Make your own free website on

List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

the moral contest man feels within him, with the physical
strife he finds around him, to see in the returning
sun--fostering into renewed existence the winter-stifled
world--even more than a TYPE of that spiritual consciousness
which alone can make the dead heart stir; to discover
even more than an ANALOGY between the reign of cold,
darkness, and desolation, and the still blanker ruin of
a sin-perverted soul? But in that iron clime, amid such
awful associations, the conflict going on was too
terrible--the contending powers too visibly in presence
of each other, for the practical, conscientious Norse
mind to be content with the puny godships of a Roman
Olympus. Nectar, Sensuality, and Inextinguishable Laughter
were elements of felicity too mean for the nobler atmosphere
of their Walhalla; and to those active temperaments and
healthy minds,--invigorated and solemnized by the massive
mould of the scenery around them,--Strength, Courage,
Endurance, and above all Self-sacrifice--naturally seemed
more essential attributes of divinity than mere elegance
and beauty. And we must remember that whilst the vigorous
imagination of the north was delighting itself in creating
a stately dreamland, where it strove to blend, in a grand
world-picture--always harmonious, though not always
consistent--the influences which sustain both the physical
and moral system of its universe, an undercurrent of
sober Gothic common sense induced it--as a kind of protest
against the too material interpretation of the symbolism
it had employed--to wind up its religious scheme by
sweeping into the chaos of oblivion all the glorious
fabric it had evoked, and proclaiming--in the place of
the transient gods and perishable heaven of its
Asgaard--that One undivided Deity, at whose approach the
pillars of Walhalla were to fall, and Odin and his peers
to perish, with all the subtle machinery of their existence;
while man--himself immortal--was summoned to receive at
the hands of the Eternal All-Father the sentence that
waited upon his deeds. It is true this purer system
belonged only to the early ages. As in the case of every
false religion, the symbolism of the Scandinavian mythology
lost with each succeeding generation something of its
transparency, and at last degenerated into a gross
superstition.  But traces still remained, even down to
the times of Christian ascendency, of the deep,
philosophical spirit in which it had been originally
conceived; and through its homely imagery there ran a
vein of tender humour, such as still characterises the
warm-hearted, laughter-loving northern races. Of this
mixture of philosophy and fun, the following story is no
bad specimen.  [Footnote: The story of Thor's journey
has been translated from the Edda both by the Howitts
and Mr. Thorpe.]

Once on a time the two OEsir, Thor, the Thunder god, and
his brother Lopt, attended by a servant, determined to
go eastward to Jotunheim, the land of the giants, in
search of adventures. Crossing over a great water, they
came to a desolate plain, at whose further end, tossing
and waving in the wind, rose the tree tops of a great
forest. After journeying for many hours along its dusty
labyrinths, they began to be anxious about a resting-place
for the night. "At last, Lopt perceived a very spacious
house, on one side of which was an entrance as wide as
the house itself, and there they took up their
night-quarters. At midnight they perceived a great
earthquake; the ground reeled under them and the house

"Then up rose Thor and called to his companions.  They
sought about, and found a side building to the right,
into which they went. Thor placed himself at the door;
the rest went and sat down further in, and were very much

"Thor kept his hammer in his hand, ready to defend them.
Then they heard a terrible noise and roaring.  As it
began to dawn, Thor went out, and saw a man lying in the
wood not far from them; he was by no means small, and he
slept and snored loudly. Then Thor understood what the
noise was which they heard in the night. He buckled on
his belt of power, by which he increased his divine
strength. At the same instant the man awoke, and rose
up. It is said that Thor was so much astonished that he
did not dare to slay him with his hammer, but inquired
his name. He called himself Skrymer. 'Thy name,' said
he, 'I need not ask, for I know that thou art Asar-Thor.
But what hast thou done with my glove?'

"Skrymer stooped and took up his glove, and Thor saw that
it was the house in which they had passed the night, and
that the out-building was the thumb."

Here follow incidents which do not differ widely from
certain passages in the history of Jack the Giant Killer.
Thor makes three several attempts to knock out the easy-
going giant's brains during a slumber, in which he is
represented as "snoring outrageously,"--and after each
blow of the Thunder god's hammer, Skrymer merely wakes
up--strokes his beard--and complains of feeling some
trifling inconvenience, such as a dropped acorn on his
head, a fallen leaf, or a little moss shaken from the
boughs.  Finally, he takes leave of them,--points out
the way to Utgard Loke's palace, advises them not to give
themselves airs at his court,--as unbecoming "such little
fellows" as they were, and disappears in the wood;
"and"--as the old chronicler slyly adds--"it is not said
whether the OEsir wished ever to see him again."

They then journey on till noon, till they come to a vast
palace, where a multitude of men, of whom the greater
number were immensely large, sat on two benches. "After
this they advanced into the presence of the king, Utgard
Loke, and saluted him. He scarcely deigned to give a
look, and said smiling: 'It is late to inquire after true
tidings from a great distance, but is it not Thor that
I see? Yet you are really bigger than I imagined. What
are the exploits that you can perform? For no one is
tolerated amongst us who cannot distinguish himself by
some art or accomplishment.'

"'Then,' said Lopt, 'I understand an art of which I am
prepared to give proof, and that is, that no one here
can dispose of his food as I can.' Then answered Utgard
Loke: 'Truly this IS an art, if thou canst achieve it;
which we will now see.' He called from the bench a man
named Loge to contend with Lopt. They set a trough in
the middle of the hall, filled with meat. Lopt placed
himself at one end and Loge at the other. Both ate the
best they could, and they met in the middle of the trough.
Lopt had picked the meat from the bones, but Loge had
eaten meat, bones, and trough altogether. All agreed Lopt
was beaten. Then asked Utgard Loke what art the young
man (Thor's attendant) understood? Thjalfe answered, that
he would run a race with any one that Utgard Loke would
appoint. There was a very good race ground on a level
field. Utgard Loke called a young man named Huge, and
bade him run with Thjalfe. Thjalfe runs his best, at
three several attempts--according to received Saga
customs,--but is of course beaten in the race.

"Then asked Utgard Loke of Thor, what were the feats that
he would attempt corresponding to the fame that went
abroad of him? Thor answered that he thought he could
beat any one at drinking. Utgard Loke said, 'Very good,'
and bade his cup-bearer bring out the horn from which
his courtiers were accustomed to drink. Immediately
appeared the cup-bearer, and placed the horn in Thor's
hand.  Utgard Loke then said, 'that to empty that horn
at one pull was well done; some drained it at twice; but
that he was a wretched drinker who could not finish it
at the third draught.' Thor looked at the horn, and
thought that it was not large, though it was tolerably
long. He was very thirsty, lifted it to his mouth, and
was very happy at the thought of so good a draught. When
he could drink no more, he took the horn from his mouth,
and saw, to his astonishment, that there was little less
in it than before.  Utgard Loke said: 'Well hast thou
drunk, yet not much.  I should never have believed but
that Asar-Thor could have drunk more; however, of this
I am confident, thou wilt empty it at the second time.'
He drank again; but when he took away the horn from his
mouth, it seemed to him that it had sunk less this time
than the first; yet the horn might now be carried without

"Then said Utgard Loke: 'How is this, Thor? If thou dost
not reserve thyself purposely for the third draught,
thine honour must be lost; how canst thou be regarded as
a great man, as the Aesir look upon thee, if thou dost
not distinguish thyself in other ways more than thou hast
done in this?'

"Then was Thor angry, put the horn to his mouth, drank
with all his might, and strained himself to the utmost;
and when he looked into the horn it was now somewhat
lessened. He gave up the horn, and would not drink any
more. 'Now,' said Utgard Loke, 'now is it clear that thy
strength is not so great as we supposed. Wilt thou try
some other game, for we see that thou canst not succeed
in this?' Thor answered: 'I will now try something else,
but I wonder who, amongst the Aesir, would call that a
little drink! What play will you propose?'

"Utgard Loke answered: 'Young men think it mere play to
lift my cat from the ground; and I would never have
proposed this to Aesir Thor, if I did not perceive that
thou art a much less man than I had thought thee.'
Thereupon sprang an uncommonly great grey cat upon the
floor.  Thor advanced, took the cat round the body, and
lifted it up. The cat bent its back in the same degree
as Thor lifted, and when Thor had lifted one of its feet
from the ground, and was not able to lift it any higher,
said Utgard Loke: 'The game has terminated just as I
expected.  The cat is very great, and Thor is low and
small, compared with the great men who are here with us.'

"Then said Thor: 'Little as you call me, I challenge any
one to wrestle with me, for now I am angry.' Utgard Loke
answered, looking round upon the benches: 'I see no one
here who would not deem it play to wrestle with thee:

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: