, but asked
them to throw all the bones down on the goats’ hides. They did as he bade
them, all but Thjalfi, the farmer’s son, who broke a thigh bone to get at the
marrow. At dawn Thor rose, donned his garments, raised Mjollnir aloft, and
with the hammer consecrated the goats’ hides; at once the goats sprang to
their feet, as much alive as ever, except that one of them halted on one
hind leg. Then Thor understood that the countryman or some one in his
house had been careless enough to break the thigh bone; in anger he
knitted his eyebrows and gripped the hammer so tightly that his knuckles
grew white. The countryman, and his whole family with him, begged for
mercy and offered in recompense all that they possessed. When Thor
saw how frightened they were, his wrath cooled and he allowed himself
to be appeased. By way of ransom he agreed to take the countryman’s
two children, the son Thjalfi and the daughter Roskva; and these two
have followed him ever since.

Leaving his goats with the countryman, Thor continued on his journey
to Jotunheim. He reached the seashore, crossed the deeps of the ocean,
and stepped on land once more with his followers. Soon they came to a
great forest, which they traversed all day until darkness fell. Thjalfi, swift of
foot, carried Thor’s wallet filled with food, for there was little to be picked up
on the way. When night came, they looked about for a lodging and
discovered an immense cabin, with a door on one side just as wide as the
cabin itself. They went inside and lay down to sleep. At midnight they felt
an earthquake so violent that the whole building shook; Thor roused his
companions and bade them go into a smaller room through a door in the
middle of the wall; as for himself, he sat down at the threshold with Mjollnir
in his hand. A dreadful din and rumbling filled his ears. In the morning he
went out and saw a gigantic man lying snoring near by in the wood; then he
understood what had caused all the noise he had heard. He buckled on his
belt of strength but just at that
moment the man awoke, and for once, so it is said, Thor found himself little
disposed to strike a blow. Instead, he asked the man his name. The man
answered: “My name is Skrymir, and small need have I to ask for your
name; I know you are Asa-Thor. But what have you done with my glove?”
With these words Skrymir bent down to pick up his glove, and Thor saw
that what he had taken by night to be a cabin was nothing else than
Skrymir’s glove, and that the penthouse was the thumb. “Shall we not travel
together?” asked Skrymir. “Yes,” said Thor. Before starting they ate their
breakfasts, each party by itself, Skrymir from his own wallet, Thor and his
companions from theirs; then Skrymir proposed that they put their food
together in one sack. Thor gave his consent, and so Skrymir tied both their
victuals and his own in a bag, which he slung on his back. He walked
before them with tremendous paces during the day and at evening chose a
night’s lodging for them beneath a huge oak tree. “Here I am going to lie
down to sleep,” he said; “you may take the wallet and eat your supper.”
Skrymir fell asleep at once and was soon snoring heavily. Thor set about
untying the wallet, but with very little success; when he had struggled a
long while with his task, he grew angry, seized Mjollnir in both hands, and
struck Skrymir on the head. Skrymir awoke and asked if a leaf had not
fallen on his head. “Have you had your supper?” he asked. “Yes,” replied
Thor; “we are just going to bed.” In the middle of the night Thor again heard
Skrymir snoring so that the whole forest rang with the sound; he stepped
up to him, lifted the hammer high in the air, and struck the man such a blow
on the crown that the beak of the hammer sank far into the skull. Skrymir
woke and asked: “What is up now? Was that an acorn that dropped on my
head? How are you faring, Thor?” Thor hurried away, saying that he had
just waked up and that the hour was hardly past midnight. “If I might only
strike him a third time,” thought Thor to himself, “he should never see the
light of day again.” He kept watch until Skrymir once more fell asleep a little
before morning, then ran up to him, and with all his might struck him in the
temple so that the hammer sank into his skull up to the very handle.
Skrymir sat up, stroked his cheek with his hand, and said: “There must be
birds sitting in the tree above me; something dropped from the branches
upon my head. Are you awake, Thor? It is time to get up now, and you
have only a little distance to go to reach the stronghold of Utgard. I have
heard you whispering among yourselves that I am not exactly small of
stature, but you will see bigger men when you arrive at Utgard. And by the
way, let me give you a piece of good advice: Do not be too arrogant;
Utgard-Loki’s men do not put up with much bragging from small boys. Else
you had better turn back again, and that might be the wiser thing to do after
all. But if you must and will go farther, walk toward the east; my way lies
north, toward the mountains you see yonder.” With these words Skrymir
picked up the bag of food, slung it on his back, and strode off into
the forest; and the Æsir were very glad to be rid of him.

Thor and his followers walked on until midday. Then they caught sight
of a castle standing in the plain; but they had to bend their necks till their
heads touched their backs before they were able to look over the top of it.
The portals were barred with a gate that they could not unlock; but they
crept in between the wickets and, seeing a huge hall, bent their steps
toward it. The door stood open. They walked inside and there saw many
men, all of immense size, sitting on benches. Among them sat the king,
Utgard-Loki. They saluted him, but he only laughed scornfully, and asked if
the little boy was not Riding-Thor. “You are no doubt bigger than you seem
to be,” he said; “but what kind of manly exercises do you and your traveling
companions know? No one is allowed to sojourn here with us who is not
able to do something or other better than any one else.” Loki, who was
standing behind the rest, spoke up: “There is one sport in which I am ready
to try conclusions at once; nobody here is able to eat faster than I.” Utgard-
Loki answered, “We shall soon find out.” Then he commanded a man
named Logi to step forward from the end of the bench to the middle of the
floor to match his skill in eating against Loki’s. A trencher full of meat was
carried in and placed on the floor; Loki and Logi sat down, one at each end
of the trencher, and ate with all their might. They met in the middle of the
trencher; but while Loki had eaten only the meat, Logi had consumed the
meat, the bones, and the
trencher to boot. So Loki was beaten at this game. “What is that young
fellow there able to do?” asked Utgard-Loki. “I will try running a race with
some one,” answered Thjalfi. “You will need to be swift of foot,” said
Utgard-Loki; then he went out into the field and asked a little fellow named
Hugi to run against Thjalfi. In the first race Hugi was so far ahead that he
turned back at the goal to meet Thjalfi. “You had better stretch your legs a
bit more if you want to win,” said Utgard-Loki; “for that matter, no swifter
runner than you has ever visited us.” In the second race Hugi reached the
goal and turned while Thjalfi still had a long bowshot to run. “A very pretty
heat,” said Utgard-Loki; “yet I can hardly believe that Thjalfi would win if
you two ran a third time.” They ran once more; but when Hugi had reached
the goal and turned around, Thjalfi had not covered half the course. All
agreed that this contest might very well be regarded as finished. “What kind
of manly sport are you going to favor us with, Thor?” asked Utgard-Loki;
“we have heard great things about your prowess.” “I will drink with any one
that cares to drink,” answered Thor. “Very good,” said Utgard-Loki; then he
went into the hall and asked his cupbearer to take down the great horn that
the king’s men were sentenced to drink from when they had done amiss.
“We consider it well done,” said Utgard-Loki, “if a man is able to empty this
horn at one draught; some require two; but no one is such a weakling that
he cannot drain it in three draughts.” Looking at the horn, Thor did not think
it very large but rather long;
thirsty as he was, he placed it to his lips, drank deep, and thought to
himself that he should probably not have to bend his head to the horn
again. But when he stopped and looked to see how much he had drunk, it
seemed to him that there was left not much less than there was before.
“You have drunk pretty well,” said Utgard-Loki, “but no great amount; to be
sure, if any one had told me that Asa-Thor was no better drinker, I should
not have believed it; but I am sure you will empty the horn at the second
draught.” Thor answered not a word, but took as long a pull as he possibly
could; still the other end of the horn had not risen as high as he might have
wished. When he paused it seemed to him that the level had sunk even
less than before, yet now it was possible at least to carry the horn without
spilling any of the liquor. “If you care to drink a third time, you have left the
greater part till the last,” said Utgard-Loki; “but if you are not more skilled in
other games than in this, you cannot hope to earn as great a name among
us as you have among the Æsir.” Thor grew angry and placed the horn to
his lips once more. He drank with all his might and kept drinking as long as
ever he was able; when he paused to look, he could see that the level had
sunk a little, but he did not want to drink any more. “It is easy to see,” said
Utgard-Loki, “that you are not so great a man as we supposed. Perhaps
you would like to try your luck at other exercises, since you have had such
bad luck with this one?” Thor answered, “I am willing to risk it; but unless I
am much mistaken my drinking would have earned praise
at home among the Æsir.” Utgard-Loki replied “Our young boys sometimes
find amusement in lifting my cat off the ground; it is only a small matter, and
I should not have thought of proposing such a thing to Thor if I had not
seen with my own eyes that you are far from being as mighty as I had
supposed.” A large gray cat ran out upon the floor of the hall. Thor stepped
forward, took hold with one hand under her belly, and lifted; but the more
he pulled, the more the cat bent herself into a bow; and when Thor had
stretched his hand up as far as he could stretch, the cat raised only one
foot off the floor. So Thor was worsted at this game too. Utgard-Loki
declared that he might have known as much beforehand, since Thor was
small of stature as compared with the big men around him. “Let one of
them come out and wrestle with me if you think I am so small,” answered
Thor, “for now I am really in bad humor.” “Not a man in the hall would
demean himself so far as to take a turn with you,” said Utgard-Loki, “but I
will call in my old foster mother, Elli.” She accordingly came in and grappled
with Thor; but the more Thor tightened his hold, the firmer she stood; at last
she began to use tricks of her own, and in the end Thor perforce sank
down on one knee. “Perhaps that will do,” said Utgard-Loki; “Thor will
hardly challenge any one else here to a wrestling match.” With these words
he showed Thor and his companions to their seats. They remained there
the rest of the night, and were entertained with the utmost hospitality.
In the morning they rose and prepared to continue
their journey. Utgard-Loki himself came in and caused a table to be spread
for them, laden with all kinds of food and drink. Then they set forth on their
way. Utgard-Loki accompanied them out of the castle and, as they were
about to depart, asked Thor what he thought of the outcome of his
expedition. Thor answered that he knew he had added nothing to his fame
and that he felt the keenest disappointment to think that he was leaving
behind him the reputation of a mere weakling. “Now I will tell you the truth,”
said Utgard-Loki, “since you are well outside of the castle. Never with my
consent, so long as I live and rule, shall you be allowed to enter it again.
And you would never have gained entrance if I had known how strong you
were; for you came very near bringing the greatest misfortune upon us. The
fact is, you have all been hoodwinked. It was I that you met in the forest; I
tied the wallet with troll-iron so that you might not guess how to open it.
Each single blow that you struck would have killed me outright if, unknown
to you, I had not interposed for my protection the huge mountain you
beheld outside the stronghold; there you may see even now three valleys,
the one deeper than the other, all of them marks of your blows. The like
happened with the games you played: Loki was hungry and ate very well,
but Logi (logi = flame) was none other than fire itself turned loose, which
consumed at one time both meat and trencher. Hugi, the fellow with whom
Thjalfi ran his races, was my own thought (hugr), which of course was the
fleeter of the two. When you drank from the horn, the wonder
grew till I could not trust my own eyes; for the other end lay out in the
ocean itself. If you look closely you can see how the level has sunk; that is
what we call ebb tide. When you lifted the cat, we were all alarmed; she is
the Midgard Serpent that encompasses all lands, but you raised her so
high that head and tail barely touched the floor together. The wrestling
match with Elli was no less a marvel, for never a man lived, nor ever shall
live, but must fall before her (elli = old age). Now we are to part, and it were
best for both of us that you never came back; for the future I will not fail to
be on my guard against arts of that kind.” Thor lifted his hammer, meaning
to smite Utgard-Loki, but in a twinkling he had disappeared. Nor was Thor
able again to catch sight of the castle; and so he had to return to
Thrudvang. Yet before long he was bound on another expedition, this time
against the Midgard Serpent itself.


Peter Andreas Munch: Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes. The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York. 1926, pp. 56-65.
Rasmus B. Anderson (Ed.): The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson and the Younger Eddas of Snorre Sturleson. Norræna Society, London-New York. 1906, pp 300ff.

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