Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Essential Thor (no footnotes, just gut.)

I've been working with the character of Thor, the Norse god of thunder and lightning, for years. Years of research and reading and false starts and conversations in the dark with the ceiling that resulted in terrible stories and drafts while I struggled to pinpoint what was there. Years of trying to understand what was at the heart of this god, who was so loved by his people, honored even in many ways above Odin the All-Father. Loved so much, even now, that he was re-imagined and transported into the medium of the comic book for the modern world. Thor, who we will soon be over-saturated by, in the quest for world domination and movie marketing schemes. Hollywood always knows how to run a good man into the ground. But for myself, I'm hoping they do him justice, because after years of trying to find the answer of this god's character, this god's essence, this god's spirit within the scraps of mythology we're given, he became my most favorite of all mythological heroes. (Theseus may be coming in at a close second, but don't tell Thor. He'll start going on about how Theseus is "unworthy".)

I think that there was a very good reason that Thor was the preferred god of the everyman, and I don't think that it was because he was stupid, or because he was always getting into brawls and slaughtering giants, or because he was often drunk on mead and loved to feast with the best of us. I don't even think it was because he cross-dressed, although Mimzy tells that story better than I've ever heard it before. I think the reason Thor was so beloved was because he always helped his people. Thor was the god that could be depended on, no matter what had happened, to go out and do what had to be done-- whether that was beating down on Loki, or killing off giants, or drinking a ton of mead, or dressing up as a woman. Thor was intensely loyal, unwavering, and good.

That's not to say he couldn't be led off track every so often. Loki makes this perfectly clear in all the stories where they travel together to accomplish some task, or just for the sake of getting out and about. Perhaps Thor is trusting to a fault. Certainly he doesn't seem to take to deception very easily when he's forced to employ its arts. He's not at all like Loki in that way. He'd much rather bust down the door and employ a frontal assault, even if he can't win. And that in itself is something admirable, too-- it's one of the things that I have always respected in those people who also share that characteristic. The people who throw their punches and then shake it off, and buy one another a drink afterwards.

Not that I advocate violence and punch-throwing, but there's certainly something to be said for putting the differences behind you and moving on. And I think that if there is anything that Thor had mastered, it was that particular character trait. Time and again we see Loki do something ridiculously stupid or awful, and Thor, irate, telling him to fix it or else. And time and again, after Loki has corrected his error, Thor goes back to the equilibrium of trusting friendship. Taking back up with Loki as if there had been no incident at all. Obviously there is a limit to his patience in this regard, just as every human has a limit for perpetual idiocy, but Loki really has to work to get there, and even then it is more the will of the gods as a whole than it is Thor's own choice to punish Loki so severely, and only after Loki has systematically insulted and affronted every single one of them.

Thor is an enforcer, yes, because of his raw power and strength, but he isn't a bully really. Maybe he beats up on the Frost Giants a little bit excessively, sure, but the Frost Giants are always causing some trouble or other for the Aesir, and with a history like that, it's hard to blame him for responding violently. But maybe enforcer isn't really the fairest term to apply to him, because I think, more than anything else, Thor protects. He protects even those who are undeserving (like Loki) because they are part of his family, numbered among his people. He doesn't evaluate whether the person has earned his protection before he acts, he just responds as required by those bonds and loyalties in place.

Thor might have had a short temper, but just because he was angry didn't mean he wouldn't help you out. And maybe that was what was most appealing about him. Unlike many of the other gods, in any pantheon, Thor was not a god to hold a grudge. He was quick to forgive. Quick to move on. And for humans, imperfect as we are, as we know ourselves to be, a god who forgives would be attractive. I'm sure that accounts a great deal for the popularity of Jesus.

This is why the idea of Thor being twisted to promote an agenda of hate and violence is so baffling to me. The kind of gods who serve those agendas are not the kind of gods who are loved by their people. They are the kind of gods who are feared by their people. They are the God of the old testament, and Hera with her petty vengeance on Zeus's bastard children. Gods who you must constantly appease through sacrifice and prayer. They are the gods who perceive slights in everything, and proper respect in nothing. They aren't the gods who drink with you and feast with you and slap you on the back when you're laughing so hard you choke on your mead. They aren't the gods who, no matter how many times you've misused them, still go to the trouble of rescuing you from Frost Giants.

This is Thor's character. This is the god who was loved by his people, and honored more than all the others. The god who showed, if not love, at least benevolence toward those who did not have his strength, and called themselves his friend, regardless of whether their actions proved their words or not. Is it any wonder that he was so popular? In his essence, Thor was not just a god of thunder, and wielder of incredible raw power, Thor was also, in character, a god of friendship.

Maybe that's why he's my favorite, when it comes down to it. For all his faults, for all his violence, his heart was in the right place.


  1. Not to mention that he is exceedingly awesome. (And cute!) Yay Thor!

  2. It sounds to me like Thor is a great study in character building. He's flawed and yet, people still love him.

    I wonder, did the Greeks feel the same way about Zeus?

  3. I don't think Zeus had quite the same personality or the aspect of friendship and forgiveness. None of the Olympians ever struck me as very benevolent. They had their favorites, but they usually put the people they liked through the ringer, and breathing the wrong way could turn them against you.

  4. Yeah, Zeus always annoyed me because he was just looking for the nearest skirt to chase. I always felt bad for Hera and all the women Zeus was chasing. Silly Greek gods.

  5. I don't know-- Hera was pretty manipulative herself. Maybe she wasn't sleeping around as much, but she definitely was jerking Zeus around in her own ways.

    But I think immortal marriages play by a totally different rule book than mortal ones.


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