With the release of Marvel Studio’s Thor: Ragnarok movie, I began wondering about the role Thor played at Ragnarök according to the original Norse mythology. Since Marvel’s Thor is a bit different from the mythological Thor, I figured the movie would diverge from the myth, so I decided to check it out.
… But perhaps you don’t know what Ragnarök is? I’ll start there.
Ragnarök is a series of events leading to an end-of-the-world battle tale foretold in Norse mythology. According to the myths, the earth will be burned in the battle, sink into the ocean, but then re-emerge from the resulting steam. The primary source for details about the myth is contained in the Poetic Edda (a collection of Old Norse poems from the 13th century). The name of this epic final battle is generally known as Ragnarök (which means “fate of the gods”), but is also referred to as Ragnarøkkr (translating to “twilight of the gods” in Old Norse).
Marvel is not the first to use Ragnarök—or Ragnarøkkr—as the theme in a work of entertainment. You may have heard pieces of Richard Wagner’s operatic cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen, before? Well, the 4th cycle—Götterdämmerung—is the German translation of “Twilight of the Gods”. Yes, that’s right, the entire Ring Cycle centers around the ancient Norse myths.
But what is supposed to happen specifically to Thor at Ragnarök?
Before I tell you that, though, do you know who Thor is according to Norse mythology?
You may know Thor better as “thunder” and don’t forget the “lightning” hammer which he yields. For obvious reasons, Thor is associated with storms, but because storms often bring rain to renew the earth, he is also associated with fertility. Thor is extremely muscular and known for his great strength since his lineage is ¾ giant (he is the son of Odin, who was ½ giant and all-giant Jörð).
Some other facts about Thor include:
- Thor’s hammer is named Mjölnir, has a short handle, and was made by dwarves.
- When Thor wears his belt—called Megingjörð—his strength doubles.
- Thursday is named after Thor—Thor’s day.
- During the Viking Age, Thor was a more popular god than Odin.
- Most descriptions of Thor say he has a red beard, red hair, and is fierce eyed.
Now back to Thor’s destiny. Völuspá (a poem in the Poetic Edda), describes Ragnarök, detailing the events leading up to the final battle: when the the sea serpent, Jörmungandr, creates towering waves in the ocean, the raging waters free a ship that then carries hordes of attackers to the home of the gods, known as Asgard. The gods go to combat against the invaders. Still alive and battling, Odin is swallowed whole by the wolf Fenrir. Seeing this, one of Odin’s sons avenges his father, killing the wolf by first slicing through its jaws, then stabbing it through the heart with his spear.
During the battle, the sea serpent Jörmungandr (a long-time arch-enemy of Thor) rises from the ocean wide-mouthed to poison the sky with his venom. Thor attacks the serpent and reigns victorious after a ferocious fight. However, Thor has been poisoned during the battle. On his ninth step while walking away from the scene of battle, Thor collapses, ultimately meeting the same fate as his opponent.
Although some survive Ragnarök, Thor is not among them according to the Norse myth. Don’t worry, though; I’m pretty sure Marvel won’t allow Thor to meet the same destiny in their universe.