July 13, 2024

How Thor found his hammer

The frost-giants were always trying to get into Asgard. For more than half the year they held the world in their grasp, locking up the streams in their rocky beds, hushing their music and the music of the birds as well, and leaving nothing but a wild waste of desolation under the cold sky. They hated the warm sunshine which stirred the wild flowers out of their sleep, and clothed the steep mountains with verdure, and set all the birds a-singing in the swaying tree-tops. They hated the beautiful god Balder, with whose presence summer came back to the ice-bound earth, and, above all, they hated Thor, whose flashing hammer drove them back into Jotunheim, and guarded the summer sky with its sudden gleamings of power. So long as Thor had his hammer Asgard was safe against the giants.

One morning Thor started up out of a long, deep sleep, and put out his hand for the hammer; but no hammer was there. Not a sign of it could be found anywhere, although Thor anxiously searched for it. Then a thought of the giants came suddenly in his mind; and his anger rose till his eyes flashed like great fires, and his red beard trembled with wrath.

“Look, now, Loke,” he shouted, “they have stolen Mjolner by enchantment, and no one on earth or in heaven knows where they have hidden it.”

“We will get Freyja’s falcon-guise and search for it,” answered Loke, who was always quick to get into trouble or to get out of it again. So they went quickly to Folkvang and found Freyja surrounded by her maidens and weeping tears of pure gold, as she had always done since her husband went on his long journey.

“The hammer has been stolen by enchantment,” said Thor. “Will you lend me the falcon-guise that I may search for it?”

“If it were silver, or even gold, you should have it and welcome,” answered Freyja, glad to help Thor find the wonderful hammer that kept them all safe from the hands of the frost-giants.

So the falcon-guise was brought, and Loke put it on and flew swiftly out of Asgard to the home of the giants. His great wings made broad shadows over the ripe fields as he swept along, and the reapers, looking up from their work, wondered what mighty bird was flying seaward. At last he reached Jotunheim, and no sooner had he touched ground and taken off the falcon-guise than he came upon the giant Thrym, sitting on a hill twisting golden collars for his dogs and stroking the long manes of his horses.

“Welcome, Loke,” said the giant. “How fares it with the gods and the elves, and what has brought you to Jotunheim?”

“It fares ill with both gods and elves since you stole Thor’s hammer,” replied Loke, guessing quickly that Thrym was the thief; “and I have come to find where you have hidden it.”

Thrym laughed as only a giant can when he knows he has made trouble for somebody.

“You won’t find it,” he said at last. “I have buried it eight miles under ground, and no one shall take it away unless he gets Freyja for me as my wife.”

The giant looked as if he meant what he said, and Loke, seeing no other way of finding the hammer, put on his falcon-guise and flew back to Asgard. Thor was waiting to hear what news he brought, and both were soon at the great doors of Folkvang.

“Put on your bridal dress, Freyja,” said Thor bluntly, after his fashion, “and we will ride swiftly to Jotunheim.”

But Freyja had no idea of marrying a giant just to please Thor; and, in fact, that Thor should ask her to do such a thing threw her into such a rage that the floor shook under her angry tread, and her necklace snapped in pieces.

“Do you think I am a weak love-sick girl, to follow you to Jotunheim and marry Thrym?” she cried indignantly.

Finding they could do nothing with Freyja, Thor and Loke called all the gods together to talk over the matter and decide what should be done to get back the hammer. The gods were very much alarmed, because they knew the frost-giants would come upon Asgard as soon as they knew the hammer was gone. They said little, for they did not waste time with idle words, but they thought long and earnestly, and still they could find no way of getting hold of Mjolner once more. At last Heimdal, who had once been a Van, and could therefore look into the future, said: “We must have the hammer at once or Asgard will be in danger. If Freyja will not go, let Thor be dressed up and go in her place. Let keys jingle from his waist and a woman’s dress fall about his feet. Put precious stones upon his breast, braid his hair like a woman’s, hang the necklace around his neck, and bind the bridal veil around his head.”

Thor frowned angrily. “If I dress like a woman,” he said, “you will jeer at me.”

“Don’t talk of jeers,” retorted Loke; “unless that hammer is brought back quickly the giants will rule in our places.”

Thor said no more, but allowed himself to be dressed like a bride, and soon drove off to Jotunheim with Loke beside him disguised as a servant-maid. There was never such a wedding journey before. They rode in Thor’s chariot and the goats drew them, plunging swiftly along the way, thunder pealing through the mountains and the frightened earth blazing and smoking as they passed. When Thrym saw the bridal party coming he was filled with delight.

“Stand up, you giants,” he shouted to his companions; “spread cushions upon the benches and bring in Freyja, my bride. My yards are full of golden-horned cows, black oxen please my gaze whichever way I look, great wealth and many treasures are mine, and Freyja is all I lack.”

It was evening when the bride came driving into the giant’s court in her blazing chariot. The feast was already spread against her coming, and with her veil modestly covering her face she was seated at the great table, Thrym fairly beside himself with delight. It wasn’t every giant who could marry a goddess!

If the bridal journey had been so strange that any one but a foolish giant would have hesitated to marry a wife who came in such a turmoil of fire and storm, her conduct at the table ought certainly to have put Thrym on his guard; for never had bride such an appetite before. The great tables groaned under the load of good things, but they were quickly relieved of their burden by the voracious bride. She ate a whole ox before the astonished giant had fairly begun to enjoy his meal. Then she devoured eight large salmon, one after the other, without stopping to take breath; and having eaten up the part of the feast specially prepared for the hungry men, she turned upon the delicacies which had been made for the women, and especially for her own fastidious appetite.

Thrym looked on with wondering eyes, and at last, when she had added to these solid foods three whole barrels of mead, his amazement was so great that, his astonishment getting the letter of his politeness, he called out, “Did any one ever see such an appetite in a bride before, or know a maid who could drink so much mead?”

Then Loke, who was playing the part of a serving-maid, thinking that the giant might have some suspicions, whispered to him, “Freyja was so happy in the thought of coming here that she has eaten nothing for eight whole days.”

Thrym was so pleased at this evidence of affection that he leaned forward and raised the veil as gently as a giant could, but he instantly dropped it and sprang back the whole length of the hall before the bride’s terrible eyes.

“Why are Freyja’s eyes so sharp?” he called to Loke. “They burn me like fire.”

“Oh,” said the cunning serving-maid, “she has not slept for a week, so anxious has she been to come here, and that is why her eyes are so fiery.”

Everybody looked at the bride and nobody envied Thrym. They thought it was too much like marrying a thunder-storm.

The giant’s sister came into the hall just then, and seeing the veiled form of the bride sitting there went up to her and asked for a bridal gift. “If you would have my love and friendship give me those rings of gold upon your fingers.”

But the bride sat perfectly silent. No one had yet seen her face or heard her voice.

Thrym became very impatient. “Bring in the hammer,” he shouted, “that the bride may be consecrated, and wed us in the name of Var.”

If the giant could have seen the bride’s eyes when she heard these words he would have sent her home as quickly as possible, and looked somewhere else for a wife.

The hammer was brought and placed in the bride’s lap, and everybody looked to see the marriage ceremony; but the wedding was more strange and terrible than the bridal journey had been. No sooner did the bride’s fingers close round the handle of Mjolner than the veil which covered her face was torn off and there stood Thor, the giant-queller, his terrible eyes blazing with wrath. The giants shuddered and shrank away from those flaming eyes, the sight of which they dreaded more than anything else in all the worlds; but there was no chance of escape. Thor swung the hammer round his head and the great house rocked on its foundations. There was a vivid flash of lightning, an awful crash of thunder, and the burning roof and walls buried the whole company in one common ruin. Thrym was punished for stealing the hammer, his wedding guests got crushing blows instead of bridal gifts, and Thor and Loke went back to Asgard, where the presence of Mjolner made the gods safe once more.