Some of the most fun reading I’ve done so far in 2018 is Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. I absolutely loved the way Gaiman rendered the fun and danger of the adventures of the Norse gods. And as a Tolkien fan who’d had little exposure to the Norse myths, I was tickled to see the origin of the characters and special powers of the elves and dwarves. In particular the story of how Thor got his hammer was a great example of the craftsmen dwarves, their artisanship and their endearing blend of greed and work ethic.
The origin of Mjollnir, Thor’s lightning hammer, starts much like a recurring nightmare I’ve had most of my life: Thor’s pretty wife, Sif, wakes up to find herself bald. Hair razed and gone for good, thanks to the trickster, Loki. When I imagine her shock at the sudden and unexpected transformation of her appearance, I feel for her in my gut.
But luckily Sif is a goddess, not a mortal. And she’s a well-connected goddess. In order to avoid Thor’s wrath, Loki promises to obtain new hair for Sif, hair that will make her prettier than ever.
Where to get such locks? The dwarves, of course.
The dwarves are true craftsmen, and they’re not just makers of beautiful objects, they dream up and turn into reality the magical artifacts that populate the mythological universe. They’re the unsung heroes who give the big players some of their biggest powers. They’re like the patron saints of today’s makers.
While Loki is hanging out with the dwarves, he gets to see them solve Sif’s baldness problem and create other wonders, as well, such as a magical ship that can fold up small enough to put in your pocket.
I want one of those.
Loki, being Loki, tries to stir up more trouble and more magical item innovation. But he’s got to get the dwarves to work for free. He bets his own head in a match to pit a couple dwarves into outdoing the magical hair and the nifty folding ship created by their rivals. The dwarves, proud of their craft and greedy for both fame and fortune, fire up the forge and get to work.
The myth goes into detail about how Loki turns himself into a stinging fly and tries to derail the expert work of the dwarves. But the thing is, these short, strong artisans will produce marvels even under the most dire of circumstances. Thor’s hammer is created under such duress, Brokkr’s eyes are blinded with blood by the time Loki is through with him. Thanks to being blind, the handle of the hammer is shorter than it should be, so Loki gets Mjollnir for free to appease Thor and gets to and keep his head…
…well…there’s a little more to the story than that. If you’re interested, I highly recommend checking out Gaiman’s Norse Mythology!