Marvel’s Take on Norse Mythology
Updated: Jan 13, 2022
If you’ve seen the recent big-screen interpretations of Norse mythology and the adventures of Thor and Loki, you may have wondered how Marvel’s blockbuster films Thor, Thor Ragnarok, and the series Loki compare with the Norse mythology that inspired this strand of the Marvel universe.
Tessa Carman teaches Norse Mythology in Spring 2022 at CLRC. We asked her what she thought about the recent Loki and Thor craze in pop culture, and she had a few points of comparison between Marvel Studios and the Nine Worlds of the Eddas:
First, while Loki and Thor are rival half brothers in the Marvel Comics universe, in Norse mythology, it’s the Allfather Odin and the trickster Loki who are foster brothers — brothers by blood covenant yet not related by blood. Odin is still the father of Thor, however; Loki’s father is the giant Farbauti (“Cruel Striker”).
Another difference is that Marvel’s Odin is far more peace-loving than his Norse myth counterpart. Indeed, the Norse Odin is far more like Loki: he’s a master of disguise and a decider of battles.
A third, difference is that the ruler of the dead in Norse mythology is named Hel, not Hela, as in Marvel’s world, and she doesn’t play much of a role in Ragnarok. Like Hades of Greek myth, the realm Hel rules shares her name. Unlike Hades, however, she’s not the scion of the chief god (Kronos fathers Hades in Greek myth; Odin fathers Hela in Marvel's world). Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda says that Hel is the daughter of Loki and a giantess named Angrboda. Hel is described as rather hideous in appearance—sometimes she’s described as half-living, half-corpse (as opposed to Cate Blanchett's terrifying yet beautiful screen representation), and her siblings are the wolf Fenrirand Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent.
What do you think about these alterations to the myths surrounding the thunder god? We'd like to hear what other differences you've noticed between Marvel movies/comics and Norse mythology. Drop a Mjöllnir or lightning bolt in the comments below and tell us what you think!