View Full Version : Thunor - Rainman or God of Thunder?

Saturday, November 26th, 2005, 05:46 AM
an article about whether Thor is really an oaf :D

by Jason Hutchinson

I've read dozens of articles which are supposed to tell you all you need to know about Thunor, but most tend to be on the schlocky side. One of the things I read time and time again is the ongoing debate over Thunor's IQ. People point to the Harbarzljodh and the Gylfaginning and say "Look, Thunor's about as bright as a box of rocks." Still others will point to the Alvissmal and say "No, he's really a bright fellow." Sorry folks, but I just don't think you get it. The purpose of this article, then, is to first address the most common argument for Thunor being a bonehead, dispel it, and then see if there are some other speculative conclusions that can be drawn from the same data that might be more useful.

First, I would like to make my position clear: I don't know how smart Thunor is. I do know that there seems to be no mythic evidence to indicate that he is not at least of average intelligence. It is also my understanding that Thunor is, first and foremost, a GOD. He may be a bit over- trusting of people, he may even not be as smart as Woden, but it has generally been my experience that he is smart enough to know what he excels in, and what he does not. Note how, in Thrymskvidha, when he notices his hammer missing he doesn't just run out to Jutenheim and start kicking Jotun butt. His first response is to get Loki and to go and see Freo (ON Freyja) to borrow her falcon cloak. This seems like a good place to start. Then, he lets Loki use the falcon cloak and fare into Jotunheim to deal with the giants instead of trying to do it himself. All of this seems like good rede. It may not seem like much, but acknowledging that there are people who are better at certain things than you are, and then getting them to help you, is a very special skill, and one which we are often too proud to develop. Some might go so far as to call it strategy. This doesn't seem like the impulsive "Id driven" Thunor many would have believe exists. All of this reminds me of a story related to me by a friend of mine who spent a summer in the Ozarks. He was sitting on the steps of a old general store with a local who was sharpening his knife, and they got to talking. To keep a long story short, my friend was amazed by the inspired words of wisdom coming from this man who many would consider "back woods" and "inbred". He said, "I may not have much of an education, but I am smart enough to know exactly how dumb I am. I know some things real well, and can talk your ear off all day about them, but things I don't know about, well, I just keep my mouth shut and listen." Truer words were never spoken.

The general argument, if it can be called that, for Thunor's idiocy is essentially that since Thunor was tricked by Utgarda-Loki so easy, and since Harbarth was able to give him such a tongue lashing from across the sound, well, then Thunor must not be very bright. Of course, this leaves out a middle term which needs to be inferred, that people who are tricked by Utgarda-Loki and who lose a battle of words with Woden aren't very bright. It's this middle term that really rips their argument apart. First, let's look at the Gylfaginning, from the Prose Edda.

The Gylfaginning is the tale of how Thunor went a travelling with Loki and Tialfi, and how they were tricked by the giant Utgarda-Loki. There was a series of contests, in which Loki lost an eating contest with Logi, wildfire in disguise, Tialfi lost a race with Hugi, who was a thought, Thunor was dropped to his knee in a wrestling match with Elli, old age, and a couple of others. Essentially, the giants laugh at Thunor in hall, but later Thunor finds out the truth behind the games, and gets most wrathful. Many people then use this story to support their argument that Thunor is stupid. They seem to miss an important point - Loki, grand-daddy of all hijinks in Asgard, was deceived as well. If this giant's dreecraft was so powerful as to fool Loki, then how can we say that Thunor should have seen his way through the deception? If this lay is to used to show Thunor's lack of intelligence, then it seems to imply that Loki was a bit of a dim bulb himself. I don't think that's the case.

In Harbarzljodh Thunor comes to a body of water and hails the ferryman to carry him across. The ferryman, Woden in disguise, gives Thunor quite a bit of guff, and harsh words are spoken. Thunor comes out the worse, infuriated and maybe a bit humiliated by a simple ferrymen. To those who think this makes Thunor an idiot I would propose the following: I consider myself an educated and intelligent man, but I have every reason to believe that if Woden were to come down and verbally spar with me he would certainly come out on top. It's WODEN! Ever heard of the mead of inspiration? Thought so. How do you think you'd do if put into the same situation?

So simply put, I don't see how either of these classic examples show any sort of lack of intelligence in Thunor. Then why were they told? Because they're funny. They show a very Human side of the All-mighty God (Thunor) that we don't see very often. Thunor spends most of his time being very impressive smiting the enemies of the Gods. So much of Thunor's character revolves around this image of Thunor as cosmic warder (or whatever term you want to apply) that if we didn't see this more "human" side of Thunor we might forget that we are kin to him, and that he really does understand what we go through here in Middle Yard. To draw a parallel with the Iliad, the portrayal of Achilles which is the most interesting and most depicted in Greek and Roman art is his relationship with Petroklas. This adds depth to a character who would otherwise seem shallow and one sided. So too in the Eddas. People need to be reminded that we share certain qualities with our gods. Our gods, like us, have children, get angry, make mistakes, and the like. This is a good thing. Even the briefest look at the yore days gives evidence for Thunor's importance, from his statue at Upsalla to the amulets worn by the folk, by the frequency with which people named their children after him. I don't think that anyone who needed their fields saved from hail, their homes warded, and their children looked after would have told stories that portrayed Thunor in this fashion if all they wanted was to badmouth the god. With this in mind, I took a good look at two sources, and would like to share some thoughts.

The Thunor in the Gylfaginning doesn't seem all that dumb, but rather over-trusting. Let me clarify. Thunor doesn't trust Jotuns, that much is made clear. The trust I'm talking about is appearances. He assumes that everything is as it seems, and these giants wouldn't pull tricks on him in their hall, once hospitality has been extended to him. He trusts these contests to be fair, and doesn't even think to look for treachery. I think this trustingness is one of Thunor's many endearing qualities. It seems, to me, that if we all were as wary as Woden, then we wouldn't make many friends. However, I think that we would do well to remember that trust should never be extended too far when one wanders away from home. As the first lines of the Havamal tell us:

Have eyes about thee when thou enterest

be wary alway, be watchful alway;

for one never knoweth when need will be

to meet hidden foe in the hall.

(Hollander trans, Poetic Edda)

This, more than anything else, is the "lesson", if there is one, that lies in Gylfaginning. It's an almost archetypal tale about how the good guy gets screwed because of his trusting nature. I've heard it said that the wise are those who learn from the mistakes of others. Perhaps that's the best reason to tell this story.

When you look at Harbarzljodh without regard to the supposed "intelligence" of the participants you notice an interesting phenomenon - Thunor is bragging of keeping Asgard and Midgard safe from incursion by the Jotuns, while Woden is more interested in telling of the strife he's stirred, the wars he's fought, and the women he's loved amongst the sons of men. This difference is quite telling. I don't know if the gods have specific "jobs" or "functions", a la Dumezil, but it does seem that Thunor considers his most important work that of keeping the worlds safe, while Woden seems to be most proud of the passions of all sorts that he has stirred in the Middle Yard. This makes perfect sense to me, as it seems that one of Woden's main interests is the separation of the worthy from the unworthy in this life. He, to wax metaphorical, provides the heat for the crucible that is the world in which the iron is separated from the dross. Thunor seems more interested in helping those who place their troth in him and warding the world from the wilds outside our garths. I don't really know why Woden played at being Harbard and mocking Thunor, but I do know that in their exchange we can find a lot of insight into what it means to be Woden and what it means to be Thunor. I think you can learn quite a bit more from the myths when you drop all ill-formed notions of who the gods are and stop filtering the Eddas through a faulty paradigm.

In closing, I'd just like to say that I don't think this is everything anyone need to know about Thunor. Not by a long shot. But it does seem to me that this "Thor as oaf" assumption that so many make completely unfounded. The reason why I didn't just point to Alvissmal and say, "Look, he's clever!" is that to do so without addressing Harbarzljodh and Gylfaginning seems to lend legitimacy to their basic premise. So, instead of pointing to lots of places where Thunor is clever I chose to address the basic assumptions that this sort of argument for Thunor's stupidity rests on. I think it's more effective. I don't know if Thunor is going to win the next Nobel prize in physics, but I can guarantee you that he isn't sitting around Asgard saying "'Bout a hundred dollars. Bout a hundred dollars."

Source (http://www.thorshof.org/thunder1.htm)

Saturday, November 26th, 2005, 08:16 AM
I really hate it when people use him as an excuse for their own idiotic behavior!

Great article!