5 Important Stories About Thor the Norse God of Thunder

Thor, the god of thunder, is the strongest of the Norse gods. Many stories of his adventures survive, but is he the hero?

Apr 21, 2024By Jessica Suess, MPhil Ancient History, BA Hons History/Archaeology

thor norse god


Thor was the Norse god of thunder and was considered the strongest of the gods. Many of the surviving tales about the exploits of the gods feature Thor’s adventures. But while he is clearly the protagonist in these stories, he does not always feel like the hero. Thor is portrayed as arrogant and selfish, having little concern for the consequences of his actions. He often causes more harm than good.


1. Thor the Crossdresser: Thrym Steals Thor’s Hammer

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Thor Dressed as Thrym’s Bride, illustration by Elmer Boyd Smith, 1930, in Abbie Brown, In the Days of Giants: A Book of Norse Tales, p. 122, Source: My Norse Digital Image Repository


In the Marvel movies, only the worthy can lift Mjolnir, Thor’s mighty hammer. But in mythology, it was stolen by the giant Thrym.


Mjolnir is an incredibly heavy weapon and difficult to wield because it has an unusually short handle. This is the result of Loki distracting the dwarven craftsmen during the creation of the magnificent weapon. Therefore, it takes a strong being, like Thor, to use the hammer properly.


Mjolnir is one of Thor’s three main attributes. He also had a belt called Megingjord — his “power belt” which doubled his strength — and iron gloves called Jarngreipr.

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One day, when Thor was taking a rest during his travels, he laid his hammer down somewhere and forgot about it for a while. The giant Thrym came across the hammer and took it. When Thor returned to get his forgotten hammer, it was gone.


Thor returned to Asgard in a rage. As the strongest of the gods, he used his hammer to protect both Asgard and Midgard from the giants. This is why it was worn as a symbol of protection in the Viking age. The hammer in the hands of a giant represented a grave threat.


Loki borrowed Freyja’s feather cloak and flew to Jotunheim, the realm of the giants, to investigate. There he discovered Thrym, who admitted that he had stolen the weapon and buried it eight leagues under the ground where the gods would never find it. His price for returning the hammer was the hand of the beautiful goddess Freyja in marriage.


When Loki returned to Asgard with the news, Thor immediately told Freyja to prepare herself to be wed. She became extremely angry at the suggestion. She refused to marry Thrym or participate in any ruse.


thor thrym teutonic mythology
Thor destroys the giant Thrym, by Lorenz Frolich, 1906, in Viktor Rydberg, Teutonic Mythology Vol. II, facing page 456, Source: Internet Archive


As the gods debated what to do, Heimdall suggested that Thor himself should dress up as Freyja to trick Thrym. Thor initially refused, claiming it was an insult to his manliness. But Loki eventually convinced him to do it and shapeshifted into a woman to accompany Thor as his handmaid.


When the pair arrived in Jotunheim, they explained that Freyja would keep her face covered until the wedding ceremony was complete. The wealthy giant threw an incredible feast for the nuptials, but Thor almost gave himself away by indulging his enormous appetite.


Fortunately, Loki convinced Thrym that Freyja had not eaten in several days due to excitement about the union. When Thrym caught a glimpse of Thor’s burning eyes, Loki again explained that she had not slept in days in anticipation.


Eventually, Thrym brought Mjolnir out from its hiding place to sanctify the union. Thor’s hammer was called on in Viking ceremonies to sanctify important events. Of course, when the hammer was revealed, Thor stole it back and killed all the giants in Thrym’s hall.


2. Thor’s Battle with Hrungnir: Still the Strongest God?

Loki flees with Thor in pursuit, illustration by Lorenz Frohlich, 1895, in Karl Gjellerup, Den ældre Eddas Gudesange, Source: Picryl


In addition to being the protector of Asgard, Thor was also its enforcer and was called on to deal with problems. For example, the gods decided to swindle a builder to try and trick him into building the fortified walls of Asgard without payment. However, the trick backfired, and they almost found themselves liable to pay the builder the sun, the moon, and Freyja’s hand in marriage.


Fortunately for the gods, Loki’s machinations meant that the builder never finished the work. But when they discovered that the builder was also a giant, they summoned Thor to kill him.


Similarly, when Loki finally took things too far with actions that resulted in the death of the god Balder, the gods summoned Thor to expel Loki from Asgard. When Loki fled, it was also Thor who tracked him down for punishment.


A similar situation occurred with the giant Hrungnir. The giant, who was made of stone, had a fine horse called Gullfaxi. One day he met Odin riding his eight-legged steed Sleipnir in Jotunheim. The two stopped to compare horses and boast about their steeds.


thor hrungnir peitsch
Thor duels with Hrungnir, by Ludwig Pietsch, 1865, in Rudolf Friedrich Reusch, Die nordischen Göttersagen, p. 93. Source: Picryl


The pair eventually agreed on a competition and raced back to Asgard. Sleipnir won easily, and Hrungnir accepted his defeat graciously, so the gods invited him in for a drink. But soon Hrungnir got very drunk and started to joke. He said that he would kill all the gods and bury them in Asgard, except for the goddesses Freyja and Sif, whom he would take as wives.


Eventually, the gods got irritated and asked Thor to kill Hrungnir. Thor approached him from behind with the intention of ending him quickly. But Hrungnir realized what was happening and accused Thor of cowardice. He challenged the god of thunder to prove his strength and martial prowess in a duel. Always eager to show off, Thor agreed.


During the duel, Hrungnir threw a giant stone at Thor, which split in two on impact. But at the same time, Thor threw his hammer at Hrungnir, shattering his skull and killing the giant.


While Thor was not badly injured, the impact of the stone knocked him to the ground. One of Hrungnir’s stone legs then fell on top of him, pinning him down. The god of thunder was unable to free himself, and the other gods tried to lift the leg, but it was too heavy.


Eventually, Thor’s three-year-old son Magni came out and was able to lift the leg all by himself. The name Magni means strength in Old Norse, and this story suggests that he may have been even stronger than his father.


It was later revealed that Thor had a small piece of stone lodged in his forehead from the battle. He went to see the sorceress Groa to have it removed, but she was unable to complete the spell. Consequently, Thor spent the rest of his life with the small piece of stone lodged in his head.


3. Thor’s Trickery: Conversing with Alviss

mjolnir pendant sweden
Silver Thor’s Hammer Pendant found at Oland in Sweden, c. 800-1100, Source: Swedish History Museum


Thor was married to the Norse goddess Sif. There is a famous story about Loki stealing Sif’s golden hair and Thor demanding that he replace it with something equally as fine.


This saw Loki travel to the realm of the dwarves, the master craftsmen of the Norse cosmos, to get a golden headdress for Sif. While there, he also procured various other treasures for the gods, including Thor’s hammer Mjolnir.


With Sif, Thor had a daughter called Thrud. He also had two sons, Magni and Modi, with the giantess Jarnsaxa.


One day, a dwarf called Alviss found himself in Asgard. He met Thor’s daughter Thrud and fell madly in love with her. He cast a love spell on her so that she would agree to marry him. But she told Alviss that he must find her father and get his consent.


thor alviss collingwood
Thor and Alviss, illustration by W.G. Collingwood, 1908, page 25 in Elder or Poetic Edda: Commonly Known as Sæmund’s Edda, translated by Olive Bray, p. 24, Source: My Norse Digital Image Repository


Alviss tracked Thor down at his great hall Bilskirnir and brashly told him that he will marry his daughter. When Thor suggests that the dwarf is not fit to unite with Thrud, Alviss proclaims that he is all-knowing and lives in a great hall of rock and stone beneath the earth where he is protected from the sun. He also boasts that he has made many great weapons for the gods and that this is his just reward.


Thor mocks Alviss for claiming the hand of someone better than him, but Alviss says that he will prove himself through a test of knowledge and answer any question that Thor poses.


Alviss answers scores of questions, such as the name of the sun and the moon in all nine worlds. He continues to answer correctly until Thor asks him what time the sun rises in the east. The pair look out the window and the sun’s rays hit them. The dwarf is turned to stone and his spell over Thrud is broken.


4. Thor Meet Utgard-Loki: Thor’s Adventures in Wonderland

Thor´s Trip to the Court of Utgard-Loki, 1901, from Mary Foster and Mabel Cummings, Asgard Stories: Tales from Norse Mythology, Source: My Norse Digital Image Repository


Thor’s meeting with Utgard-Loki feels like an Alice in Wonderland-style tale and paints the realm of Jotunheim as one where illusion reigns and nothing is as it seems.


The story starts with Thor and Loki traveling together in Thor’s chariot drawn by two goats. They stop for the evening at the house of a farmer. He welcomes them but admits he has no food to share. Thor says they can eat his goats and he will bring them back to life, as long as their hides and bones are not damaged.


The farmer’s family has never eaten so well, and the farmer’s son Thjalfi cannot resist cracking open a bone and sucking out the marrow. When Thor restores the goats to life the following day, one of them is lame and he flies into a rage. He wants to kill the whole family, but instead accepts Thjalfi and his sister Rosva as his servants.


Leaving the goats behind, the group travels through a thick forest and arrives in Jotunheim. In the evening, they encounter an enormous snoring giant. Thor immediately decides to kill the giant, but it awakens before he can strike. The giant introduces himself as Skrymir and agrees to travel with the group.


During the day, the giant carries all their provisions in a bag. When night falls, he falls asleep, leaving Thor to try and open the bag. The god cannot undo the knots. Frustrated, he tries to kill the giant, striking him in the head. But Skrymir simply awakens thinking that a leaf has fallen on his head. Thor unsuccessfully tries to kill the giant two more times before sunrise.


skymir thor utgard
The Giant Skrymir and Thor, illustration by Louis Huard, 1908, in Annie Keary and Liza Keary, The Heroes of Asgard: Tales from Scandinavian Mythology, p. 115, Source: My Norse Digital Image Repository


The next day, the giant leaves the group as they head down to an enormous castle. They find themselves tiny figures in the hall of the giant Utgard-Loki. Scholars have spilled much ink discussing how Thor is accompanied by one version of Loki and encounters another.


The giant king immediately mocks them for their small size and challenges them to prove their worth. Loki pronounces that he can eat more than any giant in the hall, and he enters an eating contest with a giant called Logi, whose name means fire. Each has a trough of meat placed in front of them. While Loki eats his meat quickly, he discovers that Logi has eaten not just the meat, but also the bones and the trough itself!


Thjalfi proclaims himself a fast runner and agrees to race with Hugi, whose name means “thought.” They race three times with embarrassing results for Thjalfi.


Thor claims that he can drink more than anyone in the castle. He is given a drinking horn considered small by the standards of the hall and is told to finish it in three draughts. Thor takes a huge drink and is surprised that the horn is still almost full. He repeats this twice but does not come close to draining the horn.


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Thor’s Fight with the Giants, by Mårten Eskil Winge, 1872, Source: Google Arts & Culture


Next, Utgard-Loki challenges Thor to pick up a cat, a seemingly easy task. But Thor was only able to lift one of the cat’s legs.


Finally, Thor says that he will wrestle with anyone. He is pitted against an old woman called Elli, which means “age”, and loses the contest.


The next day, as the group prepares to leave, Utgard-Loki decides to explain what has happened. Loki competed with “fire” in the eating context, which devours all. Thjalfi raced “thought”, which cannot be outrun. Thor wrestled “age”, which cannot be beaten.


The horn Thor drank from was filled with the sea, and the cat he tried to lift was in fact the enormous Midgard Serpent that encircles the world. Even their interactions with Skrymir were a trick. His bag was closed with chains and his head was a mountain.


Thor is angered to have been embarrassed by this deception and prepares to kill the giant and destroy his hall. But they disappear before his eyes, as if they had never been there.


5. Thor’s Fishing Trip: Tempting Fate

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Thor’s Fishing Trip, illustration in SAM 66, 79v, by Jakob Sigurðsson, 1765-1766, Source: Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, Reykjavik, Iceland


In another story, Thor and the god Tyr travel to the hall of the giant Hymir to borrow a cauldron to make sufficient mead for all the gods for a big party. The giant offers them hospitality but is shocked when Thor eats two oxen in a single sitting.


Hyimir does not want to kill any more of his Oxen, so he tells Thor that they will have to go fishing for food for the next day. When Thor turns up, Hymir is horrified to see that he has slaughtered more of his oxen to use their heads as bait.


Nevertheless, the pair row out to sea and catch many enormous fish, including two whales. But Thor is dissatisfied and keeps insisting that Hymir row further out. This makes the giant nervous because he knows that Jormungandr, the mighty Midgard Serpent, lives in these waters.


Thor insists on fishing and soon catches something on his line, which causes him to lose balance for a moment. He then starts to pull it up. Hymir realizes that this must be Jormungandr, as this is the only being in the ocean strong enough to challenge the god. He begs Thor to let it go, but his plea falls on deaf ears.


Eventually, in his fear, Hymir cuts Thor’s line and lets the serpent sink back into the water. Thor is so angered by this that he pushes Hymir into the water where the serpent is still lurking. Thor does pull him back into the boat eventually and the two return to shore.


Despite this incident, Hymir still gave the cauldron to Thor and Tyr. While Tyr was unable to lift the cauldron, Thor swung it up on his shoulder and walked away.


thor ragnarok moe
Ragnarök, color lithograph on paper by Louis Moe, 1898, in Alfred Jacobsen, Danmarks Historie i Billeder VII. Ragnarök, Source: GetArchive


Hymir was frightened by the prospect of Jormungandr not only because of the size and ferocity of the serpent. According to the Ragnarök prophecy, Thor and Jormungandr are destined to fight at the end of days. The serpent will emerge from its waters and join the battle against the gods.


Thor will kill Jormungandr with his hammer, but the serpent will spew so much venom onto Thor that he will die within moments of his victory. Hymir may have thought that Thor was tempting fate and putting the whole world at risk by trying to confront the giant serpent before the designated time.

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By Jessica SuessMPhil Ancient History, BA Hons History/ArchaeologyJessica hold a BA Hons in History and Archaeology from the University of Queensland and an MPhil in Ancient History from the University of Oxford where she researched the worship of the Roman emperors. She worked for Oxford University Museums for 10 years before relocating to Brazil. She is mad about the Romans, the Egyptians, the Vikings, the history of esoteric religions, and folk magic and gets excited about the latest archaeological finds.