The Nine Realms
9 months, 22 poets and writers, 22 Artists, 3 composers, 1 Viking boat= a magical reworking of Norse Mythology for contemporary audiences
(the realm of the frost and stone giants)
Here we are at the beginning of December, with the deadline for the poetry and writing for the 2nd realm Vanaheim coming up: Thursday 8th December 2014. I shall start to post out pieces created for Vanaheim the week after next. This month we are outlining the realm of Jotunheim and the deadline for all writing, poetry and mp3s for this realm is Monday 12th January 2015.
These monthly posts will draw from a range of primary and secondary source materials and focus on selected gods, themes and stories that circle around the highlighted realm. They will not attempt to cover everything, and writers can embrace any other stories and characters within their writing which is not covered. Month by month we will be building our own magical, contemporary norse world whilst exploring the themes of POWER, NATURE and RELIGION. The project’s overall intention is to embrace orality, translation, storytelling and rhythm all of which are inspired by the origins of the oral tradition of the Norse Sagas.
I may well put out little mini-posts intermittently focusing on orality and poetic form as necessary.
What is presented below is designed to inspire, present basic information and offer a starting point for individual creativity within the project inspired by the themes, characters and spirit of the myths and stories.
1. A brief Overview of Jotunheim
Jotunheim is the home to both the Rock and Frost Giants. It is where the giants fled to start a new race to prevent the extinction of Odin and his family. This race was called the jötnar (or jotunn) It is the realm where many conflicts take place between the gods and the giants and where they try to reek havoc on Midgard and Asgard. The sons of Borr (Odin’s father) marked out the boundaries of Jotunheim. The sons also built a vast boundary inland to protect themselves from the giants. The river Ifing runs through the centre of Jotunheim and separates it from Asgard. There are a range of territories in Jotunheim: 1. Gastropnir where Menglöð the lover of Svipdagr lives; 2. Mímir’s Well, which can be found under the roots of the Yggdrasil in Jotunheim, and from which Odin wants to glean great knowledge; 3. Thrymheim the home of Thaizi (see below, the son of giant Olvadi); 4. Utgard is the the capital of Vanaheim and is ruled by Skrymir (see below) and 5. Vimur River, where the giantess Gjálp attempted to drown Thor (see below).
2. Giants in Context:
The giants are generally considered the adversaries of the gods (the Vanir and the Aesir). However, relationships between the gods and the giants did exist. Thor himself was a child of the union between Odin and Jord (personification of the earth) and Freyja and Freyr were the children of the marriage between Njord and the giantess Skadi.
Giants could also show kindness. This can be seen in the story of a young prince called Agnar who passing through Jotunheim on his way to reclaim his kingdom from his brother, found kindness and shelter with the giants. They were also seen (alongside elves) to also be sources of knowledge, magic and wisdom (see the Alvissmal). Giants despite this are depicted as cold and dark. They cannot stand the sun and are turned into stone if the sun’s rays fell upon them. The giants also lived alongside trolls in Jotunheim, and they were often the giants’ servants. They lived in isolated mountains and are said to be very unfriendly! Many references can be found to them in the Prose Edda’s Skáldskaparmál (Poetic Diction).
You can find a version of the Skalskaparmal here.
The giants are also equated with the natural world. Odin takes parts of the huge giant Ymir (formed out of the chaos of creation, out of the clash of two extreme forces:
Just as from Niflheim there arose coldness and all things grim, so what was facing close to Muspell was hot and bright, but Ginnungagap was as mild as a windless sky. And when the rime and the blowing of the warmth met so that it thawed and dripped, there was a quickening from these flowing drops due to the power of the source of the heat, and it became the form of a man, and he was given the name Ymir
You can find the Gylfaginning here.
There have been said to be two types of giants: frost and stone. The frost giants live in the mountains of Jotunheim and are surrounded by winter and they live alongside the stone giants who are hill dwellers and known for their strength. When Ymir was killed by The Sons of Borr nearly all of the frost giants were killed except for Bergelmir and his wife who kept themselves safe. From these two people came the frost giants:
before the earth was created
back then Berglmir was born;
that is the the first I remember
when the wise giant
was placed on a box’
from the Lay of Vaftthrudnir, 35, (The Prose Edda: 16, tr. Jesse Byock, Penguin Classics)
3. Some Giants….
A. King Thrym
King Thrym was King of Jotunheim and the story connected with him and the stealing of Thor’s hammer is one of the most famous in The Poetic Edda (The Lay of Thrym). The poem was considered to be written in the 10th century or earlier. However, this opinion has been debated [see Hollander: 105].
1. Wroth was Vingthor…….when awaking he
….Mjolnir missed………………his mighty hammer;
….his beard gan shake, …..his shaggy head,
….Fjorgyn’s first-born-……….he fumbled about him.
2. These words then first….fell from his lips:
……‘Hear thou Loki,……………what loss I have,
……which no wight knows-…………….neither on earth
……nor in heaven: ……………..my hammer is stolen!’
The Poetic Edda (tr. Hollander: 104)
The story runs that Thor’s hammer goes missing. Thor and Loki take Freyja’s feather-cloak so that he can fly to Jotunheim and challenge Thrym, accusing him of taking the sword. Thrym acknowledges the fact that he has stolen the hammer, and says he will only give it back if Freyja (the goddess associated with love, sexuality, beauty, fertility, gold, seiðr, war, and death) can be his wife. Loki returns to Asgard and asks Freyja to go to Jotunheim and marry Thrym. However, she refuses. At a council of the Aesir Heimdall suggests that Thor could dress up as Freyja and go to Jotunheim in disguise. Thor eventually agrees to this . The disquise works. Thrym becomes entranced by Thor’s eyes and is amazed at how much meat and fish he can eat, let alone how much he can drink. The sword Mjollnir is brought in to sanctify the marriage and Thor grabs it and beats all the giants up, and in so doing reclaims the sword.
31. Laughed Hlorrithi’s……heart within him
…..when the hammer beheld………..the hardy one:
…..Thrym he slew first, ………….the thurses’ lord,
….then crushed he all…………..the etins’ kin
The Poetic Edda [tr. Hollander: 109]
See here for the full Lay.
‘Then Loki flew- the feathers whistled-
Out of the door of the hall of gods
On and onto the hall of giants.’
(Auden and Taylor, Norse Poems: 218)
Working with the translation from Paul B. Taylor, Auden, able to read Icelandic himself, attempted to capture the rhythms of the Icelandic verse.
As mentioned in the Prose Edda, Gylfaginning….. Whilst sleeping in the grove of the giant Skrymir, Thor, Loki and Thor’s servant Þjálfi, are tricked by Skrymir’s illusions and the giant ends up going along with them on their travels towards Utgard. The giant causes mischief and tries to take their food….
Once they reach Utgard the giants gets Thor and his travellers to undertake a battle with ‘metaphors- made-flesh’; Thor’s servant has a footrace against thought, and an eating contest against fire personified. Thor is asked to pick up a cat which is in fact the World. He also wrestles with old age personified. Thor gets so fed up with the tricks of the giant he tries to kill Skrymir while he sleeps. However the giant shields himself behind a magic mountain.
By the end of the contest Skrymir develops respect for the 3 travellers and tells them how he has deceived them with his illusions. Thor tries to attack him, but as he does so the giant magics the whole castle away-and all that is left is a prairie.
*You can find this tale on p55-61 of The Prose Edda, Penguin Classics Edition (tr.Jesse Byock, sections 45 and 46). And a section translated from Icelandic here.
*You will find the tale of Skrymir between p84-85 of The Penguin Book of Norse Myths (See bibliography below)
Thiazi was the son of the giant Olvaldi, and he was made notorious because of the kidnapping of the goddess Iðunn. The three gods Odin, Loki and Hoenir were travelling together, and they tried to roast an Ox for their dinner, but the meat would just not cook. An eagle who was sitting in an oak tree called out to them and offered to cook the meat for them if they gave him a share. However, the eagle seems to take more than a fair portion and Loki becomes angry and tries to hit him with a stick. Loki gets ensnared and the eagle flies away with him. The eagle will not release him until he has Idun (Iounn) and her golden apples.
Loki goes back to Asgard and lures Idun outside and Thiazi, disguised as the eagle, takes off with her and her apples. Without tha apples of youth the Aesir begin to grow old and Loki feeling guilty takes off to Thiazi’s abode, and takes the shape of a falcon. When he arrives Thiazi is out fishing and Loki changes Idun into a nut and takes off with her. Thiazi’s daughter Skadi comes to avenge her father and this is how she ends up being married to Njord.
You can find this story also in the Skalskaparmal here.
In The Prose Edda (Skaldskarparmal) Thor comes upun Gjalp with her legs straddled across two ravines. Her huge presence affects the flow of the water running through the ravine and the river rises dramatically (This act is usually taken to be Gjalp trying to drown Thor with menstral fluid or urine!). Thor throws a stone at her telling her to release the flow. In order to save himself from the rising water Thor grabs hold of some rowan branches:
‘Just then he was swept towards the shore, where he was able to grab hold of some rowan branches, and so was able to climb up from the river. The event is the origin of the expression that rowan trees are Thor’s salvation. ‘ (tr. Byock: 91).
Thor arrives at Geirrod’s house (Gjalp and Geip’s father) and immediately sits down on the only chair in the room. Huge screams come out from down below the chair as he realises the two daughters are underneath. He has broken their backs. Consequently, Geirrod and Thor fight and the giant tosse a large piece of molten iron at him. However, Thor deflects the piece of metal and it pierces a pillar. Geirrod ends up on the floor outside.
Themes, Relevance and Questions:
Strength and Feminity: Gjalp is a female giant who blocks the waters of a river with her legs causing Thor to get very angry. It could be said that she represents a very interesting form of femininity, one which has the strength to force nature into submission. However, it seems that Thor (the epitomy of strength wins over when the giantesses backs gets broken when he sits on them). Exploration Point: the power dynamics within the norse sagas.
The origins of language, linked to fun, play and mutability: The story linked to the giant Skrymir is an interesting one as it directly engages with language and literary forms in a playful way, through a story where metaphors are made flesh. Objects are personified and characters ‘play with language’ (racing against thought). A bit like the story of ‘ The Mead of Poetry’ mentioned in the Vanaheim Overview, it is clear that underlying this play, there is a subtle subtext that the sagas are attempting to communicate. That is: how their authors see language- as playful, spirited, fluid and bold; like the strength of the giants and the flow of water.
Things of Interest:
1. Learning Schools Radio: Thor and the Giants:
2. Giants: Mystery and Myth:
The Discovery Channel:
The second of the 6 programmes can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFXAPByoj9w
3. A Musical Rendering of W.H. Auden’s Poem Baldr’s Dream
Baldur’s Dream …..Eddara Sæmund (as translated by W. H. Auden & P. B. Taylor)
Barbara Thornton, voice
Benjamin Bagby, voice
Elizabeth Gaver, fiddle
If you go to the link the full length poem can be found there.
Optional Poetry and Writing Prompts:
An Onegin Sonnet/Pushkin Sonnet:
This form was created by the writer Pushkin for his verse novel Eugene Onegin.
The stanzas have 14 lines of iambic tetrameter rhyming ababccddeffegg. The green letters indicate feminine rhymes (the lines have an extra unstressed syllable) and the black letters are for masculine rhymes (a simple rhyme- bat/cat).
See here for more details.
Writing Word Prompts: Myth, Power, Dreams, Threat, Pebble, Fate, String, Cowerdice
To confirm, the deadline for all writing, poetry and mp3s for the Jotunheim realm is Monday 12th January 2015.
Thanks so much for your interest.
Allan, T (2010) Vikings, The Battle at the End of Time, London: Watkins Publishing
Crossley-Holland, K (1993) The Penguin Book of Norse Myths: Gods of the Vikings, London, Penguin Books
Ellis Davidson, H.R. (1990) Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, Penguin Books
Hollander, L.M. (1996) tr. The Poetic Edda, Austin: University of Texas Press
Larrington, C. (1996) tr. The Poetic Edda, Oxford University Press
Sturluson, S. (2005) The Prose Edda, Penguin Classics, tr. Jesse L. Byock