“Sun Shines in the Hall” by W.G. Collingwood, in The Elder or Poetic Edda; commonly known as Sæmund’s Edda. Edited and translated with introduction and notes by Olive Bray, published in 1908. This illustration appears on page 25.
This image depicts the events of the final stanza of Alvíssmál, one of many poems that make up the Poetic Edda, a collection that is a prominent source of our knowledge of Norse and Germanic mythology. Alvíssmál is one of the few sources in which Thor defeats a foe by cunning rather than by skill in battle. On the left is the dwarf Alvis, turned to stone following Thor’s trickery. On the right is Thor, and between them is Thor’s daughter Þrúðr.
In Alvíssmál, the eponymous dwarf Alvis (it means “all-knowing”, so it might not actually be his name, but we’ll treat it as if that were the author’s intent), has come to Thor’s home seeking Thor’s daughter in marriage. It seems the other gods had promised Þrúðr (who is unnamed in the poem, but is Thor’s only known daughter) to Alvis while Thor was traveling.
Thor refuses Alvis’s claim to Thrud, believing he has more right to decide his daughter’s fate than the other gods. Alvis presses his claim, at first not realizing that Thrud’s father is Thor himself. But once Thor provides his name and lineage, Alvis asks how he might win the god’s favor.
Thor challenges Alvis to prove his wisdom. Through a series of questions, he gets Alvis to translate a series of items from their common names into how they are described amongst the various races of the nine realms of the Norse cosmology. Here’s a sample of two stanzas, showing Thor’s interrogation and Alvis’s response (Henry Adams Bellows translation, 1936):
11. “Answer me, Alvis! | thou knowest all,
Dwarf, of the doom of men:
What call they the heaven, | beheld of the high one,
In each and every world?”
12. “‘Heaven’ men call it, | ‘The Height’ the gods,
The Wanes ‘The Weaver of Winds’;
Giants ‘The Up-World,’ | elves ‘The Fair-Roof,’
The dwarfs ‘The Dripping Hall.'”
While these translations may be illuminating to the reader, to help provide insight into the Aesir (Thor’s race of gods), the Vanir (Freyr and Freyja’s race of gods), the dwarfs, and so on, Thor (“the wanderer”, stanza 6) needed no such instruction. Instead, his goal was laid bare at the end of the poem, as the morning light shined down upon Alvis.
The dwarf, who like all dwarfs had spent his entire life underground, was turned to stone by the break of dawn at Thor’s dwelling. And thus the illustration by Collingswood, showing Thor and Thrud just after Alvis has turned to stone.