| 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 |
THOR'S VISIT TO THE GIANTS
OWADAYS, since their journey to get the stolen hammer,
Thor and Loki were good friends, for Loki seemed to have
turned over a new leaf and to be a very decent sort of
fellow; but really he was the same sly rascal at heart, only
biding his time for mischief. However, in this tale he
behaves well enough.
It was a long time since Thor had slain any giants, and he
was growing restless for an adventure. "Come, Loki," he
said one day, "let us fare forth to Giant Land and see what
news there is among the Big Folk."
Loki laughed, saying, "Let us go, Thor. I know I am safe
with you;" which was a piece of flattery that happened to
So they mounted the goat chariot as they had done so many
times before and rumbled away out of Asgard. All day they
rode; and when evening came they stopped
 at a little house
on the edge of a forest, where lived a poor peasant with his
wife, his son, and daughter.
"May we rest here for the night, friend?" asked Thor; and
noting their poverty, he added, "We bring our own supper,
and ask but a bed to sleep in." So the peasant was glad to
have them stay. Then Thor, who knew what he was about,
killed and cooked his two goats, and invited the family of
peasants to sup with him and Loki; but when the meal was
ended, he bade them carefully save all the bones and throw
them into the goatskins which he had laid beside the hearth.
Then Thor and Loki lay down to sleep.
In the morning, very early, before the rest were awake,
Thor rose, and taking his hammer, Miölnir, went into
the kitchen, where were the remains of his faithful goats.
Now the magic hammer was skillful, not only to slay, but
to restore, when Thor's hand wielded it. He touched with it
the two heaps of skin and bones, and lo! up sprang the
goats, alive and well, and as good as new. No, not quite as
 new. What was this? Thor roared with anger, for
one of the goats was lame in one of his legs, and limped
sorely. "Some one has meddled with the bones!" he cried.
"Who has touched the bones that I bade be kept so
Thialfi, the peasant's son, had broken one of the
thigh-bones in order to get at the sweet marrow, and this Thor
soon discovered by the lad's guilty face; then Thor was
angry indeed. His knuckles grew white as he clenched the
handle of Miölnir, ready to hurl it and destroy the
whole unlucky house and family; but the peasant and the
other three fell upon their knees, trembling with fear, and
begged him to spare them. They offered him all that they
owned,—they offered even to become his slaves,—if he
would but spare their wretched lives.
They looked so miserable that Thor was sorry for them,
and resolved at last to punish them only by taking away
Thialfi, the son, and Röskva, the daughter,
thenceforth to be his servants. And this was not so bad a
bargain for Thor, for Thialfi was the swiftest of foot of any
man in the whole world.
 So he left the goats behind, and fared forth with his three
attendants straight towards the east and Jotunheim. Thialfi
carried Thor's wallet with their scanty store of food. They
crossed the sea and came at last to a great forest, through
which they tramped all day, until once more it was night;
and now they must find a place in which all could sleep
safely until morning. They wandered about here and there,
looking for some sign of a dwelling, and at last they came to
a big, queer-shaped house. Very queer indeed it was; for the
door at one end was as broad as the house itself! They
entered, and lay down to sleep; but at midnight Thor was
wakened by a terrible noise. The ground shook under them
like an earthquake, and the house trembled as if it would fall
to pieces. Thor arose and called to his companions that
there was danger about, and that they must be on guard.
Groping in the dark, they found a long, narrow chamber on
the right, where Loki and the two peasants hid trembling,
while Thor guarded the doorway, hammer in hand. All night
long the terrible noises
 continued, and Thor's attendants
were frightened almost to death; but early in the morning
Thor stole forth to find out what it all meant. And lo! close
at hand in the forest lay an enormous giant, sound asleep
and snoring loudly. Then Thor understood whence all their
night's terror had proceeded, for the giant was so huge that
his snoring shook even the trees of the forest, and made the
mountains tremble. So much the better! Here at last was a
giant for Thor to tackle. He buckled his belt of power more
tightly to increase his strength, and laid hold of
Miölnir to hurl it at the giant's forehead; but just at
that moment the giant waked, rose slowly to his feet, and
stood staring mildly at Thor. He did not seem a fierce giant,
so Thor did not kill him at once. "Who are you?" asked
"I am the giant Skrymir, little fellow," answered the
stranger, "and well I know who you are, Thor of Asgard.
But what have you been doing with my glove?"
Then the giant stooped and picked up—what do you
think?—the queer house in
 which Thor and his three companions
had spent the night! Loki and the two others had run out of
their chamber in affright when they felt it lifted; and their
chamber was the thumb of the giant's glove. That was a
giant indeed, and Thor felt sure that they must be well upon
their way to Giant Land.
When Skrymir learned where they were going, he asked if
he might not wend with them, and Thor said that he was
willing. Now Skrymir untied his wallet and sat down under
a tree to eat his breakfast, while Thor and his party chose
another place, not far away, for their picnic. When all had
finished, the giant said, "Let us put our provisions together
in one bag, my friends, and I will carry it for you." This
seemed fair enough, for Thor had so little food left that he
was not afraid to risk losing it; so he agreed, and Skrymir
tied all the provisions in his bag and strode on before them
with enormous strides, so fast that even Thialfi could
scarcely keep up with him.
The day passed, and late in the evening Skrymir halted
under a great oak-tree,
say-  ing, "Let us rest here. I must have
a nap, and you must have your dinner.
Here is the wallet,—open it and help yourselves."
Then he lay down on the
moss, and was soon snoring lustily.
Thor tried to open the wallet, in vain; he could not loosen a
single knot of the huge thongs that fastened it. He strained
and tugged, growing angrier and redder after every useless
attempt. This was too much; the giant was making him
appear absurd before his servants. He seized his hammer,
and bracing his feet with all his might, struck Skrymir a
blow on his head. Skrymir stirred lazily, yawned, opened
one eye, and asked whether a leaf had fallen on his forehead,
and whether his companions had dined yet. Thor bit his lip
with vexation, but he answered that they were ready for
bed; so he and his three followers retired to rest under
But Thor did not sleep that night. He lay thinking how he
had been put to shame, and how Loki had snickered at the
sight of Thor's vain struggles with the giant's wallet, and he
resolved that it should not
hap-  pen again. At about
midnight, once more he heard the giant's snore resounding
like thunder through the forest. Thor arose, clenching
Miölnir tight, and stole over to the tree where
Skrymir slept; then with all his might he hurled the hammer
and struck the giant on the crown of his head, so hard that
the hammer sank deep into his skull. At this the giant
awoke with a start, exclaiming, "What is that? Did an acorn
fall on my head? What are you doing there, Thor?"
Thor stepped back quickly, answering that he had waked
up, but that it was only midnight, so they might all sleep
some hours longer. "If I can only give him one more blow
before morning," he thought, "he will never see daylight
again." So he lay watching until Skrymir had fallen asleep
once more, which was near daybreak; then Thor arose as
before, and going very softly to the giant's side, smote him
on the temple so sore that the hammer sank into his skull
up to the very handle. "Surely, he is killed now," thought
But Skrymir only raised himself on his elbow, stroked his
chin, and said, "There
 are birds above me in the tree.
Methinks that just now a feather fell upon my head. What,
Thor! are you awake? I am afraid you slept but poorly this
night. Come, now, it is high time to rise and make ready for
the day. You are not far from our giant city,—Utgard we
call it. Aha! I have heard you whispering together. You
think that I am big ; but you will see fellows taller still
when you come to Utgard. And now I have a piece of
advice to give you. Do not pride yourselves overmuch upon
your importance. The followers of Utgard's king think little
of such manikins as you, and will not bear any nonsense, I
assure you. Be advised; return homeward before it is too
late. If you will go on, however, your way lies there to the
eastward. Yonder is my path, over the mountains to the
So saying, Skrymir hoisted his wallet upon his shoulders,
and turning back upon the path that led into the forest, left
them staring after him and hoping that they might never see
his big bulk again.
Thor and his companions journeyed on
 until noon, when
they saw in the distance a great city, on a lofty plain. As
they came nearer, they found the buildings so high that the
travelers had to bend back their necks in order to see the
tops. "This must be Utgard, the giant city," said Thor. And
Utgard indeed it was. At the entrance was a great barred
gate, locked so that no one might enter. It was useless to try
to force a passage in; even Thor's great strength could not
move it on its hinges. But it was a giant gate, and the bars
were made to keep out other giants, with no thought of folk
so small as these who now were bent upon finding entrance
by one way or another. It was not dignified, and noble Thor
disliked the idea. Yet it was their only way; so one by one
they squeezed and wriggled between the bars, until they
stood in a row inside. In front of them was a wonderful
great hall with the door wide open. Thor and the three
entered, and found themselves in the midst of a company of
giants, the very hugest of their kind. At the end of the hall
sat the king upon an enormous throne. Thor, who had been
com-  panies ere now, went straight up to the throne
and greeted the king with civil words. But the giant merely
glanced at him with a disagreeable smile, and said,—
"It is wearying to ask travelers about their journey. Such
little fellows as you four can scarcely have had any
adventures worth mentioning. Stay, now! Do I guess aright?
Is this manikin Thor of Asgard, or no? Ah, no! I have heard
of Thor's might. You cannot really be he, unless you are
taller than you seem, and stronger too. Let us see what feats
you and your companions can perform to amuse us. No one
is allowed here who cannot excel others in some way or
another. What can you do best?"
At this word, Loki, who had entered last, spoke up readily:
"There is one thing that I can do,—I can eat faster than any
man." For Loki was famished with hunger, and thought he
saw a way to win a good meal.
Then the king answered, "Truly, that is a noble
accomplishment of yours, if you can prove your words
true. Let us make the test." So he called forth from among
 men Logi,—whose name means "fire,"—and bade him
match his powers with the stranger.
Now a trough full of meat was set upon the floor, with Loki
at one end of it and the giant Logi at the other. Each began
to gobble the meat as fast as he could, and it was not a
pretty sight to see them. Midway in the trough they met,
and at first it would seem as if neither had beaten the other.
Loki had indeed done wondrous well in eating the meat
from the bones so fast; but Logi, the giant, had in the same
time eaten not only meat but bones also, and had swallowed
his half of the trough into the bargain. Loki was vanquished
at his own game, and retired looking much ashamed and
The king then pointed at Thialfi, and asked what that young
man could best do. Thialfi answered that of all men he was
the swiftest runner, and that he was not afraid to race with
any one whom the king might select.
"That is a goodly craft," said the king, smiling; "but you
must be a swift runner
 indeed if you can win a race from
my Hugi. Let us go to the racing-ground."
They followed him out to the plain where Hugi, whose
name means "thought," was ready to race with young
Thialfi. In the first run Hugi came in so far ahead that when
he reached the goal he turned about and went back to meet
Thialfi. "You must do better than that, Thialfi, if you hope
to win," said the king, laughing, "though I must allow that
no one ever before came here who could run so fast as you."
They ran a second race; and this time when Hugi reached
the goal there was a long bow-shot between him and Thialfi.
"You are truly a good runner," exclaimed the king. "I doubt
not that no man can race like you; but you cannot win from
my giant lad, I think. The last time shall show." Then they
ran for the third time, and Thialfi put forth all his strength,
speeding like the wind; but all his skill was in vain. Hardly
had he reached the middle of the course when he heard the
shouts of the giants announcing that Hugi had won the goal.
Thialfi, too, was beaten
 at his own game, and he withdrew,
as Loki had done, shamefaced and sulky.
There remained now only Thor to redeem the honor of his
party, for Röskva the maiden was useless here. Thor
had watched the result of these trials with surprise and
anger, though he knew it was no fault of Loki or of Thialfi
that they had been worsted by the giants. And Thor was
resolved to better even his own former great deeds. The
king called to Thor, and asked him what he thought he could
best do to prove himself as mighty as the stories told of
him. Thor answered that he would undertake to drink more
mead than any one of the king's men. At this proposal the
king laughed aloud, as if it were a giant joke. He summoned
his cup-bearer to fetch his horn of punishment, out of
which the giants were wont to drink in turn. And when
they returned to the hall, the great vessel was brought to the
"When any one empties this horn at one draught, we call
him a famous drinker," said the king. "Some of my men
empty it in two trials; but no one is so poor a manikin that
he cannot empty it in three. Take
 the horn, Thor, and see
what you can do with it."
Now Thor was very thirsty, so he seized the horn eagerly.
It did not seem to him so very large, for he had drunk from
other mighty vessels ere now. But indeed, it was deep. He
raised it to his lips and took a long pull, saying to himself,
"There! I have emptied it already, I know." Yet when he set
the horn down to see how well he had done, he found that
he seemed scarcely to have drained a drop; the horn was
brimming as before. The king chuckled.
"Well, you have drunk but little," he said. "I would never
have believed that famous Thor would lower the horn so
soon. But doubtless you will finish all at a second draught."
Instead of answering, Thor raised the horn once more to his
lips, resolved to do better than before. But for some reason
the tip of the horn seemed hard to raise, and when he set
the vessel down again his heart sank, for he feared that he
had drunk even less than at his first trial. Yet he had really
done better, for now it was easy to carry the horn
with-  out spilling. The king smiled grimly. "How now, Thor!" he
cried. "You have left too much for your third trial. I fear
you will never be able to empty the little horn in three
draughts, as the least of my men can do. Ho, ho! You will
not be thought so great a hero here as the folk deem you in
Asgard, if you cannot play some other game more skillfully
than you do this one."
At this speech Thor grew very angry. He raised the horn to
his mouth and drank lustily, as long as he was able. But
when he looked into the horn, he found that some drops
still remained. He had not been able to empty it in three
draughts. Angrily he flung down the horn, and said that he
would have no more of it.
"Ah, Master Thor," taunted the king, "it is now plain that
you are not so mighty as we thought you. Are you inclined
to try some other feats? For indeed, you are easily beaten at
"I will try whatever you like," said Thor; "but your horn is
a wondrous one, and among the Æsir such a draught
as mine would be called far from little. Come,
now,  —what game do you next propose, O King?"
The king thought a moment, then answered carelessly,
"There is a little game with which my youngsters amuse
themselves, though it is so simple as to be almost childish.
It is merely the exercise of lifting my cat from the ground. I
should never have dared suggest such a feat as this to you,
Thor of Asgard, had I not seen that great tasks are beyond
your skill. It may be that you will find this hard enough."
So he spoke, smiling slyly, and at that moment there came
stalking into the hall a monstrous gray cat, with eyes of
"Ho! Is this the creature I am to lift?" queried Thor. And
when they said that it was, he seized the cat around its
gray, huge body and tugged with all his might to lift it from
the floor. Then the wretched cat, lengthening and
lengthening, arched its back like the span of a bridge; and
though Thor tugged and heaved his best, he could manage to
lift but one of its huge feet off the floor. The other three
remained as firmly planted as iron pillars.
 "Oho, oho!" laughed the king, delighted at this sight. "It is
just as I thought it would be. Poor little Thor! My cat is
too big for him."
"Little I may seem in this land of monsters," cried Thor
wrathfully, "but now let him who dares come hither and try
a hug with me."
"Nay, little Thor," said the king, seeking to make him yet
more angry, "there is not one of my men who would
wrestle with you. Why, they would call it child's play, my
little fellow. But, for the joke of it, call in my old foster-mother, Elli. She has wrestled with and worsted many a
man who seemed no weaker than you, O Thor. She shall try
a fall with you."
Now in came the old crone, Elli, whose very name meant
"age." She was wrinkled and gray, and her back was bent
nearly double with the weight of the years which she
carried, but she chuckled when she saw Thor standing with
bared arm in the middle of the floor. "Come and be thrown,
dearie," she cried in her cracked voice, grinning horribly.
 "I will not wrestle with a woman!" exclaimed Thor, eyeing
her with pity and disgust, for she was an ugly creature to
behold. But the old woman taunted him to his face and the
giants clapped their hands, howling that he was "afraid." So
there was no way but that Thor must grapple with the hag.
The game began. Thor rushed at the old woman and gripped
her tightly in his iron arms, thinking that as soon as she
screamed with the pain of his mighty hug, be would give
over. But the crone seemed not to mind it at all. Indeed, the
more he crushed her old ribs together the firmer and
stronger she stood. Now in her turn the witch attempted to
trip up Thor's heels, and it was wonderful to see her power
and agility. Thor soon began to totter, great Thor, in the
hands of a poor old woman! He struggled hard, he braced
himself, he turned and twisted. It was no use; the old
woman's arms were as strong as knotted oak. In a few
moments Thor sank upon one knee, and that was a sign that
he was beaten. The king signaled for them to stop. "You
need wrestle no more, Thor," he said, with a curl to his lip,
"we see what
 sort of fellow you are. I thought that old Elli
would have no difficulty in bringing to his knees him who
could not lift my cat. But come, now, night is almost here.
We will think no more of contests. You and your
companions shall sup with us as welcome guests and bide
here till the morrow."
Now as soon as the king had pleased himself in proving
how small and weak were these strangers who had come to
the giant city, he became very gracious and kind. But you
can fancy whether or no Thor and the others had a good
appetite for the banquet where all the giants ate so merrily.
You can fancy whether or no they were happy when they
went to bed after the day of defeats, and you can guess
what sweet dreams they had.
The next morning at daybreak the four guests arose and
made ready to steal back to Asgard without attracting any
more attention. For this adventure alone of all those in
which Thor had taken part had been a disgraceful failure.
Silently and with bowed heads they were slipping away
from the hall when the king himself came to them and
begged them to stay.
 "You shall not leave Utgard without breakfast," he said
kindly, "nor would I have you depart feeling unfriendly to
Then he ordered a goodly breakfast for the travelers, with
store of choicest dainties for them to eat and drink. When
the four had broken fast, he escorted them to the city gate
where they were to say farewell. But at the last moment he
turned to Thor with a sly, strange smile and asked,—
"Tell me now truly, brother Thor; what think you of your
visit to the giant city? Do you feel as mighty a fellow as
you did before you entered our gates, or are you satisfied
that there are folk even sturdier than yourself?"
At this question Thor flushed scarlet, and the lightning
flashed angrily in his eye. Briefly enough he answered that
he must confess to small pride in his last adventure, for that
his visit to the king had been full of shame to the hero of
Asgard. "My name will become a joke among your people,"
quoth he. "You will call me Thor the puny little fellow,
which vexes me more than anything; for I have not been
wont to blush at my name."
 Then the king looked at him frankly, pleased with the
humble manner of Thor's speech. "Nay," he said slowly,
"hang not your head so shamedly, brave Thor. You have
not done so ill as you think. Listen, I have somewhat to tell
you, now that you are outside Utgard,—which, if I live, you
shall never enter again. Indeed, you should not have entered
at all had I guessed what noble strength was really yours,—
strength which very nearly brought me and my whole city
To these words Thor and his companions listened with
open-mouthed astonishment. What could the king mean,
they wondered? The giant continued:—
"By magic alone were you beaten, Thor. Of magic alone
were my triumphs,—not real, but seeming to be so. Do you
remember the giant Skrymir whom you found sleeping and
snoring in the forest? That was I. I learned your errand and
resolved to lower your pride. When you vainly strove to
untie my wallet, you did not know that I had fastened it
with invisible iron wire, in order that you might be baffled
by the knots.
 Thrice you struck me with your hammer,—ah!
what mighty blows were those! The least one would
have killed me, had it fallen on my head as you deemed it
did. In my hall is a rock with three square hollows in it, one
of them deeper than the others. These are the dents of your
wondrous hammer, my Thor. For, while you thought I
slept, I slipped the rock under the hammer-strokes, and into
this hard crust Miölnir bit. Ha, ha! It was a pretty
Now Thor's brow was growing black at this tale of the
giant's trickery, but at the same time he held up his head
and seemed less ashamed of his weakness, knowing now
that it had been no weakness, but lack of guile. He listened
frowningly for the rest of the tale. The king went on:—
"When you came to my city, still it was magic that worsted
your party at every turn. Loki was certainly the hungriest
fellow I ever saw, and his deeds at the trencher were
marvelous to behold. But the Logi who ate with him was
Fire, and easily enough fire can consume your meat, bones,
and wood itself. Thialfi, my boy, you are a runner swift as
 the wind. Never before saw I such a race as yours. But the
Hugi who ran with you was Thought, my thought. And
who can keep pace with the speed of winged thought?
Next, Thor, it was your turn to show your might. Bravely
indeed you strove. My heart is sick with envy of your
strength and skill. But they availed you naught against my
magic. When you drank from the long horn, thinking you
had done so ill, in truth you had performed a
miracle,—never thought I to behold the like.
You guessed not that the
end of the horn was out in the ocean, which no one might
drain dry. Yet, mighty one, the draughts you swallowed
have lowered the tide upon the shore. Henceforth at certain
times the sea will ebb; and this is by great Thor's drinking.
The cat also which you almost lifted,—it was no cat, but
the great Midgard serpent himself who encircles the whole
world. He had barely length enough for his head and tail to
touch in a circle about the sea. But you raised him so high
that he almost touched heaven. How terrified we were when
we saw you heave one of his mighty feet from the ground!
 could tell what horror might happen had you
raised him bodily. Ah, and your wrestling with old Elli!
That was the most marvelous act of all. You had nearly
overthrown Age itself; yet there has never lived one, nor
will such ever be found, whom Elli, old age, will not cast to
earth at last. So you were beaten, Thor, but by a mere trick.
Ha, ha! How angry you looked,—I shall never forget! But
now we must part, and I think you see that it will be best
for both of us that we should not meet again. As I have
done once, so can I always protect my city by magic spells.
Yes, should you come again to visit us, even better
prepared than now, yet you could never do us serious
harm. Yet the wear and tear upon the nerves of both of us is
something not lightly forgotten."
He ceased, smiling pleasantly, but with a threatening look in
his eye. Thor's wrath had been slowly rising during this
tedious, grim speech, and he could control it no longer.
"Cheat and trickster!" he cried, "your wiles shall avail you
nothing now that I know your true self. You have put me to
 now my hammer shall shame you beyond all
reckoning!" and he raised Miölnir to smite the giant
deathfully. But at that moment the king faded before his
very eyes. And when he turned to look for the giant city
that he might destroy it,—as he had so many giant
dwellings,—there was in the place where it had been but a
broad, fair plain, with no sign of any palace, wall, or gate.
Utgard had vanished. The king had kept one trick of magic
for the last.
Then Thor and his three companions wended their way
back to Asgard. But they were slower than usual about
answering questions concerning their last adventure, their
wondrous visit to the giant city. Truth to tell, magic or no
magic, Thor and Loki had showed but a poor figure that
day. For the first time in all their meeting with Thor the
giants had not come off any the worse for the encounter.
Perhaps it was a lesson that he sorely needed. I am afraid
that he was rather inclined to think well of himself. But
then, he had reason, had he not?
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