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Thor’s Visit to Útgarðaloki

John Lindow 

Snorri Sturluson lived more than five hundred years before Elias Lönnrot, and in a different part of the North, the commonwealth of Iceland. But he shared with Lönnrot a gift for collecting and systematizing, above all for creating from his own cultural materials something that the entire world would come to cherish. In Snorri’s case this involved especially the mythology of his forebears, and his Edda has endured as the work that most defines that mythology. The part of his Edda devoted exclusively to the mythology is Gylfaginning, and the longest and most complex narrative in it—about onesixth of the entirety of Gylfaginning—describes Thor’s journey to and visit with Útgar∂aloki. Because Gylfaginning endeavors to present the entire curve of the mythology, from the creation of the cosmos through the ongoing conflict between gods and giants to the destruction of the cosmos, with non-narrative detours cataloging features of the gods and goddesses, that sixth part is large indeed. The story is also significant because it does not draw from the eddic poems Völuspá, Vafπrú∂nismál, and Grímnismál, which were the major sources of Gylfaginning. Since the latter two—indeed, perhaps all three—are Odin poems, Gylfaginning has a certain focus on Odin, and besides the journey to Útgar∂aloki, there is only one other Thor narrative in Gylfaginning, about his visit to the giant Hymir and fishing up of the Midgard serpent. Thus the visit to Útgar∂aloki offers the fullest opportunity within Gylfaginning to see Thor in action—within all of Snorra Edda, actually, and judging by length at least, within the entire corpus.

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