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Thor - Movie vs Mythology
The Avengers, from Marvel Studios, is the most successful comic book movie ever, and the third most successful movie of all-time. Most members of the team are original Marvel Comics characters, but one - Thor, the god of thunder - is based on Norse mythology.
Thor also appeared in his own movie in 2011, and will undoubtedly be seen in many sequels. In both myth and movie, Thor is a heroic character who battles to defend others, but changes were made to make him a modern superhero. Just how close is the movie version to the Thor of Norse mythology?
Thor was one of the superheroes introduced by Marvel Comics in the early 1960s, just as the Marvel Age of Comics was beginning. In Norse mythology, Thor has red hair and a beard, which was in keeping with his fiery temper. As originally drawn by Jack Kirby, however, he had long blond hair and was clean-shaven (although he has sometimes worn a beard in the comics).
In the movies Thor also has blonde hair, and a stubble beard. There's no explanation for the change in hair color, but perhaps he was originally made blonde to match the popular conception of what Scandanavians look like.
Mjölnir: Thor's Hammer
In comics, movies and mythology, Thor's trademark is his magic hammer, Mjölnir, which always returns to his hand when thrown. In mythology, he also has a belt of power, Megingjörð, which doubles his strength, and iron gauntlets, Járngreipr, to help him wield his magic hammer. These were not seen in the movie, and have been seen only occasionally in the comics.
Mjölnir allows Thor to fly in the comics and movies, but not so in mythology. According to Norse mythology, Thor travels in a magic flying chariot which is pulled by 2 goats.
The Norse Gods
Many of the other Norse gods appear in Thor, some substantially different from their mythological counterparts.
- Odin: Thor's father is seen in the movies as a wise peace-maker. Odin has great knowledge in the Norse myths as well, but is a very crafty character, often using deceit and disguise to create conflict, rather than end it.
- Loki: in mythology, Loki, the trickster, is not quite so evil. He causes trouble, but often sets things right again. Unlike the movie version, the mythological Loki is not Odin's adopted son (Thor's half-brother). He is said to be Odin's "blood brother".
- Heimdall: one of my favorite characters, Heimdall, guardian of the Bifrost bridge, is similar in the movies to the mythological version. In Norse myth, Heimdall can see and hear virtually everything. In the movie, his powers of perception seem slightly more limited, though still vastly exceed those of the other gods.
More Norse Mythology
The Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda (below) are the primary sources of most Norse mythology.
- Sif:in mythology, Sif is Thor's wife, with whom he has a son and a daughter. She is not a dark-haired warrior (that version comes from the comics), but a goddess with golden hair (the color of wheat) and is associated with fertility.
- Warrors Three: Thor's companions, Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg do not exist in Norse mythology. They were created in the comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
- Baldur: one of most popular gods in both Norse myth and the comics, Baldur doesn't appear at all in the movie. Perhaps he'll be introduced in one of the sequels.
Thor and Superman
Was Thor an attempt by Marvel Comics to create their own version of Superman, the popular character from DC comics? There are many similarities beyond the colorful costumes and bright red capes.
Both are visitors from another world with godlike powers, and in each case the superhero is the true identity. Where Batman wears a mask to conceal his true identity, Superman's "secret identity", Clark Kent, is actually the disguise. The same was originally true of Thor in the comics, whose original secret identity was a mild-mannered, lame physician.
The Bifrost Bridge
In all three versions, Asgard is connected to Earth by a bridge called Bifrost, also known as the rainbow bridge. Myths often provide fanciful stories to explain real world phenomena and events that defied explanation to people of the time. The Bifrost bridge may have been an explanation for the appearance of rainbows in the sky.
The movies get a lot correct, but there are still many differences. The modernized Thor is an interesting character, and his stories are entertaining, but the movies don't give you the whole story of Thor and the other gods of Norse mythology.
Watch "Clash of the Gods - Episode 9: Thor", from the excellent History Channel series, available for on-demand streaming.