Marvel has now confirmed that Cate Blanchett will be playing Hela, the comics variation on the daughter of Loki (this lineage is likely apocryphal, and since it’s inconvenient for Marvel, they usually avoid it) who rules over Helheim, the frozen land of the dead that lies beneath the world tree Yggdrasil.
“Hela” is only attested as Hel in the literature. Here’s an example from Voluspa, speaking of Ragnarok itself, not Marvel’s version but the one Odin feared:
43. Then to the gods | crowed Gollinkambi,
He wakes the heroes | in Othin’s hall;
And beneath the earth | does another crow,
The rust-red bird | at the bars of Hel.
44. Now Garm howls loud | before Gnipahellir,
The fetters will burst, | and the wolf run free;
Much do I know, | and more can see
Of the fate of the gods, | the mighty in fight.
And just a bit later in Voluspa:
51. O’er the sea from the north | there sails a ship
With the people of Hel, | at the helm stands Loki;
After the wolf | do wild men follow,
And with them the brother | of Byleist goes.
52. Surt fares from the south | with the scourge of branches,
The sun of the battle-gods | shone from his sword;
The crags are sundered, | the giant-women sink,
The dead throng Hel-way, | and heaven is cloven.
While that reference is more about the dead themselves, clearly their hostess has made these people, who once surely loved their gods, choose to battle the gods on Loki’s side rather than alongside Odin and Thor?
You may also remember Hel(a) from her role in the death and eventual resurrection of Baldr. After the bright Baldr dies, Frigga sends Odin’s son Hermod to Hel to beg her to return his son, and she agrees, but with a condition. Loki thwarts this plan. From Gylfaginning of the Prose Edda:
Now when the gods had come to themselves, Frigg spake, and asked who there might be among the Æsir who would fain have for his own all her love and favor: let him ride the road to Hel, and seek if he may find Baldr, and offer Hel a ransom if she will let Baldr come home to Ásgard. And he is named Hermódr the Bold, Odin’s son, who undertook that embassy. Then Sleipnir was taken, Odin’s steed, and led forward; and Hermódr mounted on that horse and galloped off.
Now this is to be told concerning Hermódr, that he rode nine nights through dark dales and deep, so that he saw not before he was come to the river Gjöll and rode onto the Gjöll-Bridge; which bridge is thatched with glittering gold….
Then Hermódr rode home to the hall and dismounted from his steed, went into the hall, and saw sitting there in the high-seat Baldr, his brother; and Hermódr tarried there overnight. At morn Hermódr prayed Hel that Baldr might ride home with him, and told her how great weeping was among the Æsir. But Hel said that in this wise it should be put to the test, whether Baldr were so all-beloved as had been said: ‘If all things in the world, quick and dead, weep for him, then he shall go back to the Æsir; but he shall remain with Hel if any gainsay it or will not weep.’
Loki took the form of a giantess named Thökk, and refused to weep, thus preventing Baldr’s return to Asgard. Baldr was eventually resurrected following Ragnarok, as one of the key gods reforming the cosmos after flood and fire cleansed the realms. Perhaps it’s worth noting that by preventing his departure, Hel left a major god in reserve to lead the pantheon after so many died.
Hela of the films, of course, need not be identical to Hela of the comics, nor to Hel of mythology. But she will undoubtedly be a powerful player in the films’ version of the fate of the gods.