Character Sketch: Thor

Thor is the son of Odin, husband of Sif, and father of Thrúd (daughter) and Magni and Módi (sons).

Thor is one of Norse mythology’s most prominent gods and perhaps the ultimate representative of the Old Norse conception of masculinity. He is the most physically powerful of Odin’s sons, and with his dwarf-made hammer Mjöllnir, he is formidable. First and foremost, he defends Asgard—and especially Sif and Thrúd—from the Jötnar who would challenge, threaten, or steal from the Aesir. He’s not exactly the sharpest sword in the armoury, but his sheer strength and courage combined with a general lack of guile make him more honest and forthright than the average man. He doesn’t mince words, only enemies.

Despite his reputation for being a little slow on the uptake, he occasionally proves that he’s no witless wonder. Upon learning that the dwarf Alviss (“All-wise”) intends to marry Thrúd, Thor challenges him to a battle of words and says Alviss can marry Thrúd if he can answer all Thor’s questions. Through the night, Thor keeps the dwarf busy until the sun rises and turns him to stone, ending any chance Alviss had of marrying Thor’s daughter.

Perhaps one of the most curious aspects of Thor is his choice of work animal. His chariot is drawn by two goats charmingly named Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder, whom he eats and then restores to life. Given that Odin rides the eight-legged horse Sleipnir—the best of all horses—it seems odd that his mightiest son should choose goats. I strongly suspect this signifies Thor’s rather close relationship to humans, as sheep and goats were commonly kept animals. Or it may simply be that the goat’s infamously ornery temperament was considered a good match for Thor’s.

In Black Wolf, Thor’s strength, good nature, forthright manner, and ability to hold his ale make him rather popular among the Aesir. He is protective of his family and their honour, but as Odin attempts to defy the future that the Norns have foretold, Thor is forced to choose between his loyalties as a son, a father, a husband, and a brother.

Excerpt: An Undefeatable Foe

Thor scanned the crowd. He had never been bested in combat by any Jötun, but these contests seemed to be rigged and there were many powerful warriors here—was there one even greater who remained out of sight?

Although Thor would not admit it to himself, he was already nervous and Útgarda-Loki’s pacing further unsettled him. He watched with seemingly casual interest as his unpredictable host sauntered around the perimeter of the circle, his palms pressed together and fingertips raised to his lips, partially disguising the subtle smirk turning up the corner of his mouth. Clearly, he had something devious in mind.

Útgarda-Loki turned to face Thor, lowering his hands to his hips. “Well, I think we’ve all been waiting long enough. I confess I was concerned when the mighty Thor entered my hall, but I have been impressed by his graciousness—perhaps now I can be impressed by his legendary strength.”

The crowd murmured and laughed, but Thor focused on Útgarda-Loki, who grinned back at him, gestured toward the crowd, and spoke in a booming voice.

“Thor of the Aesir, I present to you your opponent, Elli.”

The crowds parted. A stooped old woman hobbled into the circle on a rickety cane, her thin grey hair pinned up in a frazzled bun at the back of her head. Her wrinkled skin nearly sagged off her face and gnarled hands; her shaky legs could barely hold her up. She left her walking stick with a young woman at the front of the crowd and limped over to Thor. The top of her head barely reached his chest.

Thor huffed, insulted. He had fought and killed Jötun women when they tried to kill him, but he had never been faced with a woman in what should have been a fair fight. Hardly any man could stand against him, never mind an old crone.

“I will not fight an old woman,” he growled, crossing his muscular arms over his chest.

Útgarda-Loki shrugged nonchalantly. “You can choose to not fight her, but be forewarned—she will fight you.”

A leathery hand gripped Thor’s wrist and wrenched his arm away from his body. Thor hollered in surprise and pain; he barely managed to twist his arm out of the old woman’s grasp before she could force him to submit. He circled her, but she followed him with her milky eyes as she sucked and smacked her shrivelled lips. Whenever Thor stopped moving, she took a wobbly step toward him.

For Thor, this was an impossible situation. He did not want to wrestle an old woman, but it was clear that she would not give up and he would be shamed if he did not fight.

But could he win? This was no ordinary crone—she was unnaturally strong and eerily focused. What sort of wretched creature was she? Thor looked to Loki for answers or reassurance, but Loki shrugged and turned his empty palms up.

Thor didn’t want to tackle the old woman to the ground, and he wondered if he even could. She wasn’t fast, but she was inexplicably powerful. If she got hold of his arms, she might use his momentum against him. Her bent-kneed hobble and hunched back made her considerably shorter than Thor, which gave her an advantage. All he needed to do, however, was get her down on one knee. Thor hoped he could do it without hurting her.

It seemed that the best thing to do was to get behind the old woman, restrain her arms, and pull her off-balance. It shouldn’t cause her too much pain, unlike forcefully twisting her body out of shape to make her submit. However, Thor wasn’t fast enough to get around her back, as she simply pivoted on one heel and reached out to grab him whenever he tried to duck behind her. On several occasions, she nearly got him.

The gathered Jötnar tittered, and loudly whispered jests began to percolate through the crowd. Perhaps the great and terrible Thor they had all heard so much about was just a story to scare little children.

Of all the Jötnar, Útgarda-Loki laughed the loudest. “Come now, Thor, surely you can outmatch an old woman!”

Huffing and red-faced, Thor dove at his opponent, trying to get at one of her legs so he could pull her off her feet. Instead, as he had feared, she grabbed his arm and spun him around on the spot. She twisted his arm behind him, but he wrested himself from her excruciating grip as the onlookers shouted taunts.

Thor was quite embarrassed and growing angrier with every failed attempt to bring Elli down. He ran at her and wrapped his arms around her thighs. He tried to pull her off her feet, but though his broad back strained and his mighty arms burned, she wouldn’t yield. It was like trying to uproot an ancient oak.

His immovable opponent grabbed his arms and peeled them away from her body, freeing herself with little effort. In one motion, she wobbled backwards and jerked Thor forward with tremendous force. Thor, who was already crouched low, stumbled off balance; as he did, the old woman twisted his arm hard behind him, turning his body sideways and bringing him down onto one knee. Without a word, she limped away to retrieve her walking stick and disappeared into the crowd.

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