In the Marvel movies, it is an important piece of law that not just anyone can wield Thor’s hammer, and that only the worthy have the strength to pick it up.
But in the original mythology, while Thor’s superior strength makes him one of the few people who can wield the hammer, Mjolnir does not seem to have any kind of enchanted protection.
We learn this in the story of Thrym, the giant king who stole Thor’s hammer. It is also this story that gives rise to the idea of Thor becoming a woman (so yes, the plot of Thor: Love and Thunder), as Thor must pretend to be the goddess Freyja in order to retrieve his hammer.
Let’s take a closer look at Thrym and his story.
King of the Jotar
In the story, Thrym is not just any giant, which the Vikings called jotar. He is the king of Jotunheim, the homeland of the giants.
The powerful king wants the perfect bride, and he sets his sights on Freyja, the goddess of love. However, he knows that she will never accept him, so he hatches a plot to force her hand. His plan, to steal Thor’s hammer and make its ransom Freyja.
How exactly Thrym managed to steal the hammer sadly isn’t recorded, but Thor awakes one day to find that his hammer is missing. He turns to Loki to help him find out what has happened to his prize possession.
Loki borrows the feathered coat of Freyja in order to fly around the Norse cosmos and determine the fate of the hammer.
Loki seems to focus in on Thrym pretty early in his investigations and simply asks the giant if he has seen it.
Thrym immediately admits that he has stolen the hammer and hidden it eight leagues beneath the earth. He says that he will only hand it over to the person who brings him Freyja to be his bride.
When Loki returns, Thor demands that he recounts the truth of what he has learned immediately, inserting the saying: “Sitting causes one to forget, and lying causes one to lie”.
Loki recounts the story and Thor immediately commands Freyja goddess of love to put on her bridal clothes because they are off to Jotunheim.
She quickly throws cold water on his plan of trading her for Mjolnir, and in a rage, refuses.
The gods gather to determine what to do, and Heimdall suggests that Thor put on the bridal linen of Freyja and wear Brisingamen, the stunning necklace of Freyja that she is never without. He can then go to Jotunheim and pretend to be Freyja and retrieve his hammer.
Thor is almost as outraged as Freyja was at the suggestion that he compromise his manhood in such a way, but Loki convinces him that it is the only way forward and agrees to accompany Thor to the hall of Thrym to complete the task.
Thrym’s Wedding Feast
Loki sends word to Thrym that Freyja has agreed to the nuptials in order to retrieve the hammer. He commands his people to prepare the hall for a wedding feast.
He also boasts: “I have golden-horned cattle grazing in my yard. They are pure black oxen, a joy to giants. I have treasure aplenty and rule over great riches. Freyja is the only thing that I lack.”
Loki and Thor arrive at the hall and they seem to convince Thrym that Thor is Freyja. This is mostly down to interference run by Loki, who is a shapeshifter and could take on the form of Frejya’s serving maiden.
Thor almost gave himself away with his prodigious appetite, eating an ox and eight whole salmon and drinking three measures of mead.
Thrym does comment, but Loki as the maiden suggests that Freyja hasn’t eaten for eight nights in her anticipation of coming to Jotunheim for the wedding.
Later, Thrym stoops beneath the bridal veil intending to kiss Freyja, but jumps back in fear. He explains that she has flaming eyes.
Again, Loki runs interference, saying that Freyja’s anticipation means that she also has not slept for eight nights.
Before the feast is over, one poor giantess begs Freyja to give her one of the golden rings from her fingers as a mark of friendship, which Thor refuses.
The charade continues until it is finally time to administer the marriage. For this, Thrym will have to bring out Mjolnir, as it was also used to hallow important events, such as marriages.
Thrym calls for the hammer so that he can lay it in the lap of his bride as a blessing.
Naturally, as soon as Thor has the hammer in his hand he slays Thrym, and all of his giant kin present at the ceremony. The last person that he kills is the giantess that asked him for the golden rings, saying that: “instead of rings, she received the mark of Mjolnir.”
This story reveals quite a bit about the lore surrounding Mjolnir, in particular, that it was not only Thor that could wield the weapon, and that it was used to hallow important occasions, such as weddings.
But what the story may say more about is the role of women in Viking culture. Freyja is expected to make a strategic marriage to please her clan, though as a goddess she has the power to refuse. When Thrym discusses Freyja and his desire for her, he talks about her as property that will further enrich his estate.
What do you think are the most important messages contained within the story of Thrym?