In Old Norse myths, one major recurring theme is the opposition between the Gods, together with their human progenies, against the Jötnar, Þursar, Rísar and Trolls, the giant-kind.
Throughout the numerous Pagan poems of the Poetic Edda as well as in quite a few Medieval sagas, we hear about giants and their mystical homelands (Jøtunheim, Rísaland, Ymísland), which are often said to be located near the borders of Northern-Norway. When these mighty creatures are not said to give saga-heroes a hard-time in battle, they are generally described interacting with the Gods. In some cases, the two groups get along well-enough to exchange information, items, and be courteous with each other, but in some cases, their relationship can sour to the point of war.
In Hímiskviða, for example, we learn, surprisingly enough, that the father of the noble God Týr was a giant himself, who is requested by the Gods to lend them his massive cauldron so that they may organize a (literally) gigantic banquet. In the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, it is this time a giantess, Skaði, who enters the fold of the Gods as she marries the God of the Sea Njörðr. Yet, this very marriage was actually arranged in order to compensate the giantess, who had lost her father in a battle against the Gods themselves…Truly, the relationship between the Gods and the giants is rocky to say the least, and said to one day lead to no-less than the full-blown destruction of the world
In the famous Eddic poem Völuspá, an unnamed seeress describes her visions of apocalyptic nightmares in which the world ends as the giants attack and successfully destroy the world. Lead by both the half-God/ half-giant Loki and Surtr (“the blackened one” in Old Norse), the fire-giant of the underworld, the giants will reach Asgard, the kingdom of the Gods, by climbing the Northern Lights bridge, Bivrost that they will set alight in the process. This cataclysmic event, Ragnarok, will end with Surtur’s flaming sword turning the world to cinder, from which another world will rise.
It is never said if any giants will be able to survive the burning of Bivrost and the world, but a handful of Gods and humans will. Yet, knowing how the Gods seem to never be able to get into trouble with their gigantic neighbors, one could say that as long as Gods and human are around, they’ll surely manage running into a giant, eventually.
- (1) Larrington, Carolyne. (1996). The Poetic Edda. Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics.
- (2) Snorri Sturluson. (1987). Edda (Anthony Faulkes Trans.). London: J.M. Dent.
- (I) Engelhard, Friedrich Wilhel (1867). The Edda Frieze