Epic adventure, a mythical sea monster, and the god of thunder are at the heart of this classic tale. A simple quest for libations turns into a daring showdown between Thor and Jörmungandr. A prequel to their fateful battle during Ragnarök.
This story was so well-known that it can be found in both the Poetic Edda (a collection of Old Norse poems compiled centuries ago) and the Prose Edda (an Old Norse mythological textbook from the 13th century).
In his usual fashion, thunderous Thor finds himself in the middle of a whirlwind of his own enthusiasm and inability to back down from a challenge. His fearless (and somewhat misguided) determination puts him in the middle of conflict and danger. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
You’ll also notice the complex and conflicting relationship between the Aesir gods and the giants. Though they are sworn enemies, the gods and giants remain surprisingly civil. They often visit each other or even marry across their races.
But their meetings also tend to involve deceit and bloody murder… So take their truce with a grain of salt.
In this story, Thor and Tyr journey to the land of the giants with nefarious intentions: to steal the realm’s largest kettle for a godly dinner party beneath the sea.
But we’ll ignore the dubious morality of their quest and focus on the drama, of course!
This story has been retold in many variations throughout the centuries, so some details are hazy. Is the giant Hymir actually Tyr’s father? Or is Tyr the illegitimate son of Hróðr — Hymir’s giantess wife — and Odin the Allfather?
Juicy, I know.
So buckle up and get ready for a tale of familial drama, thievery, and life-threatening shenanigans. The beloved recipe for a classic Norse story.
Aegir’s Search for a Kettle
Long ago, the ruler of the ocean decided to host a dinner party. Aegir, the sea’s giant ruler, invited the gods beneath the blue-green waves to his great hall on the ocean floor. He lived with his sea goddess wife, Ran, and his nine daughters, the Waves. Naturally, the gods jumped at the chance to see the legendary underwater palace.
But Aegir was not expecting such a huge turnout for his party. He had only prepared for a handful of godly guests!
“We won’t have enough mead,” Aegir muttered. “I must brew some more. The gods love their mead.”
He searched the kitchen for a kettle to brew more of the gods’ favorite drink. But there wasn’t a vessel in the entire sea big enough for Aegir’s poppin’ party.
He tried not to panic. He was the ruler of the sea, he could figure this out. No problem.
After a long minute of thought, he realized that a strong leader consults his advisors. So he decided to ask the wise and powerful gods if they knew where to find a kettle of massive proportions.
“Where could we find a kettle huge enough to satiate us?” the gods mused. They were hungry and thirsty and knew that Aegir brewed the best mead in the realm. They were greatly invested in this quest.
A lightbulb went off above Tŷr’s head. “I have an idea!” he said, turning to Thor with a sly grin. “My father, the giant Hymir, has a famous kettle a mile deep. I know he keeps it in his great palace near Elivâgar, the ice river. Surely, it will be large enough for this great gathering.”
“Surely, indeed!” Aegir agreed. “But how are we going to procure this mile-deep kettle, my distinguished guests? Who is willing to journey to the land of the giants on this incredibly important expedition?”
Thor’s hand shot up at lightning speed. “Me! I’ll do it!” he volunteered loudly. “I will use my awe-inspiring strength to retrieve the kettle. Tŷr, will you show me the way to your father’s palace?”
“Of course, my friend.”
And off they went to steal from Tŷr’s dad.
Thor and Tyr’s Journey
The dynamic duo speedily traveled the long journey to the land of snow and ice. They eventually arrived at the huge house where Tŷr had lived with his family before joining the Aesir in Asgard.
“Follow me,” Tŷr said. He led them through the palace’s winding corridors until they found themselves in Hymir’s hall. They tiptoed inside, two enormous men moving with comical stealth. They discovered a row of eight enormous kettles hanging from a beam in the roof.
But which one was the largest?
As they examined the kettles, Tŷr’s grandmother suddenly appeared in the doorway. Thor shrieked in surprise (though if anyone asked, he vehemently denied ever making such a cowardly sound).
Tŷr’s grandmother was a sight to see, and not in a good way. She had nine hundred hideous heads, each one uglier than the next. And her personality wasn’t any prettier.
The dreadful old hag began to roar and bellow and shake her fists aggressively. Quite the welcome for her grandson and his companion. Who knows what maniacal atrocities she was willing to commit against her own flesh and blood?
Thankfully, Thor and Tŷr were saved by the entrance of a beautiful woman. Glittering with golden ornaments, her sweetness radiated and filled the room with warmth.
When the woman’s eyes landed on Tŷr, they filled with tears. “Oh, my son,” she cried. “You have returned!”
A Mother’s Welcome
With a choked sound of laughter and pure joy, she threw her arms around Tŷr’s neck. She loved her son ferociously and had mourned his absence for years.
“It’s good to see you, dear mother,” Tŷr said affectionately. “And this is–”
His mother held up her hand. “You, begone,” she said to the abominable grandmother, who left the hall with a huff.
Tŷr smiled gratefully. He knew his grandmother would freak at the sound of Thor’s name. The god of thunder wasn’t exactly loved by the race of giants; he had ended quite a few of their lives on his adventures.
“You must be the mighty Thor,” Tŷr’s mother surmised. “You are very brave to travel to the land of giants. Your reputation precedes you.”
She reached for Tŷr’s hands. “And you, my darling son! Why have you returned after all these years? It must be important. You know the dangers — and maybe even death — that await you and your friend here in your father’s hall.”
Tŷr told her of their quest for the giant kettle. Tŷr’s mother immediately promised to help them.
“You must be very careful,” she warned. “Hymir has been in a terrible temper this week. The mere sight of a stranger drives him wild with rage!”
Her husband was away hunting, so Tŷr’s mother searched for a place to hide the two travelers before the giant’s return.
“Aha!” she cried. “You can hide in the great kettle itself! And if you escape Hymir’s terrible sight, you can easily slip away with the kettle while he remains oblivious.”
She ushered them into the enormous kettle swinging from the rafters. It hung in a line with seven other kettles, but this was the biggest and strongest of the lineup.
Just as they were hidden out of sight, Tŷr’s mother gasped.
“I hear him coming! Keep as still as you can, Tŷr and Troy, or who knows what my husband will do!”
Hiding from Hymir
The floor trembled, the eight kettles swung and clattered against each other, and Hymir’s giant footsteps grew closer and closer to the hall. Outside, the icebergs shook and the earth itself seemed to quiver with fear as Hymir strode past with the spoils from his hunt.
He thundered into the hall. Icicles hung from his beard and his face was frosted into hard planes. His breath chilled the room, a freezing blast like a winter wind.
“Hello, wife,” he growled. “What’s new? I see footprints in the snow outside. You’ve had visitors, hm?”
Tŷr’s poor mother began to tremble, both from cold and trepidation.
“Yes, Hymir, we do have a guest. Your beloved son Tŷr has returned to visit his father’s esteemed hall!”
“Humph!” Hymir grunted with an irritable frown. “And whom has this rascal brought with him? There are two sets of footprints outside. Tell me, woman! I will find out the truth one way or another.”
Tŷr and Thor glanced at each other from their dark hiding place. Hymir’s intimidating presence was enough to make the strongest boulder crack, let alone Tŷr’s trembling mother.
“He has brought a friend,” she faltered. “Surely, our son’s friends are welcome when he brings them on the long journey home after many years.”
But the word ‘friend’ made Hymir howl with fury.
“Where are they?” he roared. “Friend, indeed! It’s one of those bloody Aesir from Asgard. One of those filthy giant killers who my dear mother taught me to despise with all my might. Tell me where you’ve hidden them, wife! Or I swear I will tear this hall apart plank by plank until I find them.”
His chest heaved and the whites of his eyes rolled like a rabies-infected animal. Tŷr’s mother knew she had no choice but to expose the two stowaways. But she tried to stall one last time.
“They’re standing behind that pillar,” she said, pointing across the hall.
Hymir glanced at the pillar, and the force of his icy glare cracked the pillar in two. The great roof beam that held the line of kettles came crashing down. Tŷr’s mother screamed as the kettles shattered into pieces. But the eighth kettle merely toppled onto its side, still intact.
Thor and Tŷr held their breath and tried to stay perfectly still inside the kettle. Tŷr’s mother held her breath, waiting for Hymir’s next move.
“Come out, cowards!” Hymir shouted, voice booming through the hall. “The longer I search, the angrier I’ll get, and the worse your punishment will be!”
His threat drew Tŷr and Thor from the giant kettle. They bowed to the giant, then stood side by side, smiling and unconcerned. They almost looked like they had enjoyed the commotion. A grown giant throwing a temper tantrum was always a fun spectacle.
Hymir barely glanced at his son. His suspicious frown was focused on Thor.
Hymir could tell this glistening, red-bearded, heavily-muscled man was one of Odin’s family. But he couldn’t tell which one. So he decided civility was the best course of action. He supposed angering Odin’s family would only cause more harm to the race of giants.
So, gruffly but politely, he invited the two lads to dinner.
A Giant Dinner
Thor was glowing with happiness. The sight of a full dinner table brought him almost the same joy as the glory of a fresh battlefield. His eyes sparkled as they took in the gargantuan spread on Hymir’s table.
Three whole roasted oxen lay upon the table. Thor dug in with untameable enthusiasm and devoured two of them by himself, fork and knife flying until they were mere blurs.
Hymir stared, mouth agape.
“Your appetite is unmatched, friend! You have depleted all of the meat from my stores. If you’ll be back for dinner tomorrow, I must insist you catch your own game. I cannot be responsible for sustaining your endless cravings!”
Perhaps Hymir was being a tad inhospitable. But a stranger half his size had gobbled down his finest meat in minutes, so we’ll cut him some slack.
Thor thought the same. “I like to fish, good Hymir,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll accompany you out in your boat tomorrow morning and see what I can find for my dinner in the depths of the sea.”
Thor and Hymir’s Fishing Trip
Morning arrived, and Thor rose early to join Hymir.
“Hey, Hymir,” Thor said cheerily. “Did you bring enough bait for us both?”
Hymir eyed him crossly. He wasn’t used to anyone bothering him so early in the morning.
“Dig your own bait if you want to fish with me,” he said gruffly. “I have no time to waste on your unpreparedness.”
Thor shrugged and looked for something he could use as bait. His gaze landed on a herd of Hymir’s oxen feeding in the meadow.
“Aha! Just the thing,” he exclaimed. He approached the meadow and seized the biggest ox in the herd, then trotted back to the boat with the disgruntled animal under his arm.
When Hymir saw Thor approaching with one of his prime oxen, his blood boiled. He angrily pushed the boat from the shore and started rowing away as quickly as possible. Surely, Thor wouldn’t be able to make it aboard with the heavy cattle under his arm.
But Thor easily leaped from the shore and planted himself in the boat’s stern.
“Nice try, Hymir!” he laughed. “You invited me to go fishing, and we will fish. I have my bait, and I’m feeling lucky on this fine morning.”
He grabbed the spare oar and started rowing vigorously, the water churning as the boat sliced through the waves. Hymir had to row as hard and fast as physically possible to keep up with Thor’s ridiculous pace. No boat had ever skipped over the water as fast as Hymir’s fishing vessel did that morning.
They eventually reached a prime fishing spot. “Hold!” Hymir said, panting for breath after their rowing sprint. “Let’s anchor here and fish. This is where I usually have the best luck.”
“And what sort of little fish do you catch here, O Hymir?” Thor asked.
“Whales!” Hymir replied proudly. “I fish for nothing smaller than whales.”
“Lame!” Thor said. “Who fishes for such small fry? C’mon, let’s row out even further and find something really worth catching!” And he began rowing even faster than before.
“Stop, you lunatic!” Hymir shouted. “You don’t know what you’re doing. These deep waters are the haunts of the dreaded Midgard serpent. It’s not safe to fish here.”
“Oho, the Midgard serpent!” Thor hooted in delight. “That is the very catch I’m after. Let’s drop our lines here.”
Baiting the Serpent
Thor attached the head of his ox to the end of his giant hook. He cast his bait into the sea, his fishing line as thick as his beefy forearm.
Hymir followed suit and cast his line. He didn’t want Thor thinking he was a coward! But his hand trembled as he waited for a bite. He was afraid of what horrors his hook may catch.
“Look, you have a bite!” Thor cried suddenly. Hymir startled and nearly tumbled out of the boat.
He pulled in his line, hand over hand, and was pleased to find two great, flopping whales snared on his hook! A catch, indeed.
He smiled proudly, fears forgotten. “How about that, friend? Good luck catching something more impressive!”
But just then, Thor’s line jerked with a bite. And oh, what a bite!
The boat rocked back and forth, threatening to capsize. The waves began to roll in huge crests and lashed into foam as if some huge creature was struggling beneath the water.
“I have him!” Thor shouted. “I have the wily old serpent, brother of the Fenris wolf! Pull with all your might, little monster, but you won’t escape me!”
A Fateful Stare-Down
Sure enough, Thor’s massive fishing hook was lodged in the jaw of the Midgard serpent. The sea monster thrashed and fought, but he could not free himself. And the harder he resisted, the stronger Thor grew.
Thor’s Aesir power culminated until he grew so huge and mighty that his legs went straight through the bottom of the boat and his feet stood on the bottom of the sea.
Thor braced his feet against the sand and pulled and pulled until finally, the Midgard serpent’s head rose above the water. His monstrous red eyes rolled fiercely, his nostrils spouted fire, and his razor-sharp teeth dripped with acrid poison that sizzled as it landed in the water.
Angrily, the serpent and the god glared at each other. Meanwhile, Hymir was hanging onto the boat for dear life as it rapidly filled with water, face pale at the imminent danger threatening him on all sides.
“I’ve got you now, serpent!” Thor roared. He seized his hammer, preparing to cave in the creature’s skull.
But as he swung Mjölnir high for the fatal blow, Hymir cut Thor’s fishing line with his knife. The line snapped and the Midgard serpent sank back into the depths of the ocean amid a whirlpool of foam.
But Thor’s hammer had already left his fingers. It crashed into the serpent’s head as he sank down to his sandy lair. It was a mighty blow that would have killed any ordinary creature. But thanks to Hymir’s envy and fear, the slice of his knife had allowed the serpent to escape, wounded but not dead.
The Midgard serpent, mightily injured, writhed in agony as it sunk beneath the boat. Giant shock waves rolled across the sea. It crashed against the rocks and caused the ocean’s caves to collapse into mere pebbles, seaweed draperies tearing loose and floating to shore in massive throngs. The fishes fled in every direction, and the other sea monsters sought new places to hide as their rocky homes were destroyed.
The waves ran into each other’s arms, trembling. Even the earth shook and shivered.
Hymir cowered low in the sinking fishing boat. He was thankful for one thing: the terrible Midgard serpent had vanished and could no longer eat him alive. And though he the creature still lived, that was the last time anyone saw him. He stayed deep beneath the waves, wounded and humiliated from the blow of Thor’s hammer.
The serpent thwarted and the boat destroyed, it was time for the duo to return home.
Hymir sulked as he swam back to land, sullen and churlish. Thor followed behind with the boat on his shoulders. Filled with water and the two big whales Hymir had caught, he waded ashore and brought the whole load to Hymir’s hall.
Hymir was in a foul mood. He was thoroughly ashamed that Thor had appeared so much braver than him, and he was tired of keeping up the pretense of hospitality toward this unwelcome guest. Hymir was determined to get rid of him. But first, he would put Thor to shame.
And Hymir knew the perfect way to humiliate him.
Shattering the Magic Cup
“My, what a strong fellow you are,” Hymir said loudly. He clapped Thor on one boulderous shoulder. “A great boatman, a brave fisherman, and so good with a hammer you can be none other than the mighty Thor.”
Thor’s chest puffed out proudly.
“However,” Hymir continued, “there is one thing you can’t do.” He pulled a small clay cup from his pocket. “You can’t break this little cup of mine, no matter how hard you try.”
Challenge sparked in Thor’s eyes, and Hymir watched in delighted anticipation as Thor reached for the cup. He knew even Thor’s excessive musculature couldn’t leave a dent in the cup. Its clay was infused with magic, and only one thing in the entire world was hard enough to shatter its mightiness.
Hymir’s giant friends stepped closer to watch as Thor threw the cup at the stone floor with all of his strength. But the cup didn’t break.
An angry flush of embarrassment spread up Thor’s neck as Hymir and his servants laughed in his face, cakcling as if his failure was the funniest thing they’d ever seen.
“Oh, poor luck! Try again, mighty Thor!” Hymir taunted, nearly bursting with vindictive pleasure. Now everyone would see that he, Hymir, was mightier than this overrated visitor from Asgard.
Thor clutched the cup firmly and hurled it against one of the hall’s iron pillars. But instead of breaking, the cup simply bounced back into Hymir’s hand.
The giants roared with laughter, clapping and dancing to the tune of Thor’s failure. And our friend Thor was not pleased! His brow darkened with rage and his gaze crackled dangerously. He knew magic was at work here — he could break that tiny clay cup in his sleep! — but he didn’t know how to outsmart it.
He felt a soft touch to his elbow. The voice of Tŷr’s mother whispered in his ear:
“Throw the cup against Hymir’s own forehead. It is the hardest substance in the world.”
Nobody else heard these helpful words; the other giants were too busy rolling on the floor, cackling at their master’s epic prank.
But now the joke was up. Thor dropped to one knee, snatched the cup, whirled it over his head, and chucked it with his whole heart and soul at Hymir’s hideous forehead.
Hymir froze with surprise. He looked dazed, but his forehead remained unscathed. The cup, however, shattered into a million tiny pieces.
Hymir Offers Another Challenge
“Ah ha ha, well done!” Hymir said hastily, quickly recovering from his shock. Honestly, though, he was mortified. Thor had shown him up yet again, and now he needed to think of a new challenge to undermine Thor’s mighty image.
“Yes, well done, indeed,” Hymir remarked patronizingly. “Now, it’s time for a harder task. Let’s see you try to carry my legendary mead kettle out of the hall. If you can do that, my fine fellow, nobody could deny your strength.”
Thor couldn’t believe his luck. The mead kettle, the very thing he had come for! He glanced at Tŷr and Tŷr’s mother. They both caught the sparkle in his eye. I must not fail! Thor chanted to himself. I must not and will not fail!
“Let me try first,” Tŷr said quickly. He knew Thor needed a moment to rest after the arduous cup-throwing spectacle.
Tŷr strained at the giant kettle, really putting his back into it, tugging and heaving and growing red in the face. The kettle didn’t move so much as an inch. He only gave up when his mother anxiously pulled him away.
Then, it was Thor’s turn. He stepped up to the kettle as the giants watched expectantly. He tightly grasped the kettle’s rim and stamped his feet through the stone floor, bracing for the lift.
One, two, three!
Thor straightened, swinging the kettle to his head, the iron handle clattering near his feet. It was a mighty burden; his muscles felt as though they would burst through his skin, spine tensed with effort.
He staggered towards the door with Tŷr hot on his heels. The giants, quite astonished by Thor’s mighty feat, stared after them with slack jaws. Thor and Tŷr managed to cover a good bit of distance before the giants wisened up and realized, hey, Thor was stealing their master’s prized kettle!
The Fight for the Kettle
The giants roared indignantly, and Tŷr looked back to see a vast crowd of horrid giants swarming from the caerns on Hymir’s land. It was a truly hideous sight, some of the giants sprouting hundreds of heads or gruesome deformities, all of them howling in pursuit.
“You must stop them, Thor, or we’ll never escape with the kettle. They’re closing in fast!” Tŷr gasped.
Thor quickly set down the kettle and drew his wondrous hammer, Mjölnir, from his pocket. Its pristine metal flashed menacingly as Thor swung it over his head. He threw it at Jotunheim with all of his strength. The hammer ruthlessly crushed the heads of countless giants, Hymir and his hideous mother included. Only Tŷr’s lovely mother escaped.
Mjölnir then calmly returned to Thor’s hand, job done.
“Farewell, mother!” Tŷr called, waving to his mother where she stood in the doorway of the great hall. With her husband and wicked mother-in-law out of the picture, she was made a new life of happiness for herself.
Thor and Tyr’s Triumphant Return
“Well done, my friend!” Tŷr cheered. Thor grinned and hefted the kettle above his head once more. They had traveled far and endured surprising dangers, and their mission was now complete.
They took the enormous kettle straight to Aegir’s hall beneath the sea. Time doesn’t pass as quickly beneath the ocean’s waves, so the party was still in full swing when the two mighty traveler’s arrived. The dinner guests cheered and applauded. Now, the celebrations could truly begin!
Aegir used the great kettle to brew enough mead for the gods. The gathering raised a toast to Thor and Tŷr, congratulating them on a successful venture.
“I knew my darling Thor would bring the kettle,” said Sif, smiling proudly upon her brave husband.
“What Thor sets out to do, he always accomplishes,” Odin the Allfather said. And that was praise enough for anyone.