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Thursday--The Day of Thor

Thor, the Thunderer, is perhaps the most famous of the gods of the Northmen, and was considered by some to be greater even than Odin. He was the God of the Peasants--the poor people, while Odin was thought more of by the rich people and the great fighters. Thor usually rode in a chariot of brass, drawn by two goats, Tooth-cracker and Tooth-gnasher, and it was this chariot which was supposed to make the thunder; hence Thor's name. Thor, alone of all the gods, was never allowed to cross the bridge joining Asgard and the earth, lest this chariot should break it down.

As the Thunderer, Thor corresponded to Jupiter, who, as we have read, hurled thunderbolts when enraged, and for this reason Thor's name was given to the Roman Dies Jovis, the day of Jupiter, the modern French jeudi.

Thor was of very great strength, like Hercules among the Greeks and Romans, and possessed a wonderful hammer called Miolnir, the Crusher, which always returned to his hand when he had thrown it at an enemy. He also wore a magic belt which increased his strength the more he pulled it in. The way in which Miolnir came to be made is told in a story of Thor's wife Sif, who was very proud of her golden hair, which reached down to her feet. One morning Thor woke to find that Sif's hair had been cruelly cut off during the night. Filled with anger, he set out to find the culprit, whom he rightly guessed to be Loki, the God of Fire. Loki was the spirit of evil and mischief, and was always playing cruel tricks on the gods, who frequently punished him. Thor soon caught Loki, and would have strangled him had he not promised to bring Sif a new head of hair as beautiful as the first. Thor then released Loki, who quickly went to the home of the dwarfs, who lived underground. There he found a dwarf who agreed to make the hair for Loki, and also presents for Odin and Frey, the God of the Fields, whom Loki was afraid would be angry with him. The dwarf made a head of hair of the finest gold thread, which he said would grow on Sif's head as soon as it touched it. Then he made the spear Gungnir which, as we have seen, Odin always carried with him; while for Frey he made a ship which could sail through the air as well as on the water, and could be folded up like a cloth. Loki was of course delighted with the skill of this clever little smith, and declared that no other dwarf could be as clever. This led to a challenge from another dwarf, who claimed that he could make three still more wonderful things. This dwarf in his turn made a wild boar with golden bristles, which travelled through the air, and gave out a bright light as it passed; a magic ring, out of which came eight more rings exactly like it every ninth night; and lastly an iron hammer, Miolnir, which no one could resist. Loki and the dwarf then gave their presents to the gods: the spear and the ring to Odin, the ship and the golden boar to Frey, and the hair and the hammer to Thor. The gods decided that the contest had been won by the second dwarf, because Miolnir would be of such great use against the frost-giants, with whom the gods were continually fighting.

Thor often journeyed to the land of the giants, and on one occasion, having set out with Loki, he reached the desolate giant-country at nightfall. A thick mist covered the ground, and, after struggling on with some difficulty, the gods came to what seemed to be a house with an open doorway which took up all one side of the building. The gods entered the house, which was cold and dark, and, tired with their journey, lay down to sleep. Their rest, however, was soon disturbed by a loud noise and the trembling of the ground, and, fearing the roof of the house might fall on them, Thor and his companion moved into a smaller room which led out of the main building, and there slept till dawn. On going out into the open the next morning, Thor saw lying near an enormous giant, whose snores shook the ground, and was thus able to account for the noise and the trembling of the earth which had disturbed his sleep. But imagine the astonishment of the gods when the giant woke and picked up the house they had slept in--they had passed the night in the thumb of his glove! Thor and his companion then continued their journey, accompanied now by the giant, whose name was Skrymir. When evening came, they rested beneath a tree, and the giant, before going to sleep, offered them the food which he carried in his wallet. Thor, however, was unable to undo the straps of the huge wallet, so the gods had to go hungry. Angry at this, Thor dealt the giant, who was now asleep, three terrible blows on the head with his hammer Miolnir. But the only effect this had on the giant was to cause him to wake up and complain that three times a leaf or a twig had fallen on his head. The next morning Skrymir showed the gods the way to the castle of Utgard-loki, the giant king, and then left them. Arriving at the palace, the gods entered and presented themselves to the king, who recognized them and asked them to show him their powers of which he had heard so much. Loki, who was very hungry, offered to eat more than anyone, and the king's cook was matched against him. They each stood at the end of a wooden trough full of meat, and though Loki soon reached the middle of the trough, leaving nothing but bones behind, he found that the giant had eaten the bones and the trough as well. Loki's defeat made Thor even more anxious to show his powers, and he offered to empty the largest drinking-horn in the palace. A huge drinking-horn was at once brought in, and Thor drank so deep and so long that it seemed as if he would never stop, only to find, however, when he could drink no more, that the horn was still almost full. Nothing daunted by his failure, Thor now offered to show his strength, but when he tried to lift Utgard-loki's cat, he only succeeded in raising one paw from the ground. Thor tried yet again to show his skill, this time in wrestling, but he was easily beaten by Utgard-loki's old nurse. The gods were then entertained by the giants till the following day, when they returned. Before they left, however, Utgard-loki explained that he was the giant Skrymir, and that he had used magic against the gods in all their contests. By magic he had placed a mountain between his head and Thor's hammer and thus saved his life, for the blows had made three huge clefts in the mountain. The cook who had beaten Loki was really Wild Fire; the end of the drinking-horn which Thor had failed to empty had been placed in the sea, which had sunk lower after Thor's enormous draughts; the cat was really the huge snake Iormungandr, which encircled the earth, and which Thor had nearly lifted out of the sea; the nurse was really Old Age, whom, of course, no one could possibly overcome.

Thor seldom lost an opportunity of making war on the giants, and on a famous occasion challenged to single combat the giant Hrungnir, whose head and heart were of stone. Hrungnir one day matched his horse Golden Mane against Odin's steed, Sleipnir, and, in the excitement of the race, followed Odin right to the gates of Valhalla. Though, of course, the presence of a giant in Asgard could not be allowed, the gods had no wish to take advantage of Hrungnir's mistake, and offered him meat and drink in their banqueting hall. Hrungnir, however, drank too freely of the mead of the gods, and began to speak proud words and boast one day that he would overthrow Asgard and kill all the gods. This so enraged Thor that he raised his hammer to kill Hrungnir, but the gods would not allow him to shed blood within their home. He then challenged the giant to a duel, which was arranged to take place three days later on the boundary of Hrungnir's kingdom. At the appointed time the giant was on the chosen spot awaiting his enemy, and, feeling the earth shaking beneath him, he stood on his shield of stone, lest Thor should come up from the ground. But no sooner had he done this than Thor suddenly came in sight and hurled his hammer straight at the giant's head. Hrungnir, having no shield, tried to ward off the hammer with his stone club, which was shattered to pieces, thus scattering flint stones over the whole earth, where they may still be found. One piece entered Thor's forehead, and he dropped fainting to the ground, but as lie fell his hammer struck Hrungnir on the head and killed him. Thor was pinned to the ground by one of the giant's legs, and, after each of the gods had tried in vain to free him, he was at last rescued by Magni, his little son of three, who easily raised the giant's leg and released his father, receiving as a reward Hrungnir's horse, Golden Mane. Magni was one of the few gods destined to survive the terrible Ragnarok, the day of destruction, when, as we shall see, Thor, the Thunderer, fell in mortal combat with the sea-monster Iormungandr.

  The Challenge of Thor
  I am the God Thor,
  I am the War God,
  I am the Thunderer!
  Here in my Northland,
  My fastness and fortress,
  Reign I for ever!
  Here amid ice-bergs
  Rule I the nations;
  This is my hammer,
  Miolner the mighty;
  Giants and sorcerers
  Cannot withstand it!
  These are the gauntlets
  Wherewith I wield it,
  And hurl it afar off;
  This is my girdle;
  Whenever I brace it,
  Strength is redoubled!
  The light thou beholdest
  Stream through the heavens,
  In flashes of crimson,
  Is but my red beard
  Blown by the night-wind,
  Affrighting the nations.
  Jove is my brother;
  Mine eyes are the lightning;
  The wheels of my chariot
  Roll in the thunder,
  The blows of my hammer
  Ring in the earthquake!
  Force rules the world still,
  Has ruled it, shall rule it;
  Meekness is weakness,
  Strength is triumphant,
  Over the whole earth,
  Still is it Thor's-day!
    LONGFELLOW--The Saga of King Olaf.


Next: Chapter XIX. Friday--The Day of Freya