The next nine stories focus on the exploits of Thor, the enmity of the giants and ultimately the destruction of the Nine worlds. The transformation of Loki from a merely annoying mischief-maker to an almost demonic figure is especially interesting to see.
Thor’s Visit to Utgard
Thor took it in his head one day to pay a visit to the giants’ fabled castle of Utgard, deep in the forests of Jötunheim – not with his usual intention of killing giants, but simply to see the sights. This adventure appealed to Loki and he soon convinced Thor to take him along. So early one morning, the two of them hopped into Thor’s goat card and set off for Giant Home. They traveled all that day and, just before dusk, Thor and Loki stopped at a small farmstead to seek lodging for the night.
The farmer, Egil by name, greeted them courteously and said they would be welcome to the bed he and his wife shared – the couple could sleep on skins by the fire – but he feared that he had no food that would be suitable fare for the gods.
” Don’t worry about that, ” rumbled Thor. ” Loki and I have simple tastes. But we don’t wish to be a burden on your meager larder, so we’ll provide the meat … fresh goat meat. “
Sure enough, when Egil had gotten a good fire going and set a cauldron of water over it to boil, Thor took his hammer Mjöllnir and killed each of his two car-pulling goats with a single blow to the head. Thwak! Thwak!
” There now Egil. You may skin and cook the goats. Just be very, very sure that once the meal is over all the bones are gathered up in the skins. “
The farmer hastened to assure Thor that all would be done as he had commanded, but unbeknownst to anyone, during the course of the meal Egil’s son, Thjalfi, broke open one of the thigh bones to suck out the marrow.
The next morning when Thor arose and went outside, he held his hammer above the bundle of goat hides and bones and muttered a runic charm. The goats were immediately restored to life, just as good as new – except that one goat was lame in a back leg. Thor was furious and his eyes shot sparks.
” Egil, come out here … at once! Just look what someone in your family has done, someone broke my goat’s leg. Now I can’t use my cars for the rest of this trip. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t flatten this whole farmstead – and you and your family with it!? “
Of course, Egil and his wife were terrified and, knees knocking, they begged the Thunder God for mercy. Well, despite having a short and violent temper, Thor was basically good hearted. So he relented but he did insist on taking Thjalfi and his sister, Roskva, along as his servants in compensation for the damage to his goat.
Since the goats could no longer pull the cart, Thor left them in Egil’s care and the four companions had to walk the rest of the way to Jötunheim. Shortly after crossing into Giant Home, they entered a forest so vast that they were still deep within it when darkness fell. In looking about for lodging, they chanced upon a rather strange looking building with an entrance as wide as the hall, but without a door. The foursome cautiously went inside, but find no one about, they curled up on the floor and soon fell asleep. About midnight, they were awakened by a violent shaking of the earth and soon thereafter they heard a low growling noise outside. Everyone but Thor was frightened, so they all went deeper into the hall and, finding a side room, they decided to sleep there after Thor agreed to sit in the opening to keep out intruders.
At first light, Thor went outside to see if he could find the source of the growling. The Thunder God then discovered a truly enormous giant, asleep and snoring! Annoyed about his own loss of sleep, Thor was about to strike him with his hammer, when the giant awoke and up. For once, Thor hesitated about killing a giant. Instead he asked:
” What’s your name, big fellow? “
” Why, I’m called Skrymir. But I don’t need to ask who you are. You could only be the god Thor. By the way, have you seen a mitten anywhere? I lost one around here somewhere, but I couldn’t find it in the dark. Oh, there it is behind you … and some people are coming out of it. Friends of yours, perhaps? “
Sure enough. Thor, Loki and the two young humans had spent the night in the thumb of Skrymir’s mitten – which gives you some idea how big that giant really was. Skrymir asked if he could accompany them, then offered to carry all their provisions in his pack. Unfortunately, Skrymir walked with such great strides that he soon outdistanced the others and it was only when he stopped for the night that they finally caught up with him. Skrymir was lying beneath a great oak tree, yawning.
” Hyaah,” echoed from his cavernous mouth. ” I thought you’d never get here. I’ve already eaten and am going to sleep now. You’re welcome to get your provisions out of my pack. Just untie the knot. See you in the morning! “
Thor struggled and struggled to undo the knot on Skrymir’s pack, but finally he had to admit defeat. This so frustrated Thor that he decided to bash Skrymir with his hammer. But much to the Thunder God’s surprise, Skymir’s skull did not crack under the force of that might blow.
” You still up Thor? A leaf must have fallen on my head and wakened me. Well, we’d both better get some sleep. It will be a long day tomorrow. “
Thor just glowered, but waited a long time before trying again to kill the giant. Thor reared back and struck such a mighty blow that the head of the hammer disappeared into Skrymir’s skull. Imagine Thor’s dismay when the giant rolled over and looked around.
” Why, you’re awake too Thor. Did you also get hit by an acorn? I guess it wasn’t too smart of us to camp under an oak tree, was it? “
And Skrymir went back to sleep. Just before dawn, the Thunder God tried a third time to smash Skrymir’s skull. Never had Thor swung Mjöllnir any harder, but all that happened was that Skrymir sat up, stretched and got to his feet.
” I see it’s almost dawn. That’s why the birds are getting restless, and why one of them pooped on me. Well, it’s time for us to get up and get going too. Here is where we part company. My path lies to the north, but if you intend to visit Utgard, you’ll need to turn to the east. Even as slowly as you little folks walk, you should reach Utgard by mid day. By the way, let me give you some advice. You’ll meet some really powerful giants there, so it wouldn’t be wise to be too boastful about your accomplishments. Fare thee well, Thor. “
With that, Skrymir hoisted his pack on his back and plowed off through the forest. He had neglected to give Thor and his companions their own provisions, so they were extremely hungry by the time they emerged from the forest and saw a huge castle sitting in the middle of a wide plain.
The company walked on until they reached the castle gates, which were closed. At first they thought they wouldn’t be able to get inside, but the gated proved to be so large that they were able to turn sideways and slip through a crack between two planks. Once within the gates, they came to a great hall with its door standing wide open. Entering, Thor and his friends cautiously trod the length of the hall between two rows of seated giants, who silently peered at the uninvited visitors. At last the party from Asgard arrived at the foot of the high seat of the giants’ king, Utgard-Loki himself.
” Who are you people, and why do you come into my hall so boldly? Why, can this red-bearded pipsqueak be the god Thor we’ve heard so much about? Hmph, well maybe there’s more to you than meets the eye. There had better be, for no one is allowed to remain in Utgard who is not skilled at something. “
Thor was so insulted by the king’s demeaning remarks that he was at a loss for words. Loki, however, was quick to respond.
” I can’t speak for Thor, oh king, but I can eat food faster than anyone – and right now I’m nearly starved. “
“ A fast eater eh? All right, let’s see how you fare against Logi, our champion. Your names sound enough alike that it will be almost like competing against yourself – or me. ” And Utgard-Loki smiled menacingly.
Two wooden troughs filled with roasted meat were set end to end. Loki was stationed at one end, Logi at the other. Whoever reached the middle first was to be declared the winner. Loki ate with the speed on an ocean gale and, hungry as he was, he soon reached the stopping point. Looking up, he saw that Logi had finished at just the same time, so the Trickster thought he had done no worse than gain a tie. His eyes grew wide, however, when he saw that his opponent had consumed not only the meat, but the bones and wooden trough as well.
Then Thjalfi spoke up: ” I-I’m said to be a fast runner. “
” Oh really?” responded the king. ” Well, let’s go outside and see how you compare with young Hugi there. “
They all walked out onto the plain surrounding Utgard, and the king pointed to the nearest patch of woods. ” First one to the woods and back is the winner, ” and at Utgard-Loki’s signal the runners sped off. Thjalfi ran as if Fenrir were breathing down his neck, but by the time he returned to the castle gates, Hugi was already there waiting to greet him. The king allowed Thjalfi a second chance, but this time Hugi beat him a by a bowshot. The nearly exhausted boy pleaded for one last chance, which Utgard-Loki granted, but Thjalfi’s legs had lost their spring, and he had not even reached the woods before Hugi had completed the race.
” Still, ” conceded the giant king, ” you ran remarkably well – for a human. Now, Thor, it seems to me that it’s high time you showed us what you can do. “
” Well, ” snarled Thor, ” I can drink any giant in Utgard under the table. “
” Oh, fancy yourself a great drinker, do you? Let’s just go back into my hall and give you a chance to prove it. “
When the group was once more assembled before Utgard-Loki’s high seat, the king handed Thor a huge drinking horn. The mouth was not unusually wide, but just where the horn ended was anything but clear to the Thunder God.
” Well, Thor, let’s see if you can live up to your boast. Only the best drinkers among us giants can empty this horn in a single swallow, but most can do so in two … and no giant so feeble as to fail to empty it in three. “
Thor lifted the horn to his lips and took a mighty swallow. But when he stopped for breath and looked into the horn, he could scarcely see that the level had gone down at all.
” What are you holding back for, Thor? Surely you can empty the horn this time. “
Thor took a deep breath and tried again. This time he could see a little progress – but not too much. Utgard-Loki just shook his head and uttered a loud ” tsk-tsk.“
The third time, Thor breathed as deeply as he possible could and swallowed until he turned purple, but still he failed to empty the horn.
” Hmph, well, so much for drinking. I heard that you are supposed to be quite strong. Do you think you could lift my cat off the floor? “
And the giant king pointed to a large gray cat sleeping near the fire.
” That shouldn’t be very difficult, ” said Thor, though with less confidence than he had before his failure with the drinking game. The Thunder God knelt down, placed one hand beneath the cat’s belly, and lifted. And he kept on lifting until he was standing on tiptoes with his arm fully extended – but the cat just kept arching its back, so the most Thor could do before he ran out of reach was to force one of the cat’s feet free of the floor.
” Phew, this is really embarrassing. I could have sworn I’d be able to life that cat. I know I’m stronger than that. Give me one more chance to prove myself, Utgard-Loki, just one more chance. “
” What! Is the mighty Thor becoming humble? Will wonders never cease. And just what is it that you think you can do, Thunder God? “
Infuriated by his own humiliating failures and the giant-king’s goading, Thor snarled: ” I can outwrestle any giant in the hall. “
” Hmm. After what we’ve seen so far, I can’t imagine how any of our giants would gain any honor from throwing such a weak little fellow. Still, I would like to give you a final chance. I know, I’ll let you wrestle my old nursemaid, Elli. Maybe she’s more your speed. “
It says a great deal about the state of Thor’s morale that he made no objection, but suffered the insult in silence as he turned to face the gnarled old giantess who hobbled toward him, cackling. They locked hands, and each strove to force the other to the floor. Thor had no luck whatsoever in moving Elli so much as an inch, and soon he felt himself weakening. The Thunder God struggled mightily to stay on his feet; however, slowly but surely he was forced to one knee, and at that point Utgard-Loki declared the contest over.
” You’ve had your chances but haven’t excelled at anything – so you cannot remain in Utgard. Still, without anyone accusing me of being a poor host, you are welcome to stay the night and leave first thing in the morning. “
Thor and his companions accepted the king’s invitation, though it is not surprising that they did not feel very merry at the feast that night. Utgard-Loki came to them at dawn, had breakfast with the party, and escorted them beyond the gates of Utgard.
” Well, Thor tell me truthfully. Did your visit to Jötunheim and Utgard go as you had expected? Did you meet anyone mightier than yourself? “
” The truth be told, I’m really rather ashamed of how I fared in your contests … and, for that matter, in my encounter with a giant called Skrymir we met in the woods on our way to Utgard. I dread the thought of you and the other giants calling me a weakling. “
The Thunder God looked so miserable that Utgard-Loki took pity on him.
” Now that you are safely outside Utgard, I’m going to tell you what really has been happening the past two days. Had I known beforehand how powerful you are, I would never have allowed you to enter Utgard in the first place. All of you apparent failures were due to my illusions.
” First of all, know that I was Skrymir. The pack you couldn’t open to get your provisions from was fastened up by an iron binding – not a knotted thong. As for your failure to kill me with your hammer… ” The giant king paused and Thor looked rather sheepish. ” Do you see that mountain in the distance with the three deep valleys in its side? You made each of those valleys with one blow when I magically slipped the mountain between my head and your hammer. As for the contests here in Utgard, they too were not what they seemed to be.
Loki’s eating opponent was not a giant, but ‘Wildfire’, which is what the name Logi means in our language. Is it any wonder that the bones and trough were consumed in his flame?
Your servant Thjalfi is very fleet of foot – I have never seen no human run faster – but my runner, Hugi, was my thoughts, and what man can outrun ‘Thought’ ?
What you can drank from my horn, Thor, you didn’t realize that the other end of it was in the ocean. If you should pass by the sea shore, you’ll be able to see for yourself what a mighty draught you swallowed. Henceforth, folk will call it the ebb tide.
My cat, as you may have guessed by now, was not cat at all. No, indeed, it was really Jörmungand, the dreaded Midgard Serpent. All of us were filled with terror when you succeeded in lifting one of his feet off the floor – we feared that you were about to pull him completely out of the ocean depths and drag the great sea serpent right into my hall.
Finally, Thor, there was no shame in failing to out wrestle Elli, for in reality she is ‘Old Age’, and sooner or later she brings everyone to his knees.
Now, let us part company, and I think it would be better for both of us if you never seek me or Utgard again. Now that I know your strength, I’ll use all the magic at my command to protect me. Fare you well, son of Odin. “
Thor turned red with rage at the thought of the tricks that had been played on him, and he raised his hammer to strike Utgard-Loki a blow … but the giant king had disappeared. Thwarted, Thor turned toward the castle, intending to smash it into rumble, but – lo and behold – Utgard, too, had vanished and the companions were left standing dumbfounded on a vast empty plain.
So Thor learned to respect the magical powers of at least one giant, but the humiliation he had suffered only deepened his hatred for the whole race. The Thunder God also vowed to seek out the Midgard Serpent, and he pledged that his next encounter with that monster would have a different ending…