Valkyrie has quickly emerged as one of the most popular characters in the Marvel universe with her feisty attitude and cool fighting style. Yet another character based on Norse mythology, how does Valkyrie measure up against the Valkyries that inspired her?
Who is Valkyrie in the Marvel Universe?
In the Marvel universe, Valkyrie is not a name, but rather a designation. The character’s name is Brunnhilde, and she is one of the Valkyries, a fearsome group of Asgardian shield maidens that fight on behalf of Odin, the king of Asgard.
The group of female warriors were sent by Odin to subdue Hela the first time she tried to take control of Asgard. While the goddess was defeated, all but one of the Valkyries, Brunnhilde, were killed.
Brunnhilde was so ashamed that she survived and so devastated by the loss of her sister warriors that she fled Asgard and instead became a bounty hunter known as Scrapper 142 on the planet of Sakaar. There she used her superior fighting abilities to procure gladiators for the Gamemaster, including the Hulk, while drinking heavily and waiting to die.
In this role, she is eventually reunited with Thor who is trying to return to Asgard to save it from a new attack by Hela. While Valkyrie is initially reluctant to face the goddess again, she soon agrees to return to Asgard and participate in the battle of Ragnarok.
Brunnhilde survives the battle and travels with the other surviving Asgardians on the Statesman until they are attacked by Thanos. She joins the battle against the Mad Titan and eventually participates in his defeat.
When the Asgardians establish themselves on Earth after these events, Brunnhilde becomes the King of New Asgard in Norway.
Who were the Valkyries?
The role of the Valkyrie in the Marvel universe is more or less consistent with their role in Norse mythology.
Usually listed as being 12 in number, the Valkyries were demi goddesses and ferocious shieldmaidens in the employ of Odin.
But they would not have been called on by Odin to defend Asgard, as their domain seems to have been the mortal realm.
In Norse mythology, if Odin needed someone to take on Hela, he would have called on his son Thor, the strongest of the Aesir gods and the protector of Asgard. But the war waged by Hela is also not true to the mythology either (but we’ve covered that in other posts).
The Valkyries are described as intervening in the battles of men and deciding who lives and who dies, and who wins and who loses.
As well as determining the outcomes of battles, they choose the bravest fallen warriors to dwell in Odin’s great hall, Valhalla, during the afterlife.
In Valhalla itself, it is the responsibility of the Valkyries to serve the fallen warriors with food and drink and make them feel welcome.
It is hard to imagine Marvel’s Valkyrie serving fallen warriors. She would rather drink the beer and wine herself!
This inconsistency is also noted about the legendary Valkyries. They are described as ferocious warriors, and also bloodthirsty. They revel in the battles of men and are sometimes described as pouring blood over the battlefield. Some accounts describe them as feasting on men’s entrails and eating their bodies with packs of wolves. The idea of them as serving maidens seems out of place.
Some scholars have suggested that the idea of the Valkyries serving the warriors in Valhalla is a later Christian idea designed to make the women more palatable. This is certainly what happened with Valkyrie iconography. They are often depicted less like semi-demonic warrior women and more like plump, feminine beauties.
But it is also possible that when the Valkyries choose to take the dead to Valhalla, they also imbue them with an immortal life. Serving them food and drink, perhaps containing Idun’s apples of youth, may have been a necessary function to sustain the warriors.
What about Brunnhilde?
Brunnhilde is a name given to a Valkyrie who finds herself in the mortal realm in stories of the hero Sigurd told in the 13th century.
This Brunnhilde was a Valkyrie who was cast out by Odin for disobeying him when determining the outcome of a certain battle. In the mortal realm, she is told that she must marry. Dissatisfied with this idea, she places herself within a circle of flames and says that she will only marry the man who can cross the flames.
The hero Sigurd crosses the flames and meets Brunnhilde, and the two quickly fall in love. But Sigurd must leave, though he promises to return. While he is away, his memory of Brunnhilde is wiped and he marries someone else.
Later, Sigurd and his friend Gunnar come across the circle of flames again and Gunnar wants to marry Brunnhilde, but he is unable to pass the flames. So, instead, he and Sigurd swap forms and Sigurd completes the task for him. Brunnhilde reluctantly marries the man she thinks is Gunnar, and the two spend their wedding night with a sword between them in the bed.
The next day, Sigurd and Gunnar swap bodies again and Gunnar goes on to become Brunnhilde’s husband.
Later, when Brunnhilde learns of what happened from Sigurd’s wife, she convinces Gunnar to kill Sigurd, and then throws herself on his funeral pyre.
Initially it seems like the Brunnhilde of legend and Marvel could not be more different, but there are some connections.
Marvel’s Brunnhilde exiles herself from Asgard for her failure against Hela. While she is not being forced to marry anyone, she has forced herself to become a bounty hunter for Grandmaster and believes that she has no escape from her fate.
You can read about other famous Valkyries here.
What do you think?
How do you think the Valkyrie of Marvel measures up against the legendary Valkyrie Brunnhilde? We actually like Marvel’s Brunnhilde more than the original. She has a much more compelling motivation than being reduced to an object of love and marriage.