Thursday, May 5, 2011

God of Thunder, Hear me Thor

The Epic Thor and Tolkien

Aulë the Destroyer by Ted Nasmith
Any devotee of the works of Tolkien understands his affinity for merging the mythos of the north with the mythos of his own universe, Arda. He desired something greater than the escapades of Arthurian legend to serve as the root of his beloved England’s identity, and succeeded in that act of creation in epic fashion. But even with that knowledge under ones belt, the evidence of Tolkien’s sometimes direct requisition of names and places can cause one to blink in a moment of reader confusion. Or elation.

There are multiple examples of this, but the best, the most obvious, is seen in the Icelandic Poetic Edda, Völúspo. In it Odin seeks knowledge from an oracle of sorts. She tells him of the creation of the world, of men, of the future fall of the gods and the creation of the dwarves. Which is where we see some familiar names: Gandalf, Durin and almost every dwarf that accompanied Bilbo to the den of Smaug.
(Great. Now Hugo Weaving’s ‘Gimli, son of Gloin’ line won’t leave my head.)

As for Thor, his inclusion in the tomes of Arda is not so obvious. Tolkien took his essence and molded the thunder god into a somewhat faith-influenced version of mythos by putting him in a submissive, well-rounded role in his relation to Ilúvatar (God). Instead of a hotheaded hero, Thor finds his Norse likeness born instead as a Vala (angel who decided to be involved with the shaping of creation). He takes the name Aulë.
Aulë is associated most directly with craftsmanship and skill for all things of earth. He wields the hammer of his gift and, like Thor (who’s mother was Jörd/Earth), is thematically associated with the same. The shape and make of the land. Stone. Metal. And most famously, the dwarves.

Aulë, like the other Vala, participated in the creation of Arda by adding his melody to the will of Ilúvatar. To his dismay though, Arda sat empty, uninhabited by elf or man. In his impatience to have other beings to impart his knowledge and skill to, Aulë created his own race of peoples in the form of seven dwarf lords. But he did not possess the authority to grant life or spirit and so the dwarves were no more than puppets of Aulë’s will, incapable of thought or reason outside his direction.

Ilúvatar saw this, and was not pleased with the impatience of Aulë, but Aulë was remorseful of his folly and, with tears, took up his hammer to destroy them. Seeing this, Illúvatar had compassion, stayed Aulë’s hand and imbued the dwarves with life and spirit.

Aulë’s struggle with and likeness to Melkor (Lucifer equivalent) in his specific powers and design and love of craft, also lends a great deal of likeness to the enmity between Thor and the god-turned-enemy, Loki. While it is clear Melkor/Morgoth is fashioned around the idea of Lucifer/Satan, Loki is a character whose story arc is so similar to both that some wonder if hints of Christianity did not weave themselves into the Norse mythos before the first oral traditions were penned. A topic for another day.

The connections within the scope of the Poetic and Prose Eddas, Biblical themes and Tolkien’s body of work are almost endless. So, please, dig deep. Think. Enjoy. But if you don’t want to spend days of sunny spring goodness burrowing in this fascinating, but endlessly layered mesh of mythologies, I suggest you take the blue pill. You are probably going to take an Advil to combat the information overload anyway.


  1. Nice work, Ruth. I have a personal affection for Aule, even if I favor elves over dwarves. ;) Very interesting connections, but man, talk about only scratching the surface. Such is the nature of blog posts that shouldn't become a thesis!

  2. LOL, yeah It could have been a thesis. I had the section of the voluspa concerning the dwarves up until the end, but I had to cut it and just leave the link. i hope people actually click on it. The in line notes on that version of that Voluspa were really helpful. And there is soooo much more I could have said about the meaning of the names and such. Oh well. I was so hardcore into this yesterday I actually missed that it was a nice day outside (until I went to get my kids from school)and should have opened the office windows. I'm glad you stopped by!

  3. Yeah, that is all so way over my head. But I wanted you to know I read it, and I feel I am getting smarter already!:)

  4. You're smart enough as it is! I'm assuming you and Joel are going to go see Thor... he seems like Joel's kind of guy. ;) I might make an effort to go see it next week while the girls are in school, but I have a really hard time tearing myself away from my work when I have alone time. Makes me feel irresponsible, but Ive got to do stuff for my imagination too. Thanks for stopping by Clare!