Adapted from the Icelandic Prose Edda, this is cra-zee.
⁓The Voice before the Void
“Thor’s Adventures Among the Jötuns”
adapted by Julia Goddard
Once upon a time Thor set out upon his travels, taking Loki with him, for despite Loki’s spirit of mischief he often aided Thor, who doubtless, in the present expedition, felt that Loki might be of use to him.
So they set off together in Thor’s chariot, drawn by its two strong he-goats, and as night drew nigh, stopped at the hut of a peasant, where they asked food and shelter.
“Food I have none to give you,” said the peasant. “I am a poor man and not able even to give supper to my children, but if you like to rest under my roof you are welcome to do so.”
“Never mind the food; I can manage that,” said Thor, dismounting from the chariot and entering the hut.
It was a poor place, and not at all fitted to receive one of the Asi, but Thor was glad enough to meet with it, wretched as it was.
“You can kill the goats,” said he; “they will make us an excellent meal.”
The peasant could not help thinking that it was a pity to kill two such fine animals; but wisely thinking that this was no affair of his, and that the stranger had a right to do as he pleased with his own, he set himself to obey Thor’s orders, and with the help of his daughter Raska soon spread a savory repast before the hungry god and his attendant.
“Sit down, all of you,” said Thor; “there is enough and to spare.”
So they all sat down, and the peasant and his children shared a more plentiful meal than had fallen to their lot lately. Thor and Loki also did ample justice to the food, and when supper was over the thunder-god bade the peasant gather the bones and place them in the goatskins, and making them into a bundle he left them on the floor until the next morning.
When the morning came and the early sun shone in through the crevices, Thor raised his hammer, and instead of the bundle of bones the peasant and his son and daughter saw the two goats standing as fresh and lively as if nothing had happened to them, saving that one of them halted a little in his walk.
When they sought to learn why this should be, it was found that Thialfe, the boy, in getting the marrow out of one of the bones, had broken it, and it was this that caused the goat to go lame.
Thor was very angry, and was very near killing not only Thialfe but also the peasant and his daughter Raska, but they begged so hard for their lives that he consented to spare them on condition that the boy and girl should follow him in his travels.
To this they agreed, and Thor, leaving the chariot and goats in the peasant’s care, went on his journey, giving Thialfe, who was a very swift runner, his wallet to carry.
On and on they journeyed until they came to a great sea.
“How are we to get over this?” asked Loki.
“Swim across it,” replied Thor.
And in they all plunged, for Thialfe and Raska were used to a hardy life, and so were able to swim with scarcely more weariness than Thor and Loki, and were not long in reaching the opposite shore.
“The country does not improve,” said Loki, looking round upon the desolate plain that lay outstretched between them and the borders of a dark forest, which they could just see in the far distance. One or two huge rocks thrust their jagged points high into the air, and great blocks of stone were scattered about, but there was no sign of herbage and not a tree to be seen nearer than the forest belt bounding the horizon. Heavy gray clouds were drawing nearer and nearer to the dreary earth, and twilight was fast approaching. “It looks not well,” answered Thor, “but we must push on and perhaps may find it better as we go onward. Besides, night is drawing nigh, and as there are no dwellings to be seen we must try to gain the shelter of the forest before it is too dark to see where we are going.”
So they pushed on, and though they looked to the right hand and to the left, soon found that they were in a land where no men lived. There was, therefore, nothing to be done but to quicken their speed, in order to reach the shelter of the forest. But though they strove to the utmost, the twilight deepened into darkness and the darkness became so deep by the time they reached the forest, that they only knew they had arrived there by Loki’s striking his head against a low branch, and soon after this Thor cried out:
“Good luck! I have found a house. Follow close after me and we will make ourselves comfortable for the night.”
For Thor in groping along had come to what he supposed to be a wall of solid masonry.
“Where are you?” asked Loki, “for it is so dark that I cannot see you.”
“Here,” answered Thor, stretching out his hand; “take hold and follow me.”
So Loki clutched Thor’s arm, and Thialfe in turn seized the arm of Loki, whilst Raska clung to her brother and wished herself safe at home in her father’s hut.
And thus they groped their way along the wall, seeking to find an entrance to the house.
At last Thor found a huge entrance opening into a wide hall, and passing through this they turned to the left into a large room which was quite empty, and here, after eating some food, they stretched themselves upon the hard floor and wearied out with the day’s march, soon fell asleep.
But they did not sleep long. Their slumbers were broken by a rumbling sound as of a coming earthquake; the walls of the house shook, and peals of thunder echoed through the lofty chamber.
Thor sprang up. “We are scarcely safe here,” he said; “let us seek some other room.” Loki jumped up speedily, as did also Thialfe and Raska, who were in a great fright, wondering what dreadful thing was going to happen to them. They willingly followed Thor, hoping to find a safer place.
To the right they saw another room like a long gallery with a huge doorway, and into this Loki, Thialfe, and Raska crept, choosing the farthest corner of it; but Thor took his stand at the doorway to be on the watch if any fresh danger should threaten them.
After a somewhat uncomfortable rest, Loki, Thialfe, and Raska were not sorry to find that the day had dawned, though as there were no windows in the house, they only knew it by hearing the cock crow.
Thor was better off, for the doorway was so wide that the sunlight came pouring in without hindrance. Indeed the huge size of the doorway made Thor think that the builder must have given up all hope of ever finding a door large enough to fit into it.
He strolled away from the house, and the first thing that he saw was a huge giant fast asleep upon the greensward; and now he knew that the thunder that had so frightened them in the night had been nothing more or less than the loud snoring of the giant.
So wroth was Thor at the thought that such a thing should have made him afraid, that he fastened on his belt of strength and drew his sword and made towards the giant as though he would kill him on the spot.
But the giant, opening his great round eyes, stared so steadily at Thor that the god became mazed and could do nothing but stare in return.
At last, however, he found voice to ask, “What is your name?”
“My name,” said the giant, raising himself on one elbow, thereby causing his head to rise so high into the air that Thor thought it was taking flight altogether, “is Skrymner; you, I believe, are the god Thor?”
“I am,” answered the god.
“Do you happen to have picked up my glove?” asked the giant carelessly.
Then Thor knew that what he and his companions had taken for a large house was only the giant’s glove, and from this we may judge how huge a giant Skrymner must have been.
Thor made no answer, and Skrymner next asked whither Thor was traveling; and when he found that he was journeying to Utgard, offered to bear him company, as he too was going to the same place.
Thor accepted the giant’s offer, and after eating a hearty meal, all were ready for another day’s march.
Skrymner showed himself a kindly giant, and insisted upon carrying Thor’s bag of meal, putting it into his own wallet, which he slung across his broad shoulders.
It must have been a strange sight, indeed, to see the great giant stalking along with his smaller companions at his heels; and we may well marvel how they managed to keep pace with him, or how Thor was able to raise his voice to such a pitch as to reach the giant’s ears.
Nevertheless all went well, and they trudged cheerfully along, never flagging in their talk.
Once Skrymner took Raska on his shoulder, but the height made her so giddy that she was glad to come down again and walk quietly by the side of Thialfe.
When night overtook them they encamped under one of the great oak-trees, for they were not yet out of the bounds of the forest. Skrymner, to judge by his loud snoring, fell asleep the moment he lay down upon the ground, but Thor and his comrades were not so tired as to forget that they had tasted nothing since breakfast time. Accordingly they set to work to open the wallet that Skrymner had given into their hands before closing his eyes.
But it was no easy task, and with all their efforts they failed to open it. Not a knot could they untie, and their fingers were chafed and aching.
Neither were they more able to awaken Skyrmner, and Thor’s anger waxed exceedingly fierce. “You shall pay for this,” said he, flinging his hammer at the giant.
Skrymner half opened the eye nearest to Thor, and said in a very sleepy voice, “Why will the leaves drop off the trees?” And then he snored as loudly as before.
Thor picked up his hammer, and approaching nearer drove it into the hinder part of the giant’s head, who again, half waking up, muttered, “How troublesome the dust is!”
Thor was exceedingly astonished at this, but thought nevertheless that he would once more make trial of his power; so coming up close to Skrymner he struck with such force as to drive the hammer up to the handle in the giant’s cheek.
Then Skrymner opened both eyes, and lazily lifting his finger to his face said, “I suppose there are birds about, for I fancied I felt a feather fall.”
Now was Thor fairly disconcerted; and the next morning, when the giant told him that they must now part, as his road led him another way, Thor was by no means ill-pleased, and he let Skrymner go without so much as bidding him “good speed.” Skrymner, however, seemed not to notice that Thor was glad to be quit of his company, and gave him some very friendly advice before he left him.
“If you will take my advice,” said the giant, “you will give up this thought of visiting Utgard. The people there are all giants of greater stature even than I, and they make nothing of little men, such as you are. Nay, more, you yourself are likely to fare but badly amongst them, for I see that you are rather apt to think too much of yourself and to take too much upon you. Be wise while there is time, think of what I say, and don’t go near the city.”
“But I will go there,” shouted Thor, almost choked with rage; “I will go in spite of all the Jötuns of Jötunheim. None shall hinder me, and the giants shall see and wonder at the mighty power of the god Thor.”
And as he spoke the rising sun fell full upon the city of Utgard, whose huge brazen gates glittered in the sunlight. Even though they were so far away, Thor could see how high they were; and as he drew nearer, their vast size filled him with amazement; but when he reached them his wonder was beyond all words, for he and his companions seemed no larger than grasshoppers, in comparison with their height.
The gates were not open, for it was yet early; so Thor and his comrades crept through the bars, and entered the city. As they passed along the streets the houses were so tall that it was only by crossing to the opposite side of the broad road that they were able to see the windows in the topmost stories. And the streets were so wide that it was quite a journey across them.
Once a mouse darted out of a hole, and Raska screamed, for she thought it was a grisly bear. The mouse also shrieked and made much more noise than Raska, as well it might, for a cat so huge that Thialfe half thought it must be the monster of Midgard seized it, and giving it a pat with one of its paws laid it dead on the pavement.
As for the horses, their hoofs were terrible to look at, and Thialfe and Raska must have climbed up ladders if they wished to see their heads.
The people were quite as large as Skrymner had described and Thor and his companions were obliged to be very careful lest they should get trodden upon, as it was very doubtful if the people even saw them.
Still Thor walked along with the proud consciousness that he was the god Thor; and feeling that though he was so small he was yet a person of some importance, made his way to the palace, and desired to see the King.
After some little time he and his fellow travelers were ushered into the presence of Utgarda Loke, the King of the country. And Utgarda Loke, hearing the door open, raised his eyes, thinking to see some great courtier enter, but he knew nothing of the bows and greetings of Thor, until happening to cast his eyes to the ground, he saw a little man with his companions saluting him with much ceremony.
The King had never seen such small men before, and there was something so absurd to him in the sight, that he burst out laughing.
And then all the courtiers laughed also, pretending that they had not seen the little creatures before.
It was some time before they all left off laughing, but at length there was a pause, and Thor essayed to make himself heard.
“Though we are but small in comparison with the Jötuns,” said he angrily, “we are by no means to be despised, but are gifted with powers that may surprise you.”
“Really!” answered Utgarda Loke, raising his eyebrows. And then he and his courtiers laughed louder than before.
At last there was another pause in their merriment, and the King added: “However, we are willing to give the strangers a fair trial in order to prove the truth of what their spokesman, whom I take to be the god Thor, says. How say you? What can this one do?” And he pointed to Loki.
“Please your Majesty, I am very great at eating,” returned Loki.
“Nay,” answered Utgarda Loke, “you must grow a little before you are great at anything.”
At which speech the courtiers again shouted with laughter; but Utgarda Loke, turning to his servants, bade them make trial of Loki’s powers. So they brought a great trough full of food, and Loki was placed at one end, and a courtier named Loge at the other. They both fell to work to devour what was before them, and met at the middle of the trough. But it was found that while Loki had eaten the flesh of his portion, Loge had eaten, not only the flesh, but the bones also. Therefore Loki, was, of course, vanquished.
Then Utgarda Loke turned to Thialfe. “And pray, in what may this youth be specially skilled?” he asked.
“I am a swift skater,” answered Thialfe.
“Try him,” said the King.
And Thialfe was led to a plain of ice, as smooth as glass, and one named Hugr was set to run against him. But though Thialfe was the swiftest skater ever known in the world, yet Hugr glided past him so fleetly that he had returned to the starting-post before Thialfe had done more than a quarter of the distance.
Three times did Thialfe match his speed against Hugr, and, three times beaten, withdrew from the contest as disconsolate as Loki.
“And now may I ask what you can do yourself?” said the King to Thor.
“I can drain a wine-cup with any one,” replied the god.
“Try him,” said Utgarda Loke.
And forthwith the royal cupbearer presented a drinking-horn to Thor.
“If you are as great as you pretend to be,” said the King, “you will drain it at one draught. Some people take two pulls at it, but the weakest among us can manage it in three.”
Thor took up the horn, and, being very thirsty, took a steady pull at it. He thought he had done very well, but on removing it from his lips he marveled to see how little had gone.
A second time he took a draught, but the horn was far from being emptied.
Again a third time he essayed to drain it, but it was full almost to the brim.
Therefore he set it down in despair, and confessed himself unable to drain it.
“I am disappointed in you,” said Utgarda Loke; “you are not half the man I took you for. I see it is no use asking you to do warrior’s feats; I must try you in a simpler way, in a child’s play that we have amongst us. You shall try to lift my cat from the ground.”
Thor turned quite scarlet, and then became white with rage.
“Are you afraid?” asked Utgarde Loke; “you look so pale.”
And a large gray cat came leaping along, and planted itself firmly before Thor, showing its sharp claws, and glaring upon him with its fiery eyes.
Thor seized it, but in spite of all his efforts he was only able to raise one of the cat’s paws from the ground.
“Pooh! pooh!” exclaimed Utgarda Loke, “you are a mere baby, fit only for the nursery. I believe that my old nurse Hela would be more than a match for you. Here, Hela, come and wrestle with the mighty god Thor.”
And Utgarda Loke laughed disdainfully.
Forth stepped a decrepit old woman, with lank cheeks and toothless jaws. Her eyes were sunken, her brow furrowed, and her scanty locks were white as snow.
She advanced towards Thor, and tried to throw him to the ground; but though he put forth his whole strength to withstand her, he was surprised to find how powerful she was, and that it needed all his efforts to keep his feet. For a long time he was successful, but at length she brought him down upon one knee, and Thor was obliged to acknowledge himself conquered.
Ashamed and mortified, he and his companions withdrew to a lodging for the night, and in the morning were making ready to leave the city quietly, when Utgarda Loke sent for them.
He made them a splendid feast, and afterwards went with them beyond the city gates.
“Now tell me honestly,” said he to Thor, “what do you think of your success?”
“I am beyond measure astounded and ashamed,” replied the god.
“Ha! ha!” laughed Utgarda Loke. “I knew that you were. However, as we are well out of the city I don’t mind telling you a secret or two. Doubtless you will receive a little comfort from my doing so, as you confess that your coming hither has been to no purpose.
“In the first place, you have been deceived by enchantments ever since you came within the borders of Jötunheim. I am the giant you met with on your way hither, and if I had known as much of your power then as I do now, you would never have found your way within the walls of Utgard.
“Certainly I had had some slight experience of it, for the three blows you gave me would have killed me had they fallen upon me. But it was not I, but a huge mountain that you struck at; and if you visit it again, you will find three valleys cleft in the rocks by the strokes of your hammer.
“As for the wallet, I had fastened it with a magic chain, so that you need not wonder that you could not open it.
“Loge, with whom Loki strove, was no courtier, but a subtle devouring flame that consumed all before it.”
Here Loki uttered an exclamation of delight, but Thor bade him be silent, and Utgarda Loke went on:
“Thialfe’s enemy was Hugr, or Thought, and let man work away as hard as he pleases, Thought will still outrun him.
“As for yourself, the end of the drinking-horn, though you did not see it, reached the sea, and as fast as you emptied it, it filled again, so that you never could have drained it dry. But the next time that you stand upon the seashore, you will find how much less the ocean is by your draughts.
“The gray cat was no cat, but the great Serpent of Midgard, that twines round the world, and you lifted him so high that we were all quite frightened.
“But your last feat was the most wonderful of all, for Hela was none other than Death. And never did I see any one before over whom Death had so little power.
“And now, my friend, go your way, and don’t come near my city again, for I tell you plainly I do not want you there, and I shall use all kinds of enchantment to keep you out of it.”
As he ended his speech, Thor raised his hammer, but Utgarda Loke had vanished.
“I will return to the city, and be avenged,” said Thor.
But lo! the giant city was nowhere to be seen. A fair pasture-land spread itself out around him, and through its midst a broad river flowed peacefully along.
So Thor and his companions, musing upon their wonderful adventures, turned their steps homewards.