8 Things Marvel Got Wrong About Thor and Norse Mythology

Illustration for article titled 8 Things Marvel Got Wrong About Thor and Norse Mythology

It may shock you to learn that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did not do an accurate job bringing the Norse god Thor and his mythology into the Marvel comics universe back in 1962. If they had, they would have been arrested, because Norse myths are full of murder, mayhem and weird sex, most of which still wouldn’t be publishable nowadays. Here are eight major ways Thor and his world differ between the comics and the myths.


1) Thor

Let’s start with the God of Thunder himself, shall we? Marvel’s Thor is a blond, often clean-shaven man who speaks in Shakespearean speech patterns, with lots of “thee’s” and “thou’s.” Believe it or not, the god of the ancient Norseman did not speak English of any sort. The original Thor also had red hair, was never willingly without his beard, and gloried in battle to the point where Marvel’s Thor might have thought him a supervillain. The Norse Thor needed magic gloves to have Mjonir fly back to him, and a special belt to use Mjolnir at its full power While Marvel used the belt in the alternative universe Ultimates comics, the gloves have not been mentioned in the regular Marvel U. at all. The original Thor can’t fly except with the use of his chariot drawn by the goats Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder; these have appeared in the comics occasionally, but Thor mainly flies by tossing his hammer around. Oh, and while Marvel’s Thor saves his affections for the human Jane Foster, in Norse mythology he marries the warrior goddess Sif (although he still doesn’t mind stepping out from time to time). And obviously, unlike the myth (as well as the recent movies) Thor was never punished by Odin to walk the earth as the lame doctor Donald Blake.

2) Loki

While Marvel’s version of the god of mischief is outright evil most of the time, in Norse mythology, he was actually just a god of mischief, sometimes playing pranks on his fellow gods, sometimes insulting them, but many times helping them (admittedly, often out of trouble he himself caused). Case in point: When the giantess Skaldi invaded Asgard to avenge her father’s death (partially Loki’s fault), she demanded the gods make her laugh,so Loki compiled by tying his balls to a goat — not a story that has made it to the Marvel comics. In Norse mythology, Loki gave birth to many bizarre gods and monsters including Hela, the death goddess; the dragon Jörmungandr; and Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir. While the Marvel comics have acknowledged that these are Odin’s progeny, they try not to mention it too often. Most importantly, while the Norse version of Odin did find Loki as a baby — after killing his giant father — Odin never adopted him… although the “real” Thor and Loki did consider themselves blood brothers.

3) Baldur

The original Baldur (usually spelled Balder or Baldr) was probably the closest thing that Norse mythology actually had to a true good guy. Baldr was the god of light, happiness, beauty, and all that good stuff; meanwhile, the Baldur of the Marvel comics is basically a less hot-headed and less powerful version of Thor — just as much the hero, but less likely to do something stupid, get tricked, or, unfortunately, get the job done. In both scenarios, all the gods love Baldur — all except Loki, who in Norse mythology hated the dude. Although Baldr’s mother had asked everything in existence not to harm her son — meaning anything anyone tried to hit him with would just glance off his body — she forgot to ask mistletoe, because it was so innocuous. Loki talked a guy named Hodr into shooting Baldr with a mistletoe dart, killing the god. When Odin asked Hel to let Baldr come back to life, she agreed, as long as every living thing cried for him. Everything did… except one old woman who didn’t care because Baldr had done her no favors. That woman was Loki in disguise, because Loki really hated Baldr. Anyways, in the comics, Loki accomplishes the same murder, but Balder is successfully resurrected.


4) Sif

While the comics’ Sif balances being a badass warrior with pining over Thor, the original Sif is much more traditional. She was Thor’s wife and the goddess of the harvest, and wasn’t much for slaughtering enemies (or even picking up swords). She was famous for her long blonde hair until a prank by Loki cut it off, at which point she was so sad that crops would not grow. Her husband Thor, naturally, beat the living shit out of Loki until he agreed to make it right, and asked the dwarves to build her some new hair.


5) Odin

Odin, the wise, peace-loving father of Thor and the adopted father of Loki, tries to rule over Asgard justly and peacefully in the comics. If this Odin ever met the Odin of Norse myth, Marvel-Odin would get his ass kicked. The original Odin was a war-god who didn’t give two shits for justice, law, or peace. Odin loves war, and he loves starting fights — contrast that to Anthony Hopkins’ Odin in the Thor movie, where he banishes Thor for picking merely a fight with the frost giants. Also, the original Odin was not exactly a beloved deity as much as a god to be feared and weirded out by — he was fickle and cruel, traded his left eye for magic, and was a high shaman called a seidr, which in Norse society meant eschewing all male gender roles, which the Vikings absolutely did not care for. The Marvel Odin traded all this for a vague but massive power called the Odinforce, which he can use to do just about anything a writer needs him to, but which also needs to be recharged every so often with the Odinsleep — not coincidentally the perfect opportunity for the evil Loki of the comics to schedule most of his schemes.


6) The New Gods

Since even “good” Norse gods like Thor and Odin could be assholes, it’s not surprising that Stan Lee would decide to fill their ranks with less troublesome heroes and more obvious villains. On the hero side, the Warriors three — Fandril, Hogun and Volstagg — were all made up; on the villains side, the Enchatress, Skurge, Malekith the Accursed (the villain of Thor: The Dark World), the Destroyer (the semi-sentient anthropomorphic weapon of the first movie), Kurse, and more.


7) The Frost Giants

While the Thor comics and movies portray the Frost Giants as evil trolls, bent on the destruction of Asgard, who happen to live in the snow realm — more like Dungeons & Dragons monsters than anything — the real Frost Giants, a.k.a. the Jotunn, are far more complicated. Why? Because first they grew out of their father Ymir’s armpits and feet (his feet fucked each other. Seriously). They can be ugly and beautiful, but either way are so in touch with nature that they’re effectively nature gods. They were powerful and wise; Odin came to them to learn more about Ragnorak, and while he was there was legitimately worried for his safety should they turn on it. These giants were also the source of the universe’s poetry — poetry at that point being a liquid that Odin stole, drank, and spit it back at Asgard (some of it accidentally fell on Midgard, naturally, which is why we have Walt Whitman. He was Odinspit).


8) Ragnorak

Shockingly, the Asgard of Norse myth and of Marvel comics are pretty similar: They both are part of the world tree Yggdrisil, they’re both connected to the other realms by the Bifrost Bridge, and they’re both where the gods dwell. Really, other than Marvel’s insistence that the gods' divinity is through some mysterious kind of science, they’re working on the same template here. But when it comes to the end of the world, the two versions are vastly different — mainly because in myth Ragnorak is the end of the world, while in the comics it’s happened many, many times, without the world ending once.


In the myth, pretty much everybody dies when Ragnorak begins — the Frost Giants, the Fire Giants (led by Surtur), and the dead (led by Loki) will all attack Asgard, and all the elves and dwarves and humans of the other realms will join in the battle. Odin gets eaten by the great wolf Fenrir, Thor dies defeating the Midgard Serpent, Loki and Heimdall kill each other, and eventually Surtur will set the whole damn universe on fire. Two humans and a few gods do survive to start over, though, so that’s nice. Meanwhile, the comics' Thor fought his first Ragnorak at the end of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Thor run in 1966. It happened again when Surtur arrived during Walt Simonson’s acclaimed stories in the ‘80s, and then again when Loki made a bunch of Mjolnir-like hammers for his army in 2004. And this isn't even count the many times Asgard was decimated our outright destroyed through non-Ragnorak-related means.


My favorite modern version of Odin is in Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Fantastic.