Myth Monday: Thor & the Whetstone (duel with Hrungnir)

* Continuing with the tales from Skaldskaparmal, all italic quotes taken from Faulkes translation of Snorri’s Prose Edda.

Thor had gone east to thrash trolls. But Odin rode Sleipnir into Giantland. While he was out, he came the house of a giant name Hrungnir. The Giant asked Odin what manner of man he must be with a golden helmet riding sky and sea. Odin told him he would wager his head on it that there would be no horse as good as his anywhere in Giantland. But Hrungnir said that though it was a good horse, he thought his horse Gullfaxi must be longer-paced. He had gotten angry and leaped up on his horse following after Odin hoping to pay him back for all his boasting. He was riding so fast after Odin, that the next thing he knew, he had rushed right through the gates of Asgard. “When he got to the hall doors, Aesir invited him in for a drink. He went into the hall and demanded that he should be given a drink”. The goblets that Thor usually drank from were brought out for him and he drained each one. When he became drunk, he started spouting off at the mouth. He told the Aesir he was going to remove Val-hall and take it to Giantland but bury Asgard and kill all the gods but Freyja and Sif, and take those two goddesses home with him. At this point, Freyja was the only one who dared to bring him more drink. Then he declared he was going to drink all of the Aesir’s ale. Once the Aesir got tired of Hrungnir’s boasting, they “invoked the name of Thor”, who immediately entered the hall with his hammer raised in anger. He angrily asked who was responsible for this giant being there drinking, and who guaranteed Hrungnir safety while there, and why Freyja was serving him. But Hrungnir told him that it was Odin who had invited him to a drink and that he was under his protection. Thor threatened him saying he would regret that invitation before he got out. But Hrungnir told Thor that it would not bring him any honor to kill him right then while he was unarmed, and that fighting a duel on the frontier at Griotunagardar would be better proof of Thor’s valour if he dared to fight with him. Thor agreed to a duel at Griotunagardar, and Hrungnir went on his way. 

The other giants heard of the upcoming duel and were worried about what would happen to them at the hands of Thor if Hrungnir lost the fight. Hrungnir was the strongest of all of them, and they feared they’d be in great danger without him. So they made a clay giant they named Mokkrukalfi who was nine leagues high, and three leagues across at the chest. But they could not find a heart that was strong enough. They eventually found one from a certain mare, yet it too did not prove strong enough when Thor came. But Hrungnir himself had a heart that was made of stone and spiky with three points like the symbol called “Hrungnir’s heart” has been drawn ever since. So he stood at the duel site with his shield and his whetstone as his weapon. He stood Mokkurkalfi (the clay giant) off to the right as a guard. Meanwhile, Thor got ready for the duel and headed out to Griotunagardar taking Thialfi with him. He had Thialfi run ahead of him to Hrungnir. There he told Hrungnir “you are standing unguarded. You’ve got your shield in front of you, but Thor has seen you and he is travelling by the lower route underground, and he is going to come at you from below”. So Hrungnir held his whetstone out in front of him but placed his shield beneath his feet against the grown. While this was going, Thor was heading out and came upon Mokkurkalfi. But, the clay giant was afraid when he saw Thor approaching so much so that some say he wet himself. So Thor went on by him toward Hrungnir. As Hrungnir stood, he saw mighty flashes of lightning and heard tremendous thunder. Then he saw that Thor, in all his rage, was heading toward him. Even though he was an enormous distance away, Thor threw his hammer at the giant. Hrungnir raised the whetstone with both hands and threw it as well. It met the hammer in flight and the whetstone broke in two. One piece of the whetstone fell to the ground and all whetstones have been made from this one since. The other half of the whetstone sunk into Thor’s forehead, and Thor fell to the ground. But, Mjolnir still stayed in flight and hit Hrungnir in the middle of his head, shattering his skull into fragments. He fell forward over Thor so that his leg lay across Thor’s neck. During this, Thialfi attacked and took down Mokkurkalfi, then went to try to remove the giant’s leg from Thor’s neck. He could not get it to budge. So all the other gods came to help, but to no avail. Then Thor’s son, Magni, who was only three years old came and was strong enough that he lifted the leg off of his father and saved him. He then said to Thor, “Isn’t it a shame I hadn’t gotten here sooner, father? I think I would have knocked this giant into Hel with my fist if I had come across him.” Thor stood up and told his son that he would grow up to be very powerful, and told him he was going to give him Hrungnir’s horse, Gullfaxi. “Then spoke Odin and said it was wrong of Thor to give that fine horse to the son of a Giantess and not to his own father”. 

Thor went home with the piece of whetstone still in his head. So he went to a sorceress called Groa, the wife of Aurvandil. She chanted her spells over him until the whetstone started to come loose. When Thor felt the whetstone seemed to be going to come out, he wanted to preppy Groa for her help. So he told her he had waded south carrying Aurvandil in a basket on his back south from Giantland. As proof, he said that one of Aurvandil’s toes had stuck out of the basket and frozen, so Thor broke it off and threw it into the sky and made it into a star called “Aurvandil’s toe”. Then he told Groa that it would not be long before her husband was home. This made Groa so happy and excited that she forgot all of her spells and couldn’t finish the job. So the piece of whetstone is still stuck in Thor’s head. And now, it is taboo to throw a whetstone across a room because when one does, the one in Thor’s head stirs. 

Discussion Thoughts: This is essentially UPG forming speculation. First, What was Odin’s reason for stirring all of this? He knew that Thor was gone and would not be in Asgard before he even went to Giantland. Then he allowed the giant to follow him all the way into Asgard where they not only gave him enough drink to make him annoyingly drunk, but let him drink out of Thor’s own goblets knowing how Thor felt about giants. And then there’s the remark he made to Thor about how wrong it was giving the horse to the son of a giantess instead of to his father. Was this whole thing a way for Odin to try and get a new horse? And how would that statement make Thor feel since he too is the son of a giantess? Is this type of attitude part of why he regularly goes out east to hunt and kill the trolls and giants? 

Secondly, when it comes to the taboo issue of not throwing whetstones across a room to avoid making the one in Thor’s head stir. Is this then considered one of those myths almost like fables that explain why we should or should not do certain things, or why things happen? Or, since common sense would say you could hurt someone or break something if you do that, was that just an extra part thrown in for good story-telling? As always, feel free to discuss your thoughts on these questions, or this myth as a whole in the comments. Let’s discuss. 

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