Mark Neumayer

author of the Valda & the Valkyries series

Tag: eddas

How Big Were the Norse Giants?

The other day I was wondering “How big is a giant?” It is a simple question and I can give you a simple answer – it varies. The giant who built the walls of Asgard was able to change his size so that the gods did not suspect his true nature. This ability prevents us from getting a satisfying answer to our question. Unfortunately, the Eddas don’t have a section that comes right out and lists the heights of the giants, or jotnar. We have to settle for bits and pieces. A description of Jotunheim mentions that the place is filled with men of “prodigious stature.” That doesn’t tell us much. Utgard-Loki, the king of the giants, says “Thor is little in comparison to our men.”¬† I assume Thor had to be at least six feet tall so we’re starting to make some progress here. There are other sections where we can pick up clues from comparisons but ultimately we learn that there are jotnar of all different sizes. Here are some of them:

Whether naturally, or by altering themselves with some sort of shape-changing ability, the Jotnar could not have been that much taller than the gods because several of the gods married giantesses and had children with them. There was Loki and Angrboda. Now we could discount this since Loki was half-giant and a shapeshifter himself, but Thor fathered a child with Jarnsaxa, Odin seduced Gunnlod, Frey married  the giantess Gerda, and Skadi married Njord. So due to simple biology we have to assume at least some of the jotnar were close in size to the gods.

During the funeral of Balder the Good he was laid to rest in his ship Hringhorn. The ship was “the largest in the world” and was filled with all manner of goods and treasures. But when it came time to launch the ship it was so heavy that no one was able to budge it. They summoned a giantess named Hyrrokin. She arrived riding a wolf. Her mount was so big that it took four beserkers just to hold it down. Hyrrokin was able to get the boat unstuck with a single push. Considering that Odin and Thor were already there and they still had to send out for help, we begin to get the idea this had to be a seriously massive woman.

But can we find a clearer example of size? Sure. Thor and Loki and two human companions were on one of their adventures when they were forced to take shelter for the night. They found a strange hall which was all open on one side. During the night they were awakened by strange noises and retreated into one of the side rooms so Thor could more easily stand guard at the entrance. When morning came and they ventured outside they discovered the giant Skrymir. The strange noises were caused by the giant’s snoring. The giant talked with them a bit and then picked up his glove at which point Thor realized that the “hall” they had spent the night in was the in fact the giant’s glove. The side “room” had been the thumb of the glove. Four people had fit into that “room.” If his thumb was that big, imagine how big the rest of him was.

How big could the giants get? Consider this – the world was formed from the body of the giant Ymir. The sons of Bor (Odin, Villi and Ve) slew the first giant and used his flesh to make the earth, his bones to make the mountains, his blood to make the sea, and they used his skull to make the sky. Now that is big!

Posted by Mark Neumayer

Three Famous Ships From the Norse Myths

Today we have a bit of a continuation from last week when I posted some artwork of the figurehead of a drekar or dragon-boat. There aren’t that many named ships in the Eddas, but these three are pretty memorable.

We are going to start with this ship because the Elder Eddas tell us it is… “without doubt the best and most artfully constructed of any (ship.)” The ship belongs to the god Frey and was constructed by the sons of Ivaldi – the Dwarven master craftsmen who also created Odin’s spear Gungnir and the golden hair of Sif. The ship is quite large and has enough room to hold all of the Aesir gods and goddesses and their weapons and war supplies as well. As soon as the sail is raised a favorable breeze springs up and leads the ship wherever you wish to go. To top it all off, the ship is so artfully constructed and so many cunning spells were used in her construction that you can actually fold the ship up like a piece of cloth until it is small enough to fit into your pocket.

When Ragnarok, the doom of the gods comes around, the ship Naglfar will finally be ready to set sail. When we were told that Skidbladnir was the best ship we were also informed that Naglfar was the biggest. The creepiest thing about Naglfar is that it is not made of wood, rather it is being built from the toenails and fingernails of all who have died. In Gylfaginning we are told to take great care not to die with untrimmed nails, for the longer your nails are the sooner the ship will be done. Loki is fated to be the helmsman on that dark day, using the ship to bring the enemies of the gods to the scene of the battle between good and evil.

This was the ship of Balder. Sadly we only read about it at his funereal. At that time we are told it “passed for the largest in the world.” Now we had been told that Naglfar was biggest. Maybe the discrenpancy has something to do with the fact that Naglfar is still under construction. Hringhorn is so big that the gods can not push it out to sea and have to send for a giantess to push the ship for them.

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