Thor and Loki begin their journey to Giant Land (Gylfaginning, The Prose Edda)

“Tell me, has Thor never been in a situation where he encountered so much strength and power that he was overwhelmed by might or magic superior to his own?”

High replied, ‘I expect that there are few others who could answer your question, even though many situations have seemed difficult to Thor. Although some things, because of their power or their strength, have prevented Thor from being victorious, there is no need to tell about them, not least because everybody ought to keep in mind that there are so many examples where Thor is the mightiest.’

Then Gangleri said, “It seems to me that this time I have asked something that no one can answer.”

Just-as-High replied, ‘we have heard reports that seem unreliable to us, yet here, close by, sits the man who can give a true account. You can trust what he says because he has never spoken falsely, and he will not start now.’

‘Then Gangleri responded: “I will stand here and listen for a solution. Otherwise I call you beaten, because you are unable to answer my question.”

Third then spoke, ‘It is obvious that he wants to know these tales, even though we take no pleasure in telling them. You, however, must now keep quiet.’

‘It started when Thor the Charioteer was travelling with his goats, accompanied by the god called Loki. Towards dusk they came to the house of a farmer and arranged lodging for the night. In the evening Thor took his goats and slaughtered them both. They were then flayed and carried to the pot. After they had been cooked, Thor and his companions sat down to their evening meal. Thor invited the farmer and his wife and children to join him. The farmer’s son was named Thjalfi and his daughter was Roskva. Next Thor spread out the goatskins away from the fire and said that the farmer and his household should throw the bones on to the skins. Thjalfi, the farmer’s son, took the thigh bone of one of the goats and, wedging in his knife, broke the bone to reach the marrow.’

‘Thor stayed the night, and just before dawn he got up and dressed. He reached for his hammer Mjollnir and, lifting it up, consecrated the goatskins. The goats stood up, but one of them was lame in its hind leg. Thor noticed this and suspected that the farmer or one of his household has mistreated the goat’s bones. Then he realized that its thigh bone was broken, and there is no need to make a long story of it. Everybody can imagine how frightened the farmer became as he watched Thor’s eyebrows sink down low over his eyes. The small part of Thor’s eyes that was visible was a sight that alone could have killed. Thor’s hand clenched the shaft of the hammer until his knuckles whitened. As might be expected, the farmer and all his household began to wail. Begging for mercy, they offered in return everything they owned. When Thor saw their fear, his anger passed. Calming down, he took from them their children, Thjalfi and Roskva, as compensation. They became Thor’s bond servants and follow him ever since.’

Thor encounters Skrymir in the forest

‘Thor left the goats behind and began the trip east into Giant Land, all the way to the sea. From there he continued out over the deep ocean. When he came to land he went ashore, and with him were Loki, Thjalfi and Roskva. After they had traveled a little while they came to a large forest. They continued walking that whole day until dark. Thjalfi, who was faster than anybody else, carried Thor’s food bag. They were low on supplies.’

‘When it became dark they looked for a place to spend the night and came across a very large hall. At one end was a door as wide as the hall itself, where they sought quarters for the evening. But in the middle of the night there was a powerful earthquake; the ground heaved under them and the house shook. Thor stood up and called to his companions. They searched and found a side room on the right, towards the middle of the hall, and they went in. Thor placed himself in the doorway, and the others, who were scared, stayed behind him further inside. Thor held the hammer by its handle, intending to defend himself. Then they heard a loud noise and a roaring din.’

‘At sunrise, Thor went outside and saw a man lying in the forest a short distance from him. The man snored heavily as he slept, and he was not little. Thor then thought he understood the noise he had heard during the night. He put on his belt of strength, and divine power began to swell in him. But just at that moment the man awoke and quickly stood up. It is said that for once Thor was too startled to strike with the hammer. Instead he asked the man his name, and the other called himself Skrymir.’

‘”And I do not need,” he said, “to ask your name. I know you are Thor of the Æsir. But, have you dragged away my glove?”‘

‘Skrymir then reached out and picked up his glove. Thor now saw that during the night he had mistaken this glove for a hall. As for the side room, that was the glove’s thumb. Skrymir asked if Thor wanted to have his company on the journey, and Thor said yes. Then Skrymir took his food bag, untied it, and started to eat his breakfast. Thor and his companions did the same thing elsewhere. Skrymir next suggested that they pool their provisions, and Thor agreed. Skrymir tied together all their provisions in one bag and threw it over his shoulder. He went ahead during the day, taking rather large strides. Later, towards evening, Skrymir found them a place for the night under a great oak tree. Skrymir then told Thor that he wanted to lie down to sleep – “but you take the food bag and prepare your evening meal.”‘

‘Next Skrymir fell asleep, snoring loudly, and Thor took the food bag, intending to untie it. There is this to tell, which may seem unbelievable, but Thor could not untie a single knot, nor was he able to loosen any of the straps. None was any looser than when he started. When Thor realized that his effort was being wasted, he became angry. Gripping the hammer Mjollnir with both hands, he strode with one foot out to where Skrymir lay and struck him on his head. But Skrymir awoke and asked whether a leaf from the tree had fallen on his head and whether they had eaten and were preparing to bed down. Thor replied that they were getting ready to go to sleep. They then moved to a place under another oak, and it can truly be said that it was not possible to sleep without fear.’

‘In the middle of the night Thor could hear that Skrymir was sleeping soundly, the forest thundering with the sound of his snoring. Thor stood up and went over to him. Quickly he raised the hammer and with a hard blow struck Skrymir at the midpoint of his skull. He felt the hammer sink deeply into the head. But at that instant Skrymir awoke and said: “What now? Has some acorn fallen on my head? What’s new with you, Thor?”‘

‘Thor quickly moved back and said that he had just awakened, adding that it was the middle of the night and there was still time to sleep. Then Thor resolved that, if he could get close enough to strike a third blow, he would arrange matters so that this meeting would be their last one.’

‘Thor now lay awake watching for Skrymir to fall asleep. A little before dawn, hearing that Skrymir was sleeping, Thor stood up and, running towards Skrymir, raised his hammer and, with all his might, struck Skrymir on the temple. The hammer sank up to its shaft, but then Skrymir sat up, brushed off the side of his head, and asked:

‘”Are there some birds sitting in the tree above me? It seemed to me as I awoke that some leaves or twigs from the branches had fallen on my head. Are you awake, Thor? It is time to get up and get dressed. You don’t have a long way to go to reach the stronghold, which is called Utgard. I have heard you whispering among yourselves that I am no small man, and you will see still larger men if you go to Utgard. Now I will give you some good advice: do not act arrogantly. The retainers of Utgarda-Loki will not tolerate bragging from such small fry as you. Your other choice is to turn back, and in my opinion that would be the best thing for you to do. But if you intend to continue, then head for the east. My path now leads me northward to those mountains that you can now see.”‘

‘Skrymir took the food bag and threw it on his back. He turned sharply and headed north into the forest, leaving the others. In this parting, there is no report that the Æsir mentioned they were looking forward to meeting him again.’

Thor reaches the stronghold of Utgarda-Loki

‘Thor and his companions continued on their journey, traveling until midday. Then they saw a fortress standing on a plain, and it was so big that in order to see over it they had to bend their necks all the way back. They approached the fortress, but the front entrance gate was shut. Thor went to the gate and tried to open it, but after struggling to open the stronghold, they finally had to squeeze between the bars. Entering in his way, they saw a large hall and approached it. The door was open, and inside they saw many people sitting on two benches; most of them were rather large.’

‘They went before the king, Utgarda-Loki, and greeted him, but he took his time in noticing them. Then he said, grinning through his teeth: “News travels slowly front distant parts, but am I wrong in thinking that this little fellow is Thor the Charioteer? Surely there is more to you than meets the eye. Tell me, companions, in what skills do you think you are capable of competing? No one can stay here with us who does not have some skills or knowledge greater than other men.”‘

‘Then he who stood at the back of the group, the one called Loki, spoke up: “I have skill in which I am ready to be tested. No one here in the hall will prove quicker than I am at eating his food.”‘

‘Utgarda-Loki answered, “That would be an accomplishment, if you are up to it, and feats such as that will be put to the test.”‘

‘Next he called out to the end of the bench to the one who was called Logi [Fire] and told him to come forward on to the floor and pit himself against Loki. Then a trough filled with meat was brought in and set on the hall floor. Loki placed himself at one end and Logi at the other. Each began to eat as fast as he could, and they met in the middle of the trough. Loki had eaten all the meat from the bones, but Logi had eaten not only the meat but also the bones and even the trough. To everyone it seemed that Loki had lost the contest.’

‘Then Utgarda-Loki asked in what the youngster could compete. Thjalfi replied that he would run a race against whomever Utgarda-Loki chose. Utgarda-Loki called that a fine sport, but said that Thjalfi would have to be very quick if he intended to win. Utgarda-Loki made it clear that the matter would quickly be put to the test. Next Utgarda-Loki stood up and went outside where there was a good running course over the flat plain. He called a little fellow named Hugi to come to him and ordered him to run a race with Thjalfi. They ran the first race, and Hugi was so far in the lead that he turned around at the end and faced his opponent.’

‘Then Utgarda-Loki said, “Thjalfi, you will need to exert yourself more if you are to win the contest. Yet it is true that no one else has come here who seemed to me faster on his feet than you.”‘

‘Then they began to race for a second time. When Hugi came to the end of the course he turned around, but Thjalfi was behind him by the distance of a long bow shot.’

‘Utgarda-Loki then said: “I think Thjalfi knows how to run a good race, but I have no faith that he will win. Now comes the test; let them run the third race.” When Hugi reached the end of the race and turned around, Thjalfi had not even reached the midpoint of the course. Everyone then said that the contest was over.

‘Utgarda-Loki asked Thor what feat he wanted to show them, as so many tales were told about his exploits. Thor answered that he would most like to pit himself against someone in drinking. Utgarda-Loki said that this contest could easily be arranged. He went into the hall and called to his cupbearer, telling him to bring the feasting horn from which his retainers usually drank. The cupbearer quickly brought the horn and placed it in Thor’s hand.’

‘Then Utgarda-Loki said, “It is thought that drinking from this horn is well done if it is emptied in one drink. Some drain it in two, but no one is such a small-time drinker that he cannot finish it in three.”‘

‘Thor eyed the horn, and it did not seem to very large, although it was rather long. He was quite thirsty and began to drink, swallowing hugely and thinking that it would not be necessary to bend himself over the horn more than once. When he had drunk as much as he could, he bent back from the horn and looked in to see how much drink remained. It seemed to him that the level in the horn was only slightly lower than it had been before.’

‘Utgarda-Loki then said, “Good drinking, although not all that much. I would not have believed it if I had been told that Thor of the Æsir would not have drunk more, but I know that you will drain it in a second drink.”‘

‘Thor gave no reply but put the horn to his mouth and resolved to take a larger drink. He struggled with it as long as he could hold his breath and noticed that he could not lift up the bottom of the horn as much as he would have liked. When he lowered the horn from his mouth and looked in, it seemed to him that the level had gone down even less than it had in the first try, although there was now enough space at the top of the horn above the liquid to carry the drink without spilling it.’

‘Utgarda-Loki asked, “What not, Thor? Are you going to be so brave that you will take one sip more than is good for you? It seems to me that if you want to take a third drink from the horn, then it will have to be the biggest. But among us here, you will not be known as great a man as the Æsir call you, unless you give a better account of yourself in other contests than it seems to me you are doing in this one.”‘

‘Then Thor grew angry. Placing the horn to his mouth, he drank with all his might, continuing on as long as he could. When he looked into the horn he could see at least some difference. Then he gave the horn back and would drink mo more.’

‘Utgarda-Loki said, “Clearly your strength is not as great as we thought, but will you still try your hand in other contests? It is obvious that you are not going to succeed here.”‘

‘Thor replied: “I will make a try at still another game. But when I was home among the Æsir, I would have found it strange if such drinks were called little. What sort of contest will you offer me now?”‘

‘Utgarda-Loki replied, “Here among us, little boys do something that is thought a rather small matter: they lift my cat off the ground. But I would have thought it possible to propose such a think to Thor of the Æsir if I had not already seen that your strength is much less than I had thought.”‘

‘Now a grey cat, and rather a large one, jumped out on to the floor of the hall. Thor approached it, and, placing his hand under the middle of the belly, started to lift up the cat. But as much as Thor raised his hand the cat arched its back. When Thor had reached as high as he could, one of the cat’s paws was lifted off the ground. Beyond this effort, Thor could do no more.’

‘Then Utgarda-Loki said, “This contest has gone as I expected it would. The cat is rather large, whereas Thor is short and small compared with the larger men among us here.”‘

‘Thor replied, “Although you call me little, let someone come forward and wrestle with me! Now I am angry!”‘

‘Utgarda-Loki looked over the benches and replied, “Here inside, I do not see any man who would find it dignified to wrestle with you.” Then he went on, “But wait, first let us see. Call my nurse, the old woman Elli, to come here, and let Thor wrestle with her, if he wants to. She has thrown to the ground men who seem to me to be no less strong than Thor.”‘

‘Next an old woman walked into the hall. Utgarda-Loki said she should wrestle with Thor of the Æsir. The story is not long to tell. The match went this way: the more Thor threw his strength into the grappling, the more steadfastly she stood her ground. Then the old crone showed her skill. Thor lost his footing and the contest grew fiercer. It was not long before Thor fell to one knee. Then Utgarda-Loki intervened. He told them to stop the contest, saying that there was no need for Thor to challenge others to wrestle in his hall. By then it was late at night. Utgarda-Loki showed Thor and his companions to places on the benches, and there they were treated well for the rest of the night.

Utgarda-Loki reveals that Thor was deceived

‘In the morning, at first light, Thor and his companions stood up, dressed, and prepared to leave. Utgarda-Loki then came in and had a table set for them. There was no lack of hospitality as to food or drink. When they finished eating they turned to leave. Utgarda-Loki stayed with them, accompanying them as they left the fortress. At their parting, Utgarda-Loki asked Thor how he thought the trip had gone and whether Thor had ever met a man more powerful. Thor replied that he could not deny that he had been seriously dishonored in their encounter: “Moreover, I know that you will say that I am a person of little account and that galls me.”‘

‘And Utgarda-Loki replied, “Now that you are out of the fortress, I will tell you the truth, for, if I live and am the one to decide, you will never enter it again. On my word, I can assure you, that you would never have been allowed to enter if I had known in advance that you had so much power in you, because you nearly brought disaster upon us. I have tricked you with magical shape-changings, as I did the first time when I found you in the forest. I am the one you met there. And when you tried to untie the food bag, you were unable to find where to undo it, because I had fastened it with iron wire. When you next struck me three times with the hammer, the first was the least, yet it was so powerful that it would have killed me had it found its mark. But when you saw a flat-topped mountain near my hall with three square-shaped valleys in it, one deeper than the others, these were the marks of your hammer. I had moved this flat topped mountain in front of your blows, but you did not see me doing it. It was the same when your companions contested with my retainers. And so it was in the first contest undertaken by Loki. He was very hungry and he ate quickly. But the one called Logi was wildfire itself, and he burned the trough no less quickly than the meat. When Thjalfi ran against the one called Hugi, that was my mind, and Thjalfi could not be expected to compete with its speed. When you drank from the horn, you thought it was slow going, but on my word that was a miracle I would never have believed could happen. The other end of the horn, which you could not see, was out in the ocean. When you come to the ocean you will see how much your drinking lowered it. This is now known as the tides.”‘

‘Utgarda-Loki has still more to say: “I thought it no less a feat when you lifted the cat. Truly all those who saw you raise one of the cat’s paws off the ground grew fearful, because that cat was not what it seemed to be. It was the Midgard Serpent, which encircles all lands, and from head to tail its length is just enough to round the earth. But you pulled him up so high that he almost reached the sky.”‘

‘”It, too, was a real wonder that you remained on your feet for so long during the wrestling. You fell no more than on to one knee, as you struggled with the crone Elli [Old Age], and no one accomplishes that after reaching the point where old age beckons, because no one overcomes Old Age. As we part, I can truthfully say that it would be better for us both if you never come again to meet me. Next time I will defend my stronghold with similar or other trickery, so that you will not get me into your power.”‘

‘When Thor heard this account, he gripped his hammer and raised it into the air. But, when he was was ready to strike, Utgarda-Loki was nowhere to be seen. Then Thor returned to the fortress, intending to destroy it. There he saw a broad, beautiful plain, but no stronghold. Then, turning back, he journeyed until he came once again to Thrudvangar. In truth, it can be said that from then on he was determined to find a way to confront the Midgard Serpent, and later on that happened.’

‘Now I believe that no one else could have given you a truer account of this journey by Thor.’

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