Thor Goes a-Fishing by Hamilton Wright Mabie
Midway between Niflheim and Muspelheim lay Midgard, the home
of men, its round disk everywhere encircled by the ocean, which perpetually
rushed upon it, gently in still summer afternoons, but with
a terrible uproar in winter. Ages ago, when the Midgard-serpent
had grown so vast that even the gods were afraid of him, Odin cast
him into the sea, and he lay flat at the bottom of the ocean, grown
to such monstrous size that his scaly length encircled the whole
world. Holding the end of his tail in his mouth, he sometimes lay
motionless for weeks at a time, and looking across the water no one
would have dreamed that such a monster was asleep in its depths.
But when the Midgard-serpent was aroused his wrath was terrible
to behold. He lashed the ocean into great sheets of foam, he piled
the waves mountain high, he dashed the spray into the very heavens,
and woe to the galleys that were sailing homeward.
It happened once that the gods were feasting with Ęger, the
sea-god, and the ale gave out, and Ęger had no kettle in which to
brew a new supply.
"Thor," said. Ęger, after he had thought a moment, "will you
get me a kettle?"
Thor was always ready for any hard or dangerous thing.
"Of course I will," was his quick reply, "only tell me where
to get one."
That, however, was no easy thing to do. Kettles big enough to
brew ale for Asgard were not to be picked up at a moment's notice.
Everybody wanted more ale, but nobody could tell Thor where to
find a kettle, until Tyr, the god of courage, spoke up: "East of
the river Elivagar lives my father, Hymer, who has a kettle mar-velously
strong and one mile deep."
That was large enough even for the gods.
"Do you think we can get it?" asked Thor, who always wanted
to succeed in his undertakings.
"If we cannot get it by force, we can by stratagem," answered
Tyr, and they started off at once, Thor taking the disguise of a
young man. The goats drew them swiftly to Egil, with whom Thor
left them while he and Tyr pushed on to finish the journey afoot.
It was rough and perilous traveling, but they reached Hymer's hall
without accident, and there Tyr found his grandmother, a frightfully
ugly giantess, and his mother, a wonderfully beautiful woman, with
fair hair, and a face so radiant that the sun seemed to be always
shining upon it. The latter advised them to hide under the great
kettles in the hall, because when Hymer came home in bad temper
he was sometimes cruel to strangers.
Late in the evening Hymer came home from his fishing. A cold
wind swept through the hall as he entered, his eyes were piercing
as the stars on a winter's night, and his beard was white with frost.
"I welcome you home," said Tyr's beautiful mother; "our son,
for whom we have been looking so long, has come home, bringing
with him the enemy of giants and the protector of Asgard. See how
they hide themselves behind that pillar yonder."
She pointed to a pillar at the farther end of the hall. Hymer
turned, and looked at it with his piercing, icy glance, and in an
instant it snapped into a thousand pieces; the beam overhead broke,
and eight kettles fell with a crash on the stone floor. Only one out
of the eight remained unbroken, and from it Thor and Tyr came
forth. Hymer was not glad to see Thor standing there under his
own roof, but he could not turn him out, so he made the best of it
and ordered three oxen to be served for supper. Thor had traveled
a long distance and was very hungry, and ate two of the oxen before
he was satisfied.
"If you eat like that," said Hymer, "we will have to live on fish
Early the next morning, before the sun was up, Thor heard Hymer
getting ready for a day of fishing. He dressed himself quickly and
went out to the giant. "Good morning, Hymer," he said pleasantly.
"I am fond of fishing; let me row out to sea with you."
"Oho," answered the giant scornfully, not at all pleased with the
idea of having his powerful enemy in the boat with him, "such a
puny young fellow can be of no use to me, and if I go as far out to
sea as I generally do, and stay as long, you will catch a cold that
will be the death of you."
Thor was so angry at this insult that he wanted to let his hammer
ring on the giant's head, but he wisely kept his temper.
"I will row as far from the land as you care to go," was his
answer, "and it is by no means certain that I shall be the first to
want to put in again. What do you bait with?"
"Find a bait for yourself," was the giant's surly reply.
Thor ran up to a herd of Hymer's cattle, seized the largest bull,
wrung off its head without any trouble, and put it in the boat. Then
they both pushed off and were soon rowing seaward. Hymer could
pull a strong oar, but he had never seen such a stroke as Thor's
before. The boat fairly trembled under the force of it. In a few
moments they reached Hymer's fishing-ground, and he called out
to Thor to stop.
"Oh, no, not yet," said Thor, bending steadily over his oars; "we
must go a good distance beyond this."
Thor pulled with such tremendous power that they were soon far
out to sea, and Hymer began to be frightened. "If you don't stop,"
he called out, "we shall be over the Midgard-serpent."
Thor paid no attention, but rowed on until they were far out of
sight of land and about where he thought the great snake was coiled
in the bottom of the sea; then he laid down the oars, as fresh and
strong apparently as when he got into the boat. It was the strangest
fishing party the world ever saw, and the most wonderful fishing.
No sooner had Hymer's bait touched the water than it was seized
by two whales. Thor smiled quietly at the giant's luck, took out
a fishing-line, made with wonderful skill, and so strong that it
could not be broken, fastened the bull's head upon the hook and cast
it into the sea. The Midgard-serpent instantly seized it, and in a
second the hook was fast in its palate. Then came a furious struggle
between the strong god and the terrible monster which was the dread
of the whole earth.
Stung by the pain, the serpent writhed and pulled so hard that
Thor had to brace himself against the side of the boat. When he
found that the snake had taken his hook his wrath rose, and his
divine strength came upon him. He pulled the line with such
tremendous force that his feet went straight through the bottom of
the boat, and he stood on the bed of the ocean while he drew the
snake up to the side of the boat. The monster, convulsed with pain,
reared its terrible head out of the water, its glittering eyes
flashing, its whole vast body writhing and churning the ocean into a
whirlpool of eddying foam. Thor's eyes blazed with wrath, and he
held the serpent in a grasp like a vise. The uproar was like a
terrible storm, and the boat, the fishers, and the snake were hidden
by columns of foam that rose in the air. No one can tell what the end
would have been if Hymer, trembling with fright and seeing the
boat about to sink, had not sprung forward and cut the line just as
Thor was raising his hammer to crush the serpent's head. The
snake sank at once to the bottom of the sea, and Thor, turning upon
the giant, struck him such a blow under the ear that he fell headlong
into the water. The giant got back to the boat, however, and
they rowed to land, taking the two whales with them.
When they reached shore Thor was still filled with rage at the
meddlesome giant, because he had lost him the serpent, but he
quietly picked up the boat and carried it home, Hymer taking the
whales. Once more under his own roof, the giant's courage returned,
and he challenged Thor to show his strength by breaking
his drinking-cup. Thor sat down and, taking the cup, hurled it
against a pillar. It flew through the air, crashed against the stone,
bounded back, and was picked up as whole and perfect as when it
came into Thor's hands. He was puzzled, but Tyr's beautiful
fair-haired mother whispered to him, "Throw it at Hymer's forehead;
it is harder than any drinking-cup."
Thor drew in all his godlike strength and dashed the cup with a
terrific effort at Hymer. The forehead was unharmed, but the cup
was scattered in a thousand pieces over the floor. Hymer had lost a
great treasure by the experiment, but he only said, "That drink was
too hot. Perhaps you will take the kettle off now," he added with
Tyr immediately laid hands on the kettle, but he could not move
it an inch. Then Thor took the great pot in his hands and drew
it up with such a mighty effort that his feet went through the
stone floor of the hall, but he lifted it and, placing it on his head
like a mighty helmet, walked off, the rings of the kettle clanging
about his feet. The two gods walked swiftly away from the hall
where so many troubles and labors had awaited them, and it was
a long time before Thor turned to look back. When he did, it
was not a moment too soon, for Hymer was close behind, with a
multitude of many-headed giants, in hot pursuit.
In one minute Thor had lifted the kettle off his head and put it
on the ground, in another he was swinging the hammer among the
giants, and in another, when the lightnings had gone out and the
thunder had died in awful echoes among the hills, Tyr and Thor
were alone on the field.
They went on to Egil, mounted the chariot and drove the goats
swiftly on to Ęger's, where the gods were impatiently waiting for
the kettle. There was straightway a mighty brewing of ale, Thor
told the story of his adventures in search of the kettle, and the feast
went merrily on.