Can you name some of the legends and myths of your own region? How did you get to know of these stories? Which of these stories fascinated you the most? Narrate the one you liked the most to the class. Let us now read this Scandinavian legend.
This story concerns two of Odin's sons: Thor, the god of thunder, and Loki, the spirit of trouble and mischief. Thor was the favorite son of the great god Odin. Even when he was young, he showed such strength that his mother had to make him a teething ring of iron because he chewed through his silver one as soon as it was put into his mouth, and that was before his teeth had even started to grow.
Thor had a brother called Loki and hardly ever have two brothers been born who were so different. While Thor was burly and tall, Loki was slender and of middle height. While Thor was open-faced and ruddy-cheeked, Loki's face had a closed and secretive look and his cheeks were pale. While Thor's voice was loud and jolly, Loki always spoke softly and hissed like a snake when he said words with ants in them. While Thor was fast to act but sometimes slow to think, Loki had a quicksilver mind and weighed up everything he did before he acted. Nevertheless, the two brothers were fond of each other, and often, when Thor needed advice, it was to Loki that he turned. And when Loki needed the help of his brother's huge strength, he turned to Thor.
One day, Thor felt the need for adventure. He and Loki left Assad and came down the Bifrost Bridge (the Bifrost Bridge is the rainbow) to earth.
They set off for Niflheim and the land of the giants. They marched along at a good pace and soon came to an enormous forest. This forest was so huge that even after three days of travelling, they had still not come through it. On the third night, Thor decided that they should rest.
"We must find shelter," said Thor, "for we shall be cold when we stop marching."
He looked around and saw a house just ahead of them in a large clearing. A very strange house, to be sure, but it seemed empty and would give them shelter.
They entered the house through its enormous doorway and found that there were five long, narrow rooms leading off from the central chamber.
"This will be fine," boomed Thor, "there is a room for each of us and one for our sacks of food." They made themselves comfortable and settled down to sleep. But sleep was difficult that night, for all through the hours of darkness, they heard rumblings and groaning and the earth shook and quivered.
"How did you sleep?" Thor asked Loki in the morning. "I had a most disturbed night. Perhaps we should go on and find somewhere quieter to rest."
They picked up their sacks of food and set off through the forest again. They had not gone very far when they came across the biggest giant either of them had ever seen. Although they had seen many giants in their time, they were each amazed that anyone so big could live on the earth.
The giant was lying on his back snoring and wheezing and they understood now where the strange sounds that had kept them awake the night before had come from. They walked all around the giant and marveled. Just as Thor was about to tap the giant lightly with his hammer to wake him up, the giant stirred and stretched and stood up. He towered over them.
"Good morning," he said, and his voice made the trees shake and the grass flatten as if in a gale. "I am the giant Skrymir. I recognize you," he said, pointing at Thor. "You are Thor, the god of thunder."
Skrymir stretched again and then asked if he might join them on their journey.
"Indeed," answered Thor. "But we shall stop early tonight, for we are tired. You may carry our food sacks."
They marched on and on, and when night came Skrymir immediately lie down and fell asleep. Thor tried to open the sack of food, but Skrymir had tied it so tightly that even Thor could not loosen the drawstring that held the neck of the sack closed. This irritated Thor so much that he picked up his hammer and hit the sleeping giant on the head as hard as he could. Skrymir stirred in his sleep. "The flies around here are very irritating," he said and fell asleep again. This made Thor even angrier and again he swung his hammer at the giant's head, almost snapping the handle with the force of the blow.
'Mmmmm...' mumbled the giant, "The night moths seem to be alighting on me."
Again Thor swung his hammer and this time the hammer sank into Skrymir's head.
'Mngngngng...' muttered the giant, "Bird’s eggs must be dropping out of the trees. I think I shall never get any sleep here."
The giant rose and said, "I shall be off now but if you go on to the castle over there, and you will find giants far stronger than I am. I am but a babe compared to them."
The giant left, and Thor and Loki journeyed on to the castle. The castle gateway towered over them and by the side of the gate was a vast iron bell. Thor rang it and demanded entry.
A great voice boomed out at them.
"Whoever enters here must first prove his strength," the voice roared. "We will have no weaklings here."
The voice belonged to Uganda Loki, the master of the castle and one of the most powerful magicians of that place.
"It is Thor, the god of thunder, and Loki, his brother, who rings," Thor bellowed back. "We will match our strength with any of you."
Loki stepped forward. "Throughout Assad I am known as the mightiest eater among the gods," he announced. "I challenge any one of you to an eating match."
At that a thin, red-headed giant called Loki stepped out and behind him two giants each carrying an enormous plate heaped high with joints of meat. There must have been meat from at least sixteen oxen on each plate. Loki sat down and started to eat and in no time had emptied the plate, leaving only the clean bones. Imagine his surprise when he looked at his opponent's plate and found that the thin red-haired man had eaten not only the meat but the bones and plate as well.
"And now it is my turn," announced Thor. "First I challenge anyone to out drink me." For Thor could drink more than any god or human.
An enormous drinking horn was brought out of the castle and Thor took a deep breath and raised it to his lips. He took three great gulps from the horn but to his amazement, when he put it down the level in the horn was only a little lower than before.
"I am also the strongest of all the gods," he boasted, "give me another test."
"If you can lift my cat up, then I shall believe that you are the strongest," said Uganda Loki. He whistled and a small grey cat slunk out of the castle. Thor grinned and bent down to lift the little animal, but no matter how hard he tried, he could only lift one paw of the cat from the ground.
"One last test," Thor demanded, "and then I shall admit defeat."
"Very well," said Utgardaloki. "You must wrestle with my old nurse Elli and we shall see who wins."
An old, wrinkled woman came slowly out of the castle and stood before Thor.
"Are you afraid to wrestle with an old woman?" she demanded. "No, by the Bifrost Bridge!" retorted Thor, and rushed at her. They grappled together and slowly but surely, Elli forced Thor to his knees.
Thor and Loki were ashamed and amazed.
"Never have I been beaten before," said Thor. "These are indeed mighty giants." They turned to go when Utgardaloki stopped them.
"Stay a moment," he said. "I will explain why you were defeated. I would never dare to let you in, for you are truly the strongest gods of all. When you met Skrymir in the forest it was none other than me. When I lay down, I covered my head with mountains to protect myself. You may see what damage you did."
Thor looked at the mountain range in the distance and saw that huge trenches and valleys had been gouged out of it. "When Loki tried to out beat Logi, he failed because Loki is none other than fire, and fire consumes everything. The drinking horn that Thor could not empty is always full because the other end is dipped into the sea, and by lowering the level of the horn, Thor has caused the first tides to appear. The cat is none other than the serpent Midgrade, which is coiled around the centre of the earth and by lifting one paw, Thor has caused gigantic earthquakes. Finally the old nurse, Elli, is really old a film fell age. So you see, your strength is amazing."
Thor was furious when he found out that he had been tricked. With a mighty war cry, he rushed at Utgardaloki and raised his hammer to smash him into the ground. But the magician was too quick for him and in a twinkling; the castle and the giants disappeared, leaving only the sighing trees of the forest and the rushing winds of the plain.