Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Thor the Mighty Thunder God

As a boy, I was a great fan of the Marvel Comics hero Thor, and he was my way into Norse mythology in general: Loki, Odin, Asgard, Yggdrasil and all the rest of it. I loved the way Thor demolished enemies with his mighty hammer, which he also used to fly through the air (I was easily pleased in those days). And now, so many years later, Thor is back, in Kenneth Branagh’s recent film where Chris Hemsworth plays the Thunder God in his earthbound exile. Watching the various recent Marvel Comics movies – Captain America last month - I at once switch back into the old teenage mode of utterly uncritical enjoyment.

But Thor features in high culture as well as mass culture. Coleridge once planned a long poem on ‘The Excursion of Thor’; and the Thunder God makes brief appearances in Matthew Arnold’s narrative poem ‘Balder Dead’, where he grieves for his more thoughtful brother and muscularly pushes Balder’s ship of death off the beach into the sea. He gets a brief mention in Morris’s Sigurd the Volsung, though his one-eyed father Odin plays rather more of a role in that northern epic; and there are a couple of good evocations of him at the start of ‘The Lovers of Gudrun’ in The Earthly Paradise, where ‘Thor’s hammer gleamed o’er Thor’s red-bearded face’.

And now A.S. Byatt has written a novel called Ragnarok, in which Thor will presumably play a major part in the final battle or ‘twilight’ of the Norse gods. So there seems to be much mileage left in my old boyhood hero the Thunder God. I wish Morris himself, with his passionate enthusiasm for Norse culture, had made rather more of him, but we can at least hope that Byatt has now penned the worthy mythic novel of which Morris himself alas wasn’t quite capable. My Amazon order for the Byatt book has just gone in; I shall report back.


Jan said...

i don't think Byatt's book is a novel, exactly


Tony Pinkney said...

Well, the novel is a very capacious genre, Jan. Still, let's not argue about names. Have finally started reading 'Ragnarok' and it is indeed a powerful book, a way of inventing a language strong and dark enough to encompass the two apocalypses of World War Two and imminent ecological catastrophe.

Essa Lato said...

The surge of Norse material continues in children's fiction too: see Francesca Simon's 'The Sleeping Army', set in a contemporary England in which people still worship the Norse gods, and Joanne Harrison's 'Runelight', which takes up from where her earlier 'Runemarks' (set 500 years after Ragnarok) left off.