To trick a god (Útgard travels part II)

Thor, Loki, and Thialfi are tricked by the greatest showman of the giants when they visit Útgard.

Our story continues where we left off last time. Thor and Loki decided to travel to Jotunheim to explore a mysterious place called Útgard. As they made a stop in Midgard on the way, they came across a peasant family. When Loki tricked a peasant boy, Thialfi, into damaging one of Thor’s goats, the boy pledged his eternal servitude to the god. When the trio arrived in the realm of giants, they ran into a giant Skrymir. Although this giant was bigger than any giant they had ever seen, Skrymir confided that he was the smallest one in his village. He seemed to be a friendly fellow though, as he promised to take them to Útgard.

“Did he just say he was the smallest one of his village?”, asked a baffled Thialfi. “There is no time to be a scared peasant boy” grunted Thor. “Let’s see if you can keep up”. Thialfi nodded, inspired by the brave display of the god of thunder. He started gathering up their stuff as a good servant. “Oh, dear fellow. Let me carry that for you”, Skrymir said. He gathered all their belongings (including their food) and started walking off toward Útgard with enormous strides. An astonished Thialfi could not help but wonder that this giant was way nicer than the ones he had heard about during his bedtime stories.

Hold the thief!

Loki was clearly not amused that someone was running off with their food. “What the…”, he started. But there was no time to finish his sentence. The gigantic strides of Skrymir had already put a large distance between him and the travelers. He started running to keep up with the colossal being, shortly followed by Thor and Thialfi. They ran across meadows, hills, and mountains. At times they would lose sight of the giant, afraid that they had lost him. But later on, they would always see him far off in the distance.

Although they had been successful in keeping up with Skrymir so far, they were now starting to grow ever more tired. What’s worse, they were growing hungry as well. And as the giant had their food, this made Thor angry. Now and then, he would look behind him to see if the others were still keeping up. He was surprised to see that even the peasant boy was successful, an impressive feat for a mere mortal. His father had not lied when he said that the boy could run.

The sky had already turned dark when our companions finally caught up with the giant. Skrymir was flat on the ground, his snoring shaking the earth. Thor was relieved to see that the bag with their possessions was lying next to him, tied up tightly with a rope. The three of them would finally be able to satisfy their hunger. Unfortunately, the knot in the rope was so tight that none of them was able to open the bag (not even Thor, whose power was increased through a special belt he got from his mother, Jörd). This made Thor even angrier, as he was not used to being hungry. He would normally just eat one of his goats, which he had apparently left behind. Also, he was not used to being too weak to untie a knot.

To wake a sleeping giant

This is when Thor walked up to Skrymir. Oblivious to any proverb, Thor punched the sleeping giant full in his face using all his power. The giant did not flinch. Thor’s face grew solemn. He then grabbed Mjölnir, the hammer that he had used to end the life of many giants. Flexing his muscles, he slammed the giant full on his temple. Thialfi gasped as Skrymir suddenly opened his eyes. The boy tried to decide if he had to prepare for a fight or a flight. It would prove unnecessary. “Did an acorn fall from the tree and hit me in my sleep?”, he mumbled to no one in particular. He then closed his eyes again, falling fast asleep.

Thoughts were running through Thor’s head. He was both furious and embarrassed about his unsuccessful display of power. He laid himself to rest in an attempt to get some sleep, ignoring the hunger that was gnawing away at him. His attempt would soon prove to be unsuccessful. The ground was shaking now that Skrymir was snoring loudly, making it sound as if a dragon was continuously roaring in their ears.

Dark clouds gathered over their heads as Thor grabbed Mjölnir once more. He lifted it high above his head, bringing the head of the hammer down on Skrymir’s head with all his might. The massive eyes of the giant opened once more in surprise, yet they were again not showing an inch of distress. Skrymir yawned. “Is that you Thor? I think some bird droppings fell on my face”, he said slowly. Thor was now beyond himself. Normally he was considered to be the personification of strength, but his power seemed to be completely useless. What was going on? He just urged the giant to go back to sleep. He would be unable to sleep for the rest of the night.

The court of giants

After a long sleepless night, Skrymir finally stopped snoring. “Rise little ones”, he rumbled. “There is no time to waste if we are to make it to Útgard before noon”. The others looked at him in agony. Compared to them, the giant looked surprisingly well-rested. They were relieved when he gave them some food before running off again. Once more, they started running to keep up with the giant’s colossal strides toward their destination. The sun was still on its way to the highest point when they finally caught sight of an enormous fortress, complete with towers and all. At last, they were face-to-face with their quest’s objective. Skrymir bade them farewell, but not before recommending them to turn their backs on Jotunheim “while they still could”. After all, the giants would most likely not be their biggest fans.

When they entered the halls of the fortress, a crowd of giants was waiting for them. Thialfi gasped, gazing around as he tried to take in the scene before them. Skrymir had not been lying to them. These giants were indeed even bigger than him. The giant creatures were lined up next to each other, murmuring to one another as they observed the traveling companions entering the hall. The biggest one of them was sitting on a throne, supposedly because he was their leader. When this one raised his hand, the other giants grew silent. “My name is Útgard-Loki”, the giant spoke calmly, “and I know who you are: Thor, Loki, and Thialfi”. The gods looked at each other with suspicion. It was no surprise that the giant knew the names of the gods, but they were rather surprised that he knew Thialfi’s name.  

Útgard-Loki’s eyes were filled with amusement when he saw the confused look on their faces. “Your reputation precedes you”, he smiled. “In fact, we were hoping that you would want to participate in some competition. You know, as a demonstration of your prowess”. His smile turned vile “after all, we have all heard stories about Thor, the giant slayer, and Loki, the trickster”. He slowly pointed one of his giant fingers at them. “So which one of you wants to prove he is an extraordinary being first?”, he asked.

Pigging out

Loki stepped forward, his eyes glittering with pleasure. “I happen to be the fastest eater of the universe”, he said. Given his famous appetite, we assume he was still a bit hungry after the whole ordeal they had gone through with Skrymir holding on to their food. Útgard-Loki seemed satisfied with his answer, then beckoned one of his subjects to step forward. “This is Logi, one of Útgards finest citizens. He is not the fastest eater that we have”, he said with a certain nonchalance, “but I suppose he will do for this challenge”.

Thialfi was amazed by the speed at which the giants set two large tables, one for Loki and one for Logi. As both of them sat down at their table, they were each served a complete roasted boar on a wooden trench. The one that would finish his boar the fastest would be considered the winner of the eating contest. The king of the giants counted down and gave the signal for the two contestants to start.  Loki immediately started tearing into the meat, munching and gulping down chunks of boar at a mind-blowing speed. It did not take long before he had finished the entire animal, using one of its bones as a toothpick.

When Loki looked over at his competition, he saw that Logi had finished his boar as well. Nevertheless, the contest did not end in a stalemate. Turns out Logi had finished his boar simultaneously with Loki, but he had also finished the bones and the wooden trench on which the animal had been served. The King of the giants, who was acting as a judge to the contest, gave his verdict. The god had clearly lost to the giant. Baffled, Loki returned to Thor and Thialfi. “Guess it’s your turn”, he shrugged.

Running out options

Thialfi stepped forward. “I am a pretty fast runner”, he said. Útgard-Loki pondered that statement for a moment. “You might be fast for a human, but it would be madness to let you race against one of my full-grown brethren”. His face cleared up as he got an idea. “Bring over Hugi”, he said decisively. A child stepped forward, clearly the baby of a giant. “You will race this human, Hugi, as he wants to prove himself to be a fast runner”, the King explained to him. The infant giant just nodded, clearly not impressed by his opponent.

Both contestants and spectators moved outside to a racing track. When the King gave the signal to start, Thialfi started running as fast as he could. Both gods and giants were impressed. Hugi and Thialfi were racing neck-to-neck and it would seem they were going to finish in a tie. It was at that moment that Thialfi glanced at his opponent. His jaw dropped as Hugi suddenly started running twice as fast, dropping from his sight shortly after. When Thialfi finally crossed the finish line, the giant baby was already celebrating with his kin.

“I would like a rematch”, Thialfi exclaimed. Útgard-Loki took stock of the peasant boy. “I will admit that you are a fast runner… for a human”, he said. “I will not object to a rematch, as long as Hugi is willing to race you again”. Hugi stepped up to the pitch, clearly eager to race Thialfi again. So once more, the two started running. This time, however, the giant started outrunning Thialfi when they were only at a third of their lap.

“I would like to give it one more try”, Thialfi said. The King was now really surprised. “I do not think the odds are in your favor, but I guess it is your own decision”, he said. Thialfi ignored him: he was determined to prove his worth to Thor. The two started their third and final race. Yet this time, Hugi already crossed the finish line after a few seconds. Thialfi was utterly and completely beaten. He finally had to concede.

Hold my beer

Now it was Thor’s turn, as the one who had been dubbed “the giant slayer” by Útgard-Loki (not without reason). After watching his companions fail the giants’ challenges, the god of thunder was yearning to settle the score. “I can outdrink any single one of you”, he said. The King nodded and beckoned his followers to bring a giant horn of ale. “Surely, you will have no trouble finishing this horn then”, he said. “Most of us can finish such a horn in a single gulp, some need two”. He shrugged, “only weaklings need three gulps to empty it”. He handed the horn to Thor with an innocent smile on his face. “Surely, you would not have any trouble with it”.

Thor put the horn to his lips and drank a large gulp of ale. But when he looked in the horn to see how much was left, he could see that the amount of beer seemed to be the same as when he started drinking. Útgard-Loki frowned at him with a surprised look on his face. Thor could feel blood rising to his face. He took a second sip, drinking long and deep. Yet, when he removed the horn from his lips, the amount of beer still seemed to be unchanged.

Thor tried to ignore Útgard-Loki, when the King started snickering. He quickly put the horn to his lips again and started drinking again. He drank and drank until he could drink no more. When he finished, he gazed into the horn again. This time, there was finally a change in the beer level of his horn. Unfortunately, the horn was far from empty.

“Perhaps you could try something easier”, Útgard-Loki scoffed. “You don’t seem to be much of a drinker”. Thor’s face now turned red due to a mixture of anger and embarrassment. Fed up with the drinking game (or afraid to embarrass himself any further), he called for another challenge. “I will give you a demonstration of my strength”, he shouted.

Cats and old ladies

Útgard-Loki shifted in his seat, considering how to test Thor this time. “Since you did not really show much potential in the drinking game”, he said adding to the rage of the god of thunder, “let’s make this an easy test”. Thor was silently growing more furious by the minute. The King pointed at his large black cat, “all you have to do is show that you can lift my cat”.

Thialfi gasped. It was the largest cat he had ever seen. It was a mean-looking creature at that, hissing as the god of thunder approached him. Thor tried his best to lift the cat, but at every try, the animal would arch its back so that lifting it became impossible. In his last try, he did manage to lift it partially from the ground.

“Just give me someone to fight!”, Thor yelled. Útgard-Loki clearly enjoyed the failure of the god. “Fine”, the King said. “I will grant you one last chance to prove your prowess”. An old lady, smaller than the god of thunder, stepped forward. “You can wrestle Elli. She used to be my nanny”, he said. Thor’s nostrils flared as he looked at the old lady. Was there no end to the mockery by this King of giants? Fighting an old lady was not going to bring him any honor. Then again, he knew that refusing to fight her would be explained as an act of cowardice. He had no choice but to accept.

When their wrestling competition started, Elli did not move a muscle. Thor charged at her, trying to push her over. Given the other challenges, we guess you already understand how that part played out. No matter how much force Thor used to push Elli, he was unable to topple her. In fact, the longer the fight went on, the more confident and stronger the lady looked. Finally, as Thor was growing weary, she tripped him, landing the god on his back. Elli was victorious.

“I think we have seen enough of your prowess, dear fellows”, Útgard-Loki said. “Let’s just feast and make merry”. The travelers had no choice but to accept. Yet as the giants started celebrating, the travelers were not in a festive mood. They had been beaten. What is worse, they had been beaten at the talents they were famous for.

A guy with two faces

The next morning, it was Útgard-Loki that would see them off. “Are you still so self-confident as when I first met you, little fellows?”, he asked. Thor had to admit that he was not. “This journey has made me the laughing stock among you giants”, he said. “I do not think I will be getting back from this”.

“Well, well”, the King chuckled. “That means my little plot has worked just the way I intended”. The travelers looked at each other in confusion. “What are you going on about?”, asked Thor. Loki watched the King of giants in silence. Perhaps he already had an idea of what was going to come. “My friends, you have been tricked from the moment you arrived”, the King explained. “In fact, you have not performed so badly as you think you have. Your prowess is something that will be discussed in these parts for ages to come”. Thor was perplexed. “Go on and explain”, he gasped.

“For starters, Skrymir and I are the same beings”, the giant said with a wink. “Both forms are manifestations from my illusions”. Thialfi’s jaw dropped, not for the first time since he had arrived in Jotunheim. “You see those valleys amongst the mountains over there?”, he asked pointing in the distance. Thor nodded. “That’s where you hit your hammer when you tried to bash in my skull when I was sleeping”, the King continued in earnest. “I was actually terrified when you were pounding into the earth so close to my actual face. You nearly killed me a couple of times”. Now Thialfi’s jaw was not the only one that had dropped.

The greatest showman

“What about the trials?”, asked Loki. He was quite curious to see if their contests had been tricks as well. Útgard-Loki grinned at him and continued his explanation. “You have been bested by Fire, my friend. Logi was an illusion as well”. There is no greater devourer than Fire. He then pointed at Thialfi, “you, boy, are an amazing runner”. Thialfi blushed at the compliment. “You have been competing against Thought, one of my favorite mirages”. No matter how fast you run, you can’t outrun thought.

“And what about my trials?”, Thor asked with a grumpy voice. “That horn I had you drink from was connected to the ocean. You actually lowered the sea levels”, the King said wide-eyed. In fact, this is how Thor created the tides. “Also, when you lifted ‘my cat’, you were actually lifting a piece of Jörmungandr, the world snake”, the giant continued. “The universe was shaking on its very foundations when you did so, so I had to stop you”. Thor’s eyes narrowed. “And the crone?”, he asked. “Another one of my illusions”, the giant explained. “You cannot beat Old Age. In the end, she will come for all of us”.

The great disappearance trick

Thor had heard enough. As he turned away, thoughts were running through his head. He had been made to look a fool by this Útgard-Loki (or was it Skrymir?). There was no way he was going to be lectured on humility by some pesky giant. As he grabbed Mjölnir, he gathered his strength to finish off the illusionist once and for all. Yet when he turned around, both Útgard and Útgard-Loki had disappeared. The entire fortress had been a fabricate of the giant’s magic.

As the traveling companions left the mysterious realm of giants, they had understood the giant’s message: stay out of Jotunheim.