Hello! I hope you are well. It’s blog time.
Last time I talked about dinosaurs. (The answer to the riddle was the diplodocus). As you know, many if not most of the dinosaurs were monstrous. Monsters and dragons figure in myths and legends from cultures all over the world. When I was a girl, I used to wonder if that was some kind of folk memory, but although mammals did coexist with dinosaurs, those little mammals were not at all like us, and I do not now think that is possible.
I hope you will like my version of a Norse legend featuring monsters. Let me know if you like it!
The Binding of the Wolf
The Norsemen were afraid of wolves, and this is reflected in their legends…
Loki looked like a god, he had the gifts of a god and the mind of a god, but his heart was elsewhere: it was with the giants, for was he not a giant at least in part by blood, and did he not have a home in Jotunheim, the cold, desolate and blasted Land of the Giants? I wouldn’t have liked to live there, and I don’t know anyone who would. As for Loki, although he had in Asgard a lovely wife Sigyn who was faithful to him to the End of Days, – in Jotunheim he had another family altogether. A beastly giantess for wife, and his children: oh, it is better not to think about them. But if you must, there was Hel, who turned people to stone – only the gods were safe from her; the Midgard-Serpent who was a horrible reptile, worse even than Fafnir the dragon, who doubled in size every single day; and the cruel Wolf Fenris, who was always hungry, and whose jaws were immense and whose sharp and pointed teeth didn’t bear thinking about. Imagine keeping that lot in order at dinner! And these children of Loki’s just kept on growing….
One day Odin was looking round the world with his Eye, – there was a lot to see – and although Odin was very wise, that was only after he had looked, it didn’t help him know what to look at. As I said, Odin was looking round the world, and his Eye fell upon Loki’s home in Jotunheim, and he saw Loki’s terrible children. He saw how strong and powerful they were getting, and what dreadful trouble they would eventually cause, and he sent Thor and Tyr and some of the other gods to fetch them to Asgard.
I would never have brought them to my home but perhaps Odin wanted to keep his Eye on them. However, this was not the reason, for Odin cast Hel down into the underworld. (As the people there were dead anyway he thought she couldn’t do any more harm). He flung the Midgard-Serpent into the seas where it stayed growing ever bigger till Thor went a-fishing, and it was only the Wolf Fenris that he kept in Asgard.
Only Tyr was brave enough to feed the Wolf. Thor said he would have fed him, but he was often away so it was better that Tyr should do it… all the same, the Wolf Ferris was a problem. He roamed freely about Asgard, frightening the goddesses. He frightened Odin too, for Odin knew that in the Last Battle, it was his destiny to be destroyed by Fenris. One evening, when some of the gods were frightened to come to the Council Chamber as it meant passing Fenris who was snapping his huge jaws in the doorway, Odin decided it was time to act.
He himself went to the doorway and made sure everyone could enter safely. When the gods had all come in, he closed the door. “What are we doing?” he said “to feed and pamper this Wolf who is already our Enemy so he grows ever stronger? No, we must find a solution. We cannot kill him, for we can have no bloodshed here”.
“Chain him up, that’s what I’d do” said Thor.
“Yes but how? How will we persuade the Wolf to accept a chain?”
“Make a chain first, and worry about that afterwards” said Thor, always a god of action. That night Thor hammered away with his great hammer Mjollnir, and the other gods helped him. In the morning, all admired the thick chain with its complex links which gleamed in the sunshine.
“The strong are proud of their strength” said Odin. “Of course” said Thor “what else would they be?”
“Mayhap ‘tis the same with the Wolf. We can but try.”
Odin spread out the chain and put some meat high up on a tree. Tyr called the Wolf over and asked him to show off his strength. The gods called Fenris, spread out the chain, and asked him to show his wonderful strength by breaking it. “Then you can have the meat”. Fenris looked at the chain, and sniffed the meat. The Wolf knew how strong he was, and that breaking the chain would not be a problem for him, so he agreed to be bound, and his feet were tied together so it looked as if they were to stay like that always. But the gods smiled too soon. The Wolf flexed himself, snapped the vast chain, and was free once more. Reluctantly, Odin nodded, and Tyr gave Ferris the meat.
The Wolf sloped off. “He has grown terribly strong,” said Odin, looking at the chain in pieces on the ground.
“I’ll have to make a stronger chain, so strong that even that terrible Wolf cannot break it”. Again Thor stayed up all night hammering away to make a new and a stronger chain to bind the Wolf. All the gods wished him good luck and prayed for his success, and in the morning they did think that the chain he had made looked stronger. But was it?
Again, Tyr called the Wolf over. “You astonished us yesterday, but if you can break this chain, you will win Eternal honour and your strength will be known throughout the World and throughout the Heavens”.
“Where is the meat?” said Fenris.
“Oh we will give you the meat,” one of the gods said. Fenris looked at the gods and saw the fear in their eyes. His evil heart told him they would be even more afraid if he snapped this chain too, and he knew that he could, so he agreed to be bound. The gods made sure the chain was fastened tight round him. “Get the meat,” said Tyr.
Fenris waited till the meat was near, and then he strained to snap the chain. His struggle lasted longer than with the other chain, and at times it seemed that the chain would hold, but soon enough, it too lay shattered on the chain. The gods stared at it in silence, while Ferris gobbled his meat and sloped off.
The gods looked at Odin. Something else must be done to curb this monster amongst them! “We must ask the Dwarves,” said Odin slowly “ to make a chain so strong that Fenris will be unable to break it and so light in appearance that he will agree to be bound by it. I will send a messenger to tell them of our desperate need. The dwarves have ever been our friends in times of danger.”
A messenger was sent and soon he was in the home of the Dwarves under the ground. It was very dark, but if we were there we would see lots of lanterns in caves with stalactites and stalagmites, so it looked very pretty. Some Dwarves ran about with yet more lanterns, some puffed bellows to heat the fires of the great Forge, while others worked a different shift and were resting on toadstools chatting. The Dwarves’ leaders conferred together. “We will make you an enchanted chain,” they said. They were a friendly lot and set to work at once. It took a long time, for there is a lot of work in making a chain and even more in making enchantments. At last the Dwarves proudly handed over the chain. “It is magic,” they said. “What is bound with this will remain bound until the End of Days.”
The gods’ messenger bowed low. “The gods will not forget their debt to the Dwarves and will gladly thank you and help you if you are in need” and he flew back to Asgard.
When they saw it, the gods were not impressed. At first glance, it didn’t seem like a chain at all, just a soft and silken strand. Then one by one, the male gods tried to break it. None could, not even Thor. “Must be a strong chain if I can’t break it,” he said.
“The time has come to ask Fenris to try it” said Odin. He called Fenris.
“We know how strong you are” said Odin. “You have shown us this twice. But now we have a further test for you,” and he held out the twisted strand to Fenris. “it is this.”
The Wolf looked at the strand and paused, – he was not stupid.
“Why should I?” he asked. “If I succeed, no-one will think anything of it, and if I fail, I remain bound.”
Odin smiled at him. “How could you fail? with your strength?”
“I fear a trick,” said Fenris. “If it is a trick, you will not help me. But you shall not call me coward: you may bind me if one of you will place his right hand in my mouth.”
The gods looked at each other, but they did not smile. There was a silence. Thor moved as if to volunteer, but Odin stayed him. “No, Thor.” Thor and his hammer could not be risked. Then Tyr, always brave and courageous, stepped forward. Fenris opened his huge jaws and Tyr put his hand in the Wolf’s horrible mouth.
The gods bound the whole length of the silken strand tightly around Fenris, and tied the ends together with the best knots they knew. They had a double worry: that the strand would not hold and that Tyr would lose his hand. Fenris thought this himself, and began his struggle to break free, but the harder he tried, the tighter he was bound. Fenris jumped, stretched, and strained with all his strength but he could not break the strand. Then filled with fury at the trickery of the gods, he foamed at the mouth and bit off Tyr’s hand.
Even Tyr, brave as he was, cried out with the pain. The goddesses led him away to bind his arm.
“Prepare a rock,Thor,” said Odin. “Choose a rock deep-rooted in the earth, and on an island. Bore a hole in it. Take Fenris to the island, thread the strand through the hole, and knot it well. Our lives and the lives of men depend on it”.
So it was that the Wolf Fenris was bound and made fast to a rock, his jaws spread far apart, foaming and growling until the End of Days.
That’s it for now. That’s it for now. Let me know if you want more monster stories, more Norse legends, or a surprise! Bye!