Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor: The Dark World

Loki Solves Your Problems When The Aesir Fail

The Faroe Islands, halfway between Iceland and Norway, an autonomous territory of Denmark, have their own culture with deep roots in seafaring and the literature of the Viking age. One particularly noteworthy product of this culture was a series of ballads (kvæði) that have survived generations beyond the original inspiration. Below is one of the most famous of these ballads, about a boy who is saved from certain death by Loki, of all creatures. Interestingly, the giant in the poem is sometimes identified as Skrymir, and the care Loki takes with the boy might be compared to Thor’s wardship of Thjalfi and Roskva.

Beneath the poem I’ve appended a YouTube video of the ballad by the Faroese metal band Týr. You may wish to follow along to get a feel for the sound of the original Faroese language.

Loki’s Tale

Original author unknown, translated by Kiyo with assistance from Anker Eli Petersen

1. A peasant and a giant [held] a match,
The giant won and the peasant lost.

Refrain:

{What avails me this harp †1R
That is under my hand,
Will no stalwart man follow me
To another land?

2. “I have fulfilled my [end of the] bargain,
Now I will have your son.

3. I will have the son of yours
You’ll not conceal him from me.”

4. The peasant said to his lad:
“Bid Odin†4 to step in for me.”

5. “Summon now Odin the Asa-king†5
Who can guard him, hid away for long.

6. “I wish Odin wert right here,
And knew where to hide the boy!”

7. Ere he hath said the word,
There stood Odin before the table.

8. “Hark thou Odin, I bid to thee,
Thou shalt hide mine son for me!”

9. Odin fared off with the boy,
The wife and the peasant were woebegone.

10. Odin commanded a field of crop,
To grow tall after scarce one night,

11. Odin commanded the boy become
A single ear among the crop.

12. A single ear among all the crop,
A barley-grain amid one ear.

13. “Lie in there, do not pain,
When I should hail, come to me!

14. Lie in there, don’t you fear
When I should hail, come hither out!”

15. The giant†15 has a heart as hard as horn,
He grasps by the armful at the corn.

16. He now grasps the corn in his sight,
Bearing a biting sword in hand

17. And bearing a biting sword in hand
He sets out to mow the boy down.

18. Then was the boy affrighted,
The barley-corn squirmed out of the fist.

19. Then was the boy overcome with pain
Odin hailed unto him.

20. Odin fared with the boy back home
The peasant and his wife gave them embrace.

21. “Here I have the young son of yours,
Now I am done with hiding him.”

22. The peasant said to his boy:
“Bid Hønir†22 to step in for me!”

23. “I wish Hønir wert right here,
And knew where to hide the boy!”

24. Ere he had said the word,
There stood Hønir before the table.

25. “Harken Hønir, I bid to thee
Thou shall hide mine son for me!”

26. Hønir went off with the boy,
The wife and the peasant were woebegone.

27. Hønir went over the green ground,
Seven swans flew across the sound.

28. Eastward flew two swans
They alighted beside Hønir.

29. Hønir commanded now the boy to become
A single feather in the head of the swan.

30. “Lie in there, do not pain,
When I call you, come out to me!

31. Lie in there, don’t you fear,
When I call you, come hither out!

32. The monster went over the green ground,
Seven swans flew across the sound.

33. The giant dropt down on his knees
And grabbed the swan at the forefront.

34. He took a bite out of the forefront swan,
Gashing its throat down to the shoulder.

35. Then was the boy turned affright,
A feather slipped out of the giant’s clutches.

36. Then was the boy overcome with pain,
Hønir hailed unto him.

37. Hønir fared with the boy back homeward,
The wife and the peasant gave them embrace.

38. “Here I have the young son of yours,
Now I am done hiding him.

39. The peasant said to his lad:
“Bid Lokki step in for me!”

40. “I wish Lokki wert right here,
And knew where to hide the boy!”

41. Ere he said the word,
There stood Lokki before the table.

42. “Thou canst but imagine my dire need,
The monster means to have my son dead.

43. Harken, thou Lokki, I bid to thee,
Thou shall hide mine son for me!

44. Hide him so good, as well as you can,
So the lad can never captured be!”

45. “If I am to hide your son,
You must do my bidding!

46. You shall build a boathouse,
While I am gone away.

47. You shall cut out a window wide,
And bar it with an iron rod!

48. Lokki fared off with the boy,
The wife and the peasant were woebegone.

49. Lokki appears over the strand,
With a skiff ashore by the land.

50. Lokki rows out to the remotest fishing banks†50
That was told in the lore of yore.

51. Lokki utters not another word,
He casts the hook and sinker overboard.

52. He casts the hook and sinker overboard
And anon hauls in a halibut(helliflounder).†52

53. He hauls in one, he hauls in two,
The third had a blackish hue.

54. Lokki commands now the boy become,
An egg-grain in the halibut(helliflounder)’s roe.

55. “Lie in there, do not pain,
When I call you, come out to me!

56. Lie in there, don’t you fear,
When I call you, come out hither!”

57. Lokki now rows back towards land,
The giant awaiting in the sand.

58. The giant asked him straightaway:
“Lokki, where have you been tonight?”

59. “Little peace had I,
For I sailed and fared all over the sea.”

60. The giant rushes for the iron skiff,
Lokki shouts: “The waves are bad”.

61. Lokki speaks, and here’s what he said:
“Giant, let me tag along.”

62. The giant took the tiller by the hand
Lokki now rowed away from land.

63. Lokki rows a good long ways,
But the iron skiff doesn’t budge a bit,

64. Lokki swears by the truth,
“I can steer one better than you.”

65. The giant then takes the oars,
The iron skiff sped over the sea.

66. The giant rows a good long ways,
Nigh did Lokki to the sternpost stay.

67. The giant rows out to the remotest fishing banks,
That was told in the lore of yore.

68. The giant utters not another word,
He casts the hook and sinker overboard

69. He casts the hook and sinker overboard
And anon did catch a halibut(helliflounder)*.

70. He hauls in one, he hauls in two,
The third was of blackish hue.

71. Lokki swears by his faith,
“Giant, let me have the fish.”

72. The giant replies and nay says he,
“No, my Lokki, you shan’t have it.”

73. He put the fish between his knees,
And counted each egg in the roe.

74. He counted each egg in the roe.
He meant to catch the boy.

75. Then was the boy turned affright,
And an egg leapt out of the hand.

76. Then was the boy overcome with pain,
Lokki hailed unto him

77. “Sit yourself behind me,
Let not the giant see you.

78. You must leap lithely upon the land,
Do not leave a track in the sand!”

79. The giant then rows back to land.
Straight into the white sand.

80. The giant rows onto land,
Lokki turns ’round the iron skiff.

81. The giant runs the sternpost aground on land,
The boy leaps lithely upon the land.

82. The giant gave gaze to the land,
There stood the boy on the sand.

83. The boy leapt so lithely on to land,
He left no track upon the sand.

84. The giant leapt heftily on to shore,
Sinking knee-deep in the sand,

85. The boy scurries away as best as he could,
Scurries right through his father’s boathouse.

86. He scurries right through his father’s boathouse,
The giant, after him in hot pursuit.

87. The giant gets himself stuck in the window,
Smashing his head on the iron bar.

88. Loki then did not bide,
He struck off one of the giant’s shins.

89. To giant was rather amused by this,
The wound mended back to whole again.

90. Loki then did not bide, He struck off giant’s other shin.

91. He struck off the giant’s other shin.
And tossed in-between, a stick and stone. †91

92. To the boy was rather amused by this,
Watching the giant sundered to pieces altogether.

93. Lokki fared with the boy back homeward,
The wife and the peasant gave them embrace.

94. “Here I have the young son of yours,
Now I am done with hiding him.

95. I’ve kept my words to you,
Now the giant has lost his life.”

Translators note on origins:

* A Faroese Ballad. The Hammershaimb collection originally issued in 1846 or 1851[?] was the first Faroese edition to be published. This statement needs to be qualified. Serious collection of the ballads began around the late 18c. Jens Kristian Svabo collected some 52 during his visit to the islands in 1781-2, and though these were committed to writing, and entered the royal collection, they were never published. Others took up the cause of ballad-collecting. It was the collection of ballads gathered by Lyngbye (who was Danish pastor and an expert on marine algae) that was the first to be published in book form (1822). However, he did not know the Faroese language, and his transcription of them were often phonetic, often idiosyncratic. Corrections had to be made on them by Faroese learned men; thus the first collection of authority (transcribed in normalized orthography) was the Hammershaimb edition.

Footnotes

†1R *Refrain: what avails me..— Even though hvat skal literally reads “what shall”, it means “to what end,” “for what use,” or “why”.
†5 *Odin— In Faroese Óðin is pronounced “oh·vin”, the phonetic representation Ouvin (gen. Ouvans, acc. Ouvan) is used by the early ballad-collector H.C. Lyngbye, and is also recorded by Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology.
†5 *Asa-King,— i.e. the king of the Æsir deities.
†15 *giant— note that it reads Risin in the Hammershaimb version but Skrujmsli [=Skrymsli] in the Lyngbye version.
†5 *Hønir— or Hoenir is another name of Vili. Odin, Vili, and Ve were three brothers responsible for creating the first humans, Ask and Embla (a man and a woman, and their names meaning “ash” and “elm” respectively). I think the Icelandic form is Hœnir (“oe-ligature”) even though Hænir (“ae-ligature”) is used in most e-texts. The character is mentioned in Völuspá, str. 18. The trio of deities who are summoned in this ballad are also the tree who are travelling together when they slay Otr and are forced to pay the wergeld in the Volsunga saga.
†50 *fishing bank— Faroese klakkur, glossed in the Young-Clewer dictionary as “1) .. pack saddle’s .. projecting [end] , 2) protruding or projecting rock, 3) shoal or shallow in the sea, fishing bank; ..”But George Borrow (Works vol. 8 p. 214) treated this as “the Klak”, presumably a named geographical location.
†52 *halibut—Though the Faroese name of the fish is flundr, this translates to “halibut” (not “flounder”). (cf. Faroese Fisheries Laboratory’s polyglot fish name list.) H. A. Guerber, wrote a short story “Skrymsli and the Peasant’s Child” based almost entirely on this ballad, and in it he translates the fish as “flounder”.
†87 *iron bar — Far. jarnkelvi (OIc. járn- “iron” + kylfa “club”). It was most difficult for me to comprehend what was happening here, until Anker Eli Petersen sent me his rough translation. In str. 47, Loki dictates the farmer to make a window and set an “iron bar” in it. Since the boy is of much smaller stature, he can run through this barred window without problem. But the giant who comes running doesn’t quite fit through, and bangs his head so hard that it is “brast” (or broken). It is revealed in the following stanzas that the monster has regenerative powers, and one might surmise that even a smashed head is hardly a lethal blow to it.
†91 A similar charm is used in the Thidrekssaga to prevent a dwarf (or dwarves) from coming back to life.

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