Origin of Jack the Giant Killer by Carlyle

Letter A.

After various adventures, Thor, accompanied by Thialfi and Loke, his servants, entered upon Giantland, and wandered over plains—wild uncultivated places—among stones and trees. At nightfall they noticed a house; and as the door, which indeed formed one whole side of the house, was open, they entered. It was a simple habitation—one large hall, altogether empty. They stayed there. Suddenly, in the dead of the night, loud voices alarmed them. Thor grasped his hammer, and stood in the doorway, prepared for fight. His companions within ran hither and thither, in their terror, seeking some outlet in that rude hall: they found a little closet at last, and took refuge there. Neither had Thor any battle; for lo! in the morning it turned out that the noise had been only the snoring of a certain enormous, but peaceable, giant—the giant Skrymir, who lay peaceably sleeping near by; and this, that they took for a house, was merely his glove thrown aside there: the door was the glove-wrist; the little closet they had fled into was the thumb! Such a glove! I remark, too, that it had not fingers, as ours have, but only a thumb, and the rest undivided—a most ancient rustic glove!

Skrymir now carried their portmanteau all day; Thor, however, who had his suspicions, did not like the ways of Skrymir, and determined at night to put an end to him as he slept. Raising his hammer, he struck down into the giant's face a right thunderbolt blow, of force to rend rocks. The giant merely awoke, rubbed his cheek, and said, "Did a leaf fall?" Again Thor struck, as soon as Skrymir again slept, a better blow than before; but the giant only murmured, "Was that a grain of sand!" Thor's third stroke was with both his hands (the "knuckles white," I suppose), and it seemed to cut deep into Skrymir's visage; but he merely checked his snore, and remarked, "There must be sparrows roosting in this tree, I think."

At the gate of Utgard—a place so high, that you had to strain your neck bending back to see the top of it—Skrymir went his way. Thor and his companions were admitted, and invited to take a share in the games going on. To Thor, for his part, they handed a drinking-horn; it was a common feat, they told him, to drink this dry at one draught. Long and fiercely, three times over, Thor drank, but made hardly any impression. He was a weak child, they told him; could he lift that cat he saw there? Small as the feat seemed, Thor, with his whole godlike strength, could not: he bent up the creature's back, could not raise its feet off the ground—could at the utmost raise one foot. "Why, you are no man," said the Utgard people; "there is an old woman that will wrestle you." Thor, heartily ashamed, seized this haggard old woman, but could not throw her.

The Giant Skrymir.

And now, on their quitting Utgard—the chief Jotun, escorting them politely a little way, said to Thor—"You are beaten, then; yet, be not so much ashamed: there was deception of appearance in it. That horn you tried to drink was the sea; you did make it ebb: but who could drink that, the bottomless? The cat you would have lifted—why, that is the Midgard Snake, the Great World Serpent—which, tail in mouth, girds and keeps up the whole created world. Had you torn that up, the world must have rushed to ruin. As for the old woman, she was Time, Old Age, Duration: with her what can wrestle? No man, nor no god, with her. Gods or men, she prevails over all! And then, those three strokes you struck—look at these valleys—your three strokes made these." Thor looked at his attendant Jotun—it was Skrymir. It was, say old critics, the old chaotic rocky earth in person, and that glove house was some earth cavern! But Skrymir had vanished. Utgard, with its sky-high gates, when Thor raised his hammer to smite them, had gone to air—only the giant's voice was heard mocking; "Better come no more to Jotunheim!"