One morning Thor asked Loki, the fire-god, if he would like to go forth with him to Utgard, the stronghold of the giants, where he was going to try, with his mighty hammer, to conquer those fierce enemies of Asgard. Loki was glad to go with him, and the two gods started forth in Thor”s chariot, drawn by two goats.
Thor often went on a journey, so the dwellers in Asgard did not wonder to see him getting ready for a long drive. As Thor and Loki drove along, the heavy chariot rattled, and made the thunder echo among the hills. People in our world, down below in Midgard, heard the rumbling, and said: “What a heavy thunderstorm! How the thunder crashes and rumbles!”
Toward evening the travelers stopped at a peasant”s hut, and Thor, alighting from his chariot, went to the door of the house, to ask shelter for the night.
“I will gladly give you a room, but I have no food in the house,” said the man who opened the door.
“Oh, never mind that,” said Thor; “I will provide the food.” So Thor and Loki stopped for the night at the peasant”s hut. They found the family within, the man, his wife, and two children, a boy and a girl. All looked on in great surprise to see Thor kill his two goats and cook them for the evening meal. “Eat all you wish of the meat,” said Thor, “but be careful not to break any of the bones; throw them all into the two skins which I have spread upon the floor.”
Now the boy, whose name was Thialfe, wondered why Thor should say this, and as he happened to have a piece of the leg-bone, he thought there could be no harm in breaking it open, to get out the soft marrow to eat. Thor was just then talking to Loki, and did not notice what had been done; but next morning the boy learned a lesson that he never forgot.
The four started off, after saying good-by to the peasant and his wife, leaving in their charge the chariot and goats, for it seemed best to finish the journey on foot.
At nightfall they entered a thick forest, through which they wandered on for miles, when all at once they came upon a house, and a strange-looking house it was. The wide front door opened into a big room; at the left was a small room, and just opposite the front door were four long, narrow rooms.
The travelers wondered to find a house in the depths of a forest, but they were glad to have shelter for the night, and all lay down for a good rest. Soon after midnight they were awakened by groans and strange sounds, and the earth began to tremble. Thor sent his companions into the farthest room, grasped his hammer, and stood on guard by the door. At daybreak he started forth to find out what had caused the noise. He had not gone far when he came upon a huge giant, lying on the ground asleep, and Thor found that he was making the earth tremble with his snoring, which must have been the sound they had heard in the night.
While Thor was looking at the giant, he awoke, and spoke to the god. “Ho, ho! I think you little fellow must be Thor, of whom I have often heard, but really, I did not think you were quite so small! Now the sun is up, and I must be off; but where is my other glove? Oh, here it is, on the ground!” And the giant stooped and picked up his glove, which was the very house in which our four travelers had spent the night, with the big front door where the hand went in, the thumb for the one side-room, and the four narrow finger-rooms opposite the door.
“If you are going my way, you may come along with me,” said the giant. So they journeyed together for one day, but even mighty Thor could hardly keep up with the giant”s long strides.
When night came, the giant stopped under a large oak tree, and said, “I am going to sleep; you may eat your supper, if you wish; here is a bag full of things.” Saying this, he fell asleep, and was soon snoring. But when Thor tried to open the bag of food, he could not untie the cord. This made him angry, for the giant had tied up their food with his own. He looked at the huge figure lying before him asleep, and when he thought what a mean trick the giant had played upon them, Thor seized the magic hammer, and threw it at him.
“Did a leaf fall on me?” said the giant, sleepily. “Haven”t you eaten your supper yet? Well, I am going to sleep again.” And soon he was snoring louder than before. Thor grasped his hammer tighter than ever, and threw it with such strength that it seemed as though it must surely have killed the giant; but again he rubbed his eyes, and said, “I thought an acorn fell on my head!” He had hardly spoken when he was asleep again.
Then a third time Thor hurled his hammer with all his strength, and it seemed to hit his enemy in the forehead, and was buried out of sight, but the giant only said: “I think there must be birds overhead in this tree; I thought a feather dropped down on me. Are you awake, Thor? I think we”d better be going on with our journey, and if you are bound to go to Utgard, I will show you the way, but I advise you to go home instead; you will find bigger fellows than I in Utgard!”
ut Thor had made up his mind to go on, and nothing could make him change. At noontime the four friends left their giant guide, whose path led another way. They had not traveled far when Thor spied a large city looming up before them, and soon they came to Utgard, the home of the fierce giants.
Although it was surrounded by high walls, Thor and his friends were able to creep through the bars of the great gate. When they came to the palace and found its door open, they went in, and there sat all the giants with their king, Utgard-Loki, at their head. A quite different Loki was this giant king from the mischievous fire-god, the Loki from Asgard, who now stood before him.
Upon seeing the four strangers, the king of the giants said: “Why, this must be the god Thor. I really did not suppose that you were such a little fellow, Thor! but probably you are stronger than you look. Now, before you sit down at our table, you must each show some proof of your strength!”
Then Loki, who was very hungry, said he was sure he could eat more than any one else; so the king called one of the giants to come forth, saying to Loki, “If you can indeed eat more than one of my men, you will perform a great feat.”
A huge trough, full of meat, was brought in, and Loki began eating at one end, while the giant began at the other. They reached the center together; but Loki had eaten only the meat, while the giant had devoured meat, bones, trough, and all.
Thialfe, the peasant boy, took his turn next, and boasted that he was the fastest runner of them all. “Oh,” said the king, “it will be a most wonderful feat if you can win a race against one of my men!” The first time Thialfe ran the course he kept ahead until near the end, and was beaten by only a few yards. The second time he came off worse, and the third time he was only halfway around when the giant had reached the goal.
Thor, however, was not at all cast down by the failure of the others, and he proposed to try a drinking match. So the king brought forth a long drinking horn, saying, “My men usually empty this in one draught, if they are very thirsty, though sometimes they have to take it in two swallows, or even three.”
Then Thor put his lips to the drinking horn, and took one long, deep pull, thinking he had surely emptied it, but to his surprise, the water had lowered only a few inches. Again he lifted the horn, feeling sure he should empty it this time, yet he did no better than before. The king said, “You have left a great deal for your last drink!”
This made Thor try his very best; but it was of no use, he could not empty the horn.
“So you are not as strong as you seemed, after all! Do you care to try anything else?” said the king of the giants, in a mocking tone.
“Oh, certainly, anything you like!” replied Thor.
“Well,” said the king, “I will give you something easy this time, since I see you are not as strong as I expected. You may try to lift this cat from the floor; it would be mere child”s play for one of my men.”
Thor put out his hand to lift the cat, but he could raise only one paw, though he used all his strength.
“Well, it is no more than I expected!” said the king; “you boast of your strength, but you do not show it to us.”
By this time Thor was getting very angry, and he spoke fiercely, “I will challenge any one of you to fight with me!”
The king looked about the hall to find some one small enough to wrestle with Thor. Then he said, “All my men are too large, I shall have to send for one of the women!” Soon a bent old woman came hobbling in, and Thor thought it would be nothing to overcome her; but the longer they wrestled, the stronger the old woman became, and at last, when it was plain that she was going to win, and Thor had been thrown down upon the floor, the king called to them to stop.
Thor and his friends were then invited to sit down at the feast, and the next morning, after a good breakfast, they started on their journey homeward. Utgard-Loki, the giant king, went with them to the city gate, and when he was about to leave them, said, “Do you find it as easy as you expected to overthrow the giants?”
“No,” said Thor, who was too honest to hide his shame, “I am vexed that I have done so little, and I know that after this failure, you will all laugh at my weakness.”
“No, indeed,” replied the king; “since you are now well outside our stronghold I will tell you the truth about what you saw there, and I will take good care not to let you get in again. You have greatly surprised us all, for we did not dream that you were so strong, and I have had to use magic to hold out against you.
“When you met the first giant in the forest you would have killed him with your hammer, if he had not put a mountain between himself and you. Loki was a wonderful eater, but we matched him against fire, and who can devour more than fire? The boy was a swift runner, and I had to make him race against thought, in order to beat him; what can be swifter than thought? The horn, from which you drank, was the ocean, and you took such a mighty draught, that the people in Midgard saw the tide ebb. It was really not a cat you tried to lift, but the Midgard Serpent, and you pulled him so far that we feared he would let go his hold. Then you wrestled with Old Age, and who is there that can overcome Old Age?”
With these words the giant king vanished, and Thor, upon looking around, saw the city of Utgard was also gone.
Then silently, but with many thoughts of these strange things, Thor and Loki, with the boy and the girl, made their way back to Asgard.