| In the Days of Giants|
|by Abbie Farwell Brown|
|Strength and joy of life ever marked the doings of the old Norse gods and heroes. These qualities abound in these stories of Norse mythology retold in a simple direct fashion appealing to younger children. Tells among other things how Father Odin lost his eye, how Thor went fishing, of the death of Baldur, and of the other doings of the gods and goddesses of Asgard. Vigorous black and white illustrations complement the narrative. Ages 9-11 |
NCE upon a time the Æsir went to take dinner with
old gir, the king of the ocean. Down under the green
waves they went to the coral palace where gir lived
with his wife, Queen Ran, and his daughters, the Waves.
But gir was not expecting so large a party to dinner,
and he had not mead enough for them all to drink. "I must
brew some more mead," he said to himself. But when
he came to look for a kettle in which to make the brew,
there was none in all the sea large enough for the purpose.
At first gir did not know what to do; but at last he
decided to consult the gods themselves, for he knew how
wise and powerful his guests were, and he hoped that they
might help him to a kettle.
Now when he told the Æsir his trouble they were
much interested, for they were hungry and thirsty, and
longed for some of gir's good mead. "Where can we
find a kettle?" they said to one another. "Who has a kettle
huge enough to hold mead for all the Æsir?"
 Then Tŷr the brave turned to Thor with a grand
idea. "My father, the giant Hymir, has such a kettle," he
said. "I have seen it often in his great palace near
Elivâgar, the river of ice. This famous kettle is a mile
deep, and surely that is large enough to brew all the mead
we may need."
"Surely, surely it is large enough," laughed gir. "But
how are we to get the kettle, my distinguished guests? Who
will go to Giant Land to fetch the kettle a mile deep?"
"That will I," said brave Thor. "I will go to Hymir's dwelling
and bring thence the little kettle, if Tŷr will go with
me to show me the way." So Thor and Tŷr set
out together for the land of snow and ice, where the giant
Hymir lived. They traveled long and they traveled fast, and
finally they came to the huge house which had once been
Tŷr's home, before he went to live with the good
folk in Asgard.
Well Tŷr knew the way to enter, and it was not long
before they found themselves in the hall of Hymir's
dwelling, peering about for some sign of the kettle which
 had come so far to seek; and sure enough, presently
they discovered eight huge kettles hanging in a row from
one of the beams in the ceiling. While the two were
wondering which kettle might be the one they sought, there
came in Tŷr's grandmother,—and a terrible
grandmother she was. No wonder that Tŷr had run
away from home when he was very little; for this dreadful
creature was a giantess with nine hundred heads, each more
ugly than the others, and her temper was as bad as were her
looks. She began to roar and bellow; and no one knows
what this evil old person would have done to her grandson
and his friend had not there come into the hall at this
moment another woman, fair and sweet, and glittering with
golden ornaments. This was Tŷr's good mother,
who loved him dearly, and who had mourned his absence
during long years.
With a cry of joy she threw herself upon her son's neck,
bidding him welcome forty times over. She welcomed Thor
also when she found out who he was; but she sent away the
wicked old grandmother, that she
 might not hear, for Thor's
name was not dear to the race of giants, to so many of
whom he had brought dole and death.
"Why have you come, dear son, after so many years?" she
cried. "I know that some great undertaking calls you and
this noble fellow to your father's hall. Danger and death
wait here for such as you and he; and only some quest with
glory for its reward could have brought you to such risks.
Tell me your secret, Tŷr, and I will not betray it."
Then they told her how that they had come to carry away
the giant kettle; and Tŷr's mother promised that she
would help them all she could. But she warned them that it
would be dangerous indeed, for that Hymir had been in a
terrible temper for many days, and that the very sight of a
stranger made him wild with rage. Hastily she gave them
meat and drink, for they were nearly famished after their
long journey; and then she looked around to see where she
should hide them against Hymir's return, who was now
away at the hunt.
"Aha!" she cried. "The very thing! You
 shall bide in the
great kettle itself; and if you escape Hymir's terrible eye, it
may hap that you will find a way to make off with your
hiding-place, which is what you want." So the kind creature
helped them to climb into the great kettle where it hung
from one of the rafters in a row with seven others; but this
one was the biggest and the strongest of them all.
Hardly had they snuggled down out of sight when
Tŷr's mother began to tremble. "Hist!" she cried. "I
hear him coming. Keep as still as ever you can, O
Tŷr and Thor!" The floor also began to tremble, and
the eight kettles to clatter against one another, as Hymir's
giant footsteps approached the house. Outside they could
hear the icebergs shaking with a sound like thunder; indeed,
the whole earth quivered as if with fear when the terrible
giant Hymir strode home from the hunt. He came into the
hall puffing and blowing, and immediately the air of the
room grew chilly; for his beard was hung with icicles and
his face was frosted hard, while his breath was a winter
wind,—a freezing blast.
 "Ho! wife," he growled, "what news, what news? For I see
by the footprints in the snow outside that you have had
Then indeed the poor woman trembled; but she tried not to
look frightened as she answered, "Yes, you have a guest, O
Hymir!—a guest whom you have long wished to see. Your
son Tŷr has returned to visit his father's hall."
"Humph!" growled Hymir, with a terrible frown. "Whom
has he brought here with him, the rascal? There are prints of
two persons' feet in the snow. Come, wife, tell me all; for I
shall soon find out the truth, whether or no."
"He has brought a friend of his,—a dear friend, O Hymir!"
faltered the mother. "Surely, our son's friends are welcome
when he brings them to this our home, after so long an
But Hymir howled with rage at the word "friend." "Where
are they hidden?" he cried. "Friend, indeed! It is one of
those bloody fellows from Asgard, I know,—one of those
giant-killers whom my good mother
 taught me to hate with
all my might. Let me get at him! Tell me instantly where he
is hidden, or I will pull down the hall about your ears!"
Now when the wicked old giant spoke like this, his wife
knew that he must be obeyed. Still she tried to put off the
fateful moment of the discovery. "They are standing over
there behind that pillar," she said. Instantly Hymir glared at
the pillar towards which she pointed, and at his frosty
glance—snick-snack!—the marble pillar cracked in two, and
down crashed the great roof-beam which held the eight
kettles. Smash! went the kettles; and there they lay
shivered into little pieces at Hymir's feet,—all except one,
the largest of them all, and that was the kettle in which
Thor and Tŷr lay hidden, scarcely daring to breathe
lest the giant should guess where they were. Tŷr's
mother screamed when she saw the big kettle fall with the
others: but when she found that this one, alone of them all,
lay on its side unbroken, because it was so tough and
strong, she held her breath to see what would happen next.
 And what happened was this: out stepped Thor and
Tŷr, and making low bows to Hymir, they stood
side by side, smiling and looking as unconcerned as if they
really enjoyed all this hubbub; and I dare say that they did
indeed, being Tŷr the bold and Thor the thunderer,
who had been in Giant Land many times ere this.
Hymir gave scarcely a glance at his son, but he eyed Thor
with a frown of hatred and suspicion, for he knew that this
was one of Father Odin's brave family, though he could not
tell which one. However, he thought best to be civil, now
that Thor was actually before him. So with gruff politeness
he invited the two guests to supper.
Now Thor was a valiant fellow at the table as well as in
war, as you remember; and at sight of the good things on
the board his eyes sparkled. Three roast oxen there were
upon the giant's table, and Thor fell to with a will and
finished two of them himself! You should have seen the
"Truly, friend, you have a goodly appetite," he said. "You
have eaten all the meat
 that I have in my larder; and if you
dine with us to-morrow, I must insist that you catch your
own dinner of fish. I cannot undertake to provide food for
such an appetite!"
Now this was not hospitable of Hymir, but Thor did not
mind. "I like well to fish, good Hymir," he laughed; "and
when you fare forth with your boat in the morning, I will go
with you and see what I can find for my dinner at the
bottom of the sea."
When the morning came, the giant made ready for the
fishing, and Thor rose early to go with him.
"Ho, Hymir," exclaimed Thor, "have you bait enough for us
Hymir answered gruffly, "You must dig your own bait
when you go fishing with me. I have no time to waste on
Then Thor looked about to see what he could use for bait;
and presently he spied a herd of Hymir's oxen feeding in the
meadow. "Aha! just the thing!" he cried; and seizing the
hugest ox of all, he trotted down to the shore with it under
his arm, as easily as you would carry a handful of
 clams for
bait. When Hymir saw this, he was very angry. He pushed
the boat off from shore and began to row away as fast as he
could, so that Thor might not have a chance to come aboard.
But Thor made one long step and planted himself snugly in
the stern of the boat.
"No, no, brother Hymir," he said, laughing. "You invited me
to go fishing, and a-fishing I will go; for I have my bait, and
my hope is high that great luck I shall see this day." So he
took an oar and rowed mightily in the stern, while Hymir
the giant rowed mightily at the prow; and no one ever saw
boat skip over the water so fast as this one did on the day
when these two big fellows went fishing together.
Far and fast they rowed, until they came to a spot where
Hymir cried, "Hold! Let us anchor here and fish; this is the
place where I have best fortune."
"And what sort of little fish do you catch here, O Hymir?"
"Whales!" answered the giant proudly. "I fish for nothing
smaller than whales."
"Pooh!" cried Thor. "Who would fish
 for such small fry!
Whales, indeed; let us row out further, where we can find
something really worth catching," and he began to pull even
faster than before.
"Stop! stop!" roared the giant. "You do not know what you
are doing. These are the haunts of the dreadful Midgard
serpent, and it is not safe to fish in these waters."
"Oho! The Midgard serpent!" said Thor, delighted. "That is
the very fish I am after. Let us drop in our lines here."
Thor baited his great hook with the whole head of the ox
which he had brought, and cast his line, big round as a man's
arm, over the side of the boat. Hymir also cast his line, for
he did not wish Thor to think him a coward; but his hand
trembled as he waited for a bite, and he glanced down into
the blue depths with eyes rounded as big as dinner-plates
through fear of the horrible creature who lived down below
"Look! You have a bite!" cried Thor, so suddenly that
Hymir started and nearly tumbled out of the boat. Hand
 he pulled in his line, and lo! he had caught two
whales—two great flopping whales—on his one hook! That
was a catch indeed.
Hymir smiled proudly, forgetting his fear as he said, "How
is that, my friend? Let us see you beat this catch in your
Lo, just at that moment Thor also had a bite—such a bite!
The boat rocked to and fro, and seemed ready to capsize
every minute. Then the waves began to roll high and to be
lashed into foam for yards and yards about the boat, as if
some huge creature were struggling hard below the water.
"I have him!" shouted Thor; "I have the old serpent, the
brother of the Fenris wolf! Pull, pull, monster! But you
shall not escape me now!"
Sure enough, the Midgard serpent had Thor's hook fixed in
his jaw, and struggle as he might, there was no freeing
himself from the line; for the harder he pulled the stronger
grew Thor. In his Æsir-might Thor waxed so huge
and so forceful that his legs went straight through the
bottom of the
 boat and his feet stood on the bottom of the
sea. With firm bottom as a brace for his strength, Thor
pulled and pulled, and at last up came the head of the
Midgard serpent, up to the side of the boat, where it thrust
out of the water mountain high, dreadful to behold; his
monstrous red eyes were rolling fiercely, his nostrils
spouted fire, and from his terrible sharp teeth dripped
poison, that sizzled as it fell into the sea. Angrily they
glared at each other, Thor and the serpent, while the water
streamed into the boat, and the giant turned pale with fear
at the danger threatening him on all sides.
Thor seized his hammer, preparing to smite the creature's
head; but even as he swung Miölnir high for the fatal
blow, Hymir cut the fish-line with his knife, and down into
the depths of ocean sank the Midgard serpent amid a
whirlpool of eddies. But the hammer had sped from Thor's
iron fingers. It crushed the serpent's head as he sank
downward to his lair on the sandy bottom; it crushed, but
did not kill him, thanks to the giant's treachery. Terrible
was the disturbance it caused beneath the waves. It burst
 the rocks and made the caverns of the ocean shiver into bits.
It wrecked the coral groves, and tore loose the draperies of
sea-weed. The fishes scurried about in every direction, and
the sea-monsters wildly sought new places to hide
themselves when they found their homes destroyed. The
sea itself was stirred to its lowest depths, and the waves
ran trembling into one another's arms. The earth, too,
shrank and shivered. Hymir, cowering low in the boat, was
glad of one thing, which was that the terrible Midgard
serpent had vanished out of sight. And that was the last
that was ever seen of him, though he still lived, wounded
and sore from the shock of Thor's hammer.
Now it was time to return home. Silently and sulkily the
giant swam back to land; Thor, bearing the boat upon his
shoulders, filled with water and weighted as it was with the
great whales which Hymir had caught, waded ashore, and
brought his burden to the giant's hall. Here Hymir met him
crossly enough, for he was ashamed of the whole morning's
work, in which Thor had appeared so much more of a hero
than he. Indeed,
 he was tired of even pretending hospitality
towards this unwelcome guest, and was resolved to be rid
of him; but first he would put Thor to shame.
"You are a strong fellow," he said, "good at the oar and at
the fishing; most wondrously good at the hammer, by
which I know that you are Thor. But there is one thing
which you cannot do, I warrant,—you cannot break this
little cup of mine, hard though you may try."
"That I shall see for myself," answered Thor; and he took
the cup in his hand. Now this was a magic cup, and there
was but one way of breaking it, but one thing hard enough
to shatter its mightiness. Thor threw it with all his force
against a stone of the flooring; but instead of breaking the
cup, the stone itself was cracked into splinters. Then Thor
grew angry, for the giant and all his servants were laughing
as if this were the greatest joke ever played.
"Ho, ho! Try again, Thor!" cried Hymir, nearly bursting
with delight; for he thought that now he should prove how
much mightier he was than the visitor from
 Asgard. Thor
clutched the cup more firmly and hurled it against one of
the iron pillars of the hall; but like a rubber ball the magic
cup merely bounded back straight into Hymir's hand. At
this second failure the giants were full of merriment and
danced about, making all manner of fun at the expense of
Thor. You can fancy how well Thor the mighty enjoyed
this! His brow grew black, and the glance of his eye was
terrible. He knew there was some magic in the trick, but he
knew not how to meet it. Just then he felt the soft touch of
a woman's hand upon his arm, and the voice of
Tŷr's mother whispered in his ear,—
"Cast the cup against Hymir's own forehead, which is the
hardest substance in the world." No one except Thor heard
the woman say these words, for all the giant folk were
doubled up with mirth over their famous joke. But Thor
dropped upon one knee, and seizing the cup fiercely,
whirled it about his head, then dashed it with all his might
straight at Hymir's forehead. Smash! Crash! What had
happened? Thor looked eagerly to see. There stood the
 giant, looking surprised and a little dazed; but his forehead
showed not even a scratch, while the strong cup was
shivered into little pieces.
"Well done!" exclaimed Hymir hastily, when he had
recovered a little from his surprise. But he was mortified at
Thor's success, and set about to think up a new task to try
his strength. "That was very well," he remarked
patronizingly; "now you must perform a harder task. Let us
see you carry the mead kettle out of the hall. Do that, my
fine fellow, and I shall say you are strong indeed."
The mead kettle! The very thing Thor had come to get! He
glanced at Tŷr; he shot a look at Tŷr's
mother; and both of them caught the sparkle, which was
very like a wink. To himself Thor muttered, "I must not fail
in this! I must not, will not fail!"
"First let me try," cried Tŷr; for he wanted to give
Thor time for a resting-spell. Twice Tŷr the mighty
strained at the great kettle, but he could not so much as stir
one leg of it from the floor where
 it rested. He tugged and
heaved in vain, growing red in the face, till his mother
begged him to give over, for it was quite useless.
Then Thor stepped forth upon the floor. He grasped the
rim of the kettle, and stamped his feet through the stone of
the flooring as he braced himself to lift. One, two, three!
Thor straightened himself, and up swung the giant kettle to
his head, while the iron handle clattered about his feet. It
was a mighty burden, and Thor staggered as he started for
the door; but Tŷr was close beside him, and they
had covered long leagues of ground on their way home
before the astonished giants had recovered sufficiently to
follow them. When Thor and Tŷr looked back,
however, they saw a vast crowd of horrible giants, some of
them with a hundred heads, swarming out of the caverns in
Hymir's land, howling and prowling upon their track.
"You must stop them, Thor, or they will never let us get
away with their precious kettle,—they take such long
strides!" cried Tŷr. So Thor set down the kettle,
 his pocket drew out Miölnir, his wondrous
hammer. Terribly it flashed in the air as he swung it over his
head; then forth it flew towards Jotunheim; and before it
returned to Thor's hand it had crushed all the heads of those
many-headed giants, Hymir's ugly mother and Hymir
himself among them. The only one who escaped was the
good and beautiful mother of Tŷr. And you may
be sure she lived happily ever after in the palace which
Hymir and his wicked old mother had formerly made so
wretched a home for her.
Now Tŷr and Thor had the giant kettle which they
had gone so far and had met so many dangers to obtain.
They took it to gir's sea-palace, where the banquet
was still going on, and where the Æsir were still
waiting patiently for their mead; for time does not go so
fast below the quiet waves as on shore. Now that King
gir had the great kettle, he could brew all the mead
they needed. So every one thanked Tŷr and
congratulated Thor upon the success of their adventure.
"I was sure that Thor would bring the
 kettle," said fair Sif,
smiling upon her brave husband.
"What Thor sets out to do, that he always accomplishes,"
said Father Odin gravely. And that was praise enough for
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