Mjolnir the Mighty and the Worthiness Issue

by Diane Duane
Mjolnir the Mighty

(Note: This post originally appeared on DD’s blog at Tumblr, and has been ported over here for those who don’t care to deal with Tumblr’s present T&C. [And who could blame you? Seriously.])

A question from a reader at Tumblr:

[In the Young Wizards universe,] you list Thor as one of the aspects of [the demiurge known as] The One’s Champion. Would Ronan (who carried the Champion around at the bottom of his soul for a while) or Peach (who as the Champion on assignment spent a good while in the shape of a macaw, associating with major YW characters) be able to wield Mjolnir? Or perhaps would just about any uncorrupted wizard be able to seeing as the Wizard’s Oath is a noble, worthy purpose that’s an essential part of them?

Well, first let’s be clear that we’re dealing with a new-myth-overlaid-on-old-myth situation here.

In the original Norse myths — specifically the material in the Poetic / Elder Edda and the Prose / Younger Edda — there’s no question that Mjolnir is a very special weapon. It was created on a dare, after Loki had commissioned the two master-craftsman sons of the dwarf Ivaldi to make replacement golden hair for Sif. (As a practical joke, Loki had cut all Sif’s hair off.) They also forged the indestructible spear Gungnir for Odin, and for Freyr they made the magical ship Skidbladnir, which could be folded up and put in Freyr’s pocket.

For reasons best known to himself, Loki then sought out a couple more dwarf-craftsmen named Brokk and Eiti, and bet them his head that they couldn’t make three more wonderful things than the sons of Ivaldi had made. Brokk and Eiti immediately got busy proving Loki wrong.

First they made (built? engineered? created? pick your verb…) the boar Gullinbursti, who had bristles of gold (hence the name) that glowed bright enough to light up the night. Gullinbursti could run faster than any horse, as well as being able to fly through the air and run on water. Loki, in the shape of a fly, and with what Gods only know in mind — besides making them fail in their task so that he could keep his head — kept buzzing around and biting the dwarfs and trying to interfere with the process of Gullinbursti’s creation, but failed.

Eiti and Brokk then forged the gold ring called Draupnir, which magically “dropped” eight other rings exactly like it every nine nights. (I think the word being translated here as “ring” indicates “arm ring”, so this means fairly significant quantities of gold appearing out of nowhere every week and a half or so. Unquestionably a useful thing for any pantheon to have lying around.)

They then started work on a great iron hammer that would be “the most powerful weapon in the world”. The Eddaic explanation of what this implies simply states that the hammer would hit whatever it was swung at or thrown at, and that if thrown it would always return to the thrower’s hand. Useful, especially on the battlefield. Because Loki had been buzzing around again and stung Brokk right between the eyes while he was forging Mjollnir, the hammer came out “a little short in the handle”, but that was its only imperfection.

All the gifts were then carried together to Asgard and were the subject of a kind of committee meeting where they were assigned to their new owners and judged as to which one was best. The vote came down in favor of Mjollnir, which was deemed to give the Gods the best chance of prevailing over the various hostile giants at Ragnarok. And it made sense to give this peerless weapon to the strongest of the Gods, so it was assigned to Thor.  

Note that there’s no mention whatsoever of the bearer/user-must-be-worthy trope here. Which is just as well, as otherwise the whole “Theft of Mjollnir” story told in the Thrymskvitha could never have happened. The poem tells us in its first stanza  that “Thor woke up and his hammer was missing” — from the bedside table, one gathers — “and he went bugfuck.” (Well, that’s how I’m translating vreiðr today.)

Actually it should be more like this:

Thor went bugfuck when he woke up | and found that mighty Mjolnir was missing:

he tore his beard and his hair stood on end | as the Hurler searched everywhere for his hammer.

First thing he said was: “Listen up, Loki, | Mjolnir’s missing, it’s nowhere in heaven:

Nor on Earth either, nobody’s seen it. | Mjolnir the mighty has somehow been stolen!”

…And now we get Loki borrowing Freyja’s featherhame to go find out what’s what (because he’s certain from the start that the Giants are to blame), and a (theoretical) arranged marriage between Freyja and Thrym, and plotting and planning, and Thor getting dressed up as a bride-to-be (and whinging about it most ineffectively**)…

"Oh what a lovely maid is this", Elmer Boyd Smith

“Oh what a lovely maid is this”, illustration by Elmer Boyd Smith

…and a trip to Jotunheim, and Mjolnir being brought out to hallow the “bride” (by laying it in “her” lap: YO FERTILITY SYMBOLISM…), and Thor, once he’s got his hands on his hammer again, rising up and killing every damn giant within reach. And then he and Loki go home.

What’s interesting about this, besides the theft itself (managed how? magic? we’re never told), which would naturally have been carried out by someone unworthy — is the implication in the verse that one of the servants or other functionaries in Thrym’s hall fetched in the hammer for the wedding service when requested. So plainly as far as the original mythographers were involved, you don’t need to be worthy, or even particularly strong, to carry Mjolnir around. As for wielding it, it’s going to be more about the user’s strength than the hammer itself.

So now we move ahead seven or eight centuries.* Stan Lee first brings Thor into the comics world in the early 1960s, and various additions start to be made to the basic character. Naturally since Thor is the god of thunder, we get a fair amount of summoning of lightning and storms and so forth in the comic, and Mjolnir starts getting involved in this… which never happened in the old myths as far as I know. Also the whirling-Mjolnir-really-fast-around-your-head-so-that-you-can-use-it-to-fly is a comics trope as well. In the original myths, when Thor needed to travel, he did so in a chariot pulled by the two magical goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr (Gurner and Gnasher, more or less). …Hitting the hammer’s handle on the ground to produce a localized earthquake: comics trope. Mjolnir being forged from Uru metal? Comics trope. (Or in the heart of a dying star? Film trope.)

And finally comes the addition which I think probably began in the comics but has become much better known in the films: the concept that one must be worthy in some way or other to use or even lift Mjolnir. And the definition of what “worthy” means is obviously going to be exercising everybody’s minds. (Because what’s not to love about that moment in Avengers: Age of Ultron when Thor is watching everybody (not Natasha, of course, who I suspects understands way too well the underlying context…) trying unsuccessfully to lift the Hammer off the coffee table, and when he takes his turn Steve budges it just the slightest bit… and the shot is so framed as to favor Chris Hemsworth doing the most restrained version of [Thor REACTS] imaginable.)

…Anyway, let’s step back. The question we’re considering here involves the intersection of the Powers that Be of the Young Wizards universe with not the original Norse god that people in the Northlands actually prayed and sacrificed to — the working man’s god, the god nowhere near as clever as his half-brother but admired for his direct approach anyway, the great power who was nonetheless as doomed as all the rest of his pantheon and who would fight to the end regardless — but the Marvel Comics version of Thor. Who is worthy (by canon definition and in the larger sense) for reasons of his own.

In that sense, the details of how any given YW character would handle the holy Hammer are probably best left to any reader’s own judgment. I would assume that the One’s Champion, if he/she/whatever were to run into Marvel!Thor — either in film or comics format — would find an immediate kinship with him/her on some level***, and that the Hammer (which it seems to me from the films we’re meant to get a sense is a bit sentient) would not object to being wielded. As for Ronan, I suspect he could at very least wind up carrying it around, due to his previous association with the Champion. And if he got too insufferable about it, I suspect that at some point he might turn his back on the Hammer briefly, and on turning back again, find that Darryl had borrowed it and was using it to crack nuts with.

…Hmm, maybe I should ask Walt and Weezie if they’d like to do a crossover.  🙂

Hope this helps.

*The Codex Regius in which the Elder Edda was (as far as we know) first written down dates back to the 1200s, but there’s no telling exactly how much older the myths recorded in it were.

** “All the Gods in Asgard are going to make fun of me if I get dressed up in bride’s clothes. They’ll say I’m gay.” “Thor, if you don’t get dressed up in bride’s clothes, pretty soon there will be no more Gods in Asgard because the Giants will overrun the place. So shut up and let me fix this veil.” (NB that Loki is already dressed as Thor’s bridesmaid at this point and has been making a lot less of fuss about it. But then Loki has always been, well, flexible.)

***Or actually the other way around, since the Michael / Thor Power is the archetypal being from whom the Norse God, and in turn the comics / film character, would have been — at whatever distance of times and dimensions — derived: It includes them.

ETA:

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