Friday, February 10, 2012

Thor and Loki (No Footnotes, Just Gut)

A long time ago I posted about The Essential Thor -- that is the Thor I had come to know through reading the myths and researching him half to death (or possibly half to life) -- and today I want to kind of continue that thought.

So much of how I judge Thor is related to how he interacts with others, his relationships with the other gods, his loyalty to the people he loves. His relationship with Loki, of course, is at the center of a lot of this in the myths. Thor and Loki are always traveling together, always getting into mischief and bailing each other out of it, and until recently, I didn't really understand the dynamic between them. It is so easy for me to see Loki as the villain, the deceiver and the troublemaker, and so hard for me to see what Thor does in the myths: a companion and friend, someone worth seeking out for adventures, someone to keep at your back or turn to in a crisis.

Then it occurred to me that Loki was sometimes considered a blood brother to Odin, Thor's father. And Odin was king of the gods, king of Asgard, ruler and warrior. No doubt he was a very busy god. What if Loki stepped in where Odin did not have the time to spend? What if Thor had been raised from a young age to consider Loki as his uncle? What if that was the foundation of their relationship? It explains everything so perfectly, fits everything together like matching pieces in a puzzle.

Loki was the cool uncle who let Thor do all the fun stuff. Loki was the person who took him on adventures and rescued Thor from trouble at the last minute. We see it in the myths, too, that when Thor is in trouble, he goes to Loki first, not Odin. Just consider the cross-dressing Thor, incident. When the Mjollnir disappears, Thor doesn't race to his father, the man with the seat that allows him to see everything in the nine worlds, Thor goes to Loki. Thor goes to Loki because Loki has always gotten him out of scrapes in the past, and Loki isn't going to judge him, or give him a hard time, or punish him, the way a father might, for getting into the scrape to begin with. Even though Odin could have discerned the location of Mjollnir faster and more easily, Thor appeals to a different power for help.

We see in the myths that it is most often Loki leading Thor on these trips which always end in some kind of disastrous fix -- but why is Thor following along so blithely? Why is it so hard for Thor to see what's coming when he gets involved in these adventures? Even Thor isn't that dumb. I mean, sure, he isn't the brightest of the gods, but that's a whole different level of blind naivety. But if Thor was raised to trust him, raised looking up to him as his fun uncle, raised to trust that Loki will take care of him from childhood, it all makes so much more sense.

And it also explains how difficult it is for Thor to finally face the facts of Loki's nature, and just why Thor has given him forgiveness after forgiveness. It makes sense that in the Lokasenna, Thor blows a gasket even to see the uncle who betrayed him, betrayed his whole family, by engineering Balder's death. The first words out of his mouth are shut up, or I'll hammer your mouth shut -- and  after all the trouble Loki has gotten Thor into before now, after all the times Thor has just laughed and forgiven him, that kind of immediate response seems like a break in character. But Loki has finally crossed the line. His sins are too great to overlook.

Thor responds to Loki like a child who suddenly realizes the truth about his parent. Balder's death, his brother's murder, shatters Thor's ideal of who Loki is in a way nothing else could have. Suddenly, Thor is able to see clearly, man to man, god to god, giant to giant. Thor should have expected some kind of betrayal from Loki -- but he didn't. He couldn't see around the idea of the Uncle he had looked up to all his life to recognize the truth of his character. He couldn't see that the mischief hid malice, because he was a boy who saw the best in the uncle who had half-raised him.

Loki and Thor's relationship is tragic. It ends the way so many of Loki's adventures did -- in disaster. And when it really mattered, when it might have made all the difference, Loki went out of his way to be sure it couldn't be fixed.*

*Hermod went all the way to Hel and bargained to bring Balder back to life, and Hel promised Balder could return if everything in the world wept for him. Everything did, but for Loki, disguised as a Giantess who refused to mourn, and so Hel  refused to release Balder. Loki could have fixed everything, they all could have had a laugh over their mead and Loki would have been redeemed. 

11 comments:

  1. I'd never thought of the "cool uncle". Your analysis makes a huge amount of sense. I kind of want more stories with that take rather than "friends", or "brothers/enemies" à la Marvel. Thanks!

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    1. Me too, Anassa. I think I might have to write one :) This interpretation of Thor and Loki just fits so much more neatly with their relationship as demonstrated in the myths.

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  2. THAT'S how you discover Truth. Nice work.

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  3. Never once would have thought of their relationship in that way! Great perspective!

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    1. thanks! I'm glad it made you see it from another angle!!

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  4. I have a story about this relationship, but it's a sad one...

    http://archiveofourown.org/works/923418

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    1. Thanks for sharing this! You're right, it is sad -- but then, so is the spiral of events leading to Ragnarok :-/

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