The Dragons of Norse Mythology
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
As a kickoff for #Norsevember (a month-long ode to all things Norse started by our blogger friend Alex of Spells and Spaceships), I'm going to delve into the Norse lore of one of my favorite fantasy creatures: the dragon.
Nidhogg (The Corpse Gnawer/Sucker)
Nidhogg (roughly translated to The Corpse Gnawer or Corpse Sucker) is the dragon said to live under the great tree Yggdrasill, the axis of all the worlds that make up Norse mythology. This tree nourishes all life in the Norse worlds, and the dark dragon Nidhogg munches on its roots in the meantime, feeding from both the tree and the corpses that make their way down there.
Interestingly, between nomming dead stuff, Nidhogg likes to taunt an eagle who perches on the highest bough of Yggdrasill. Since Nidhogg is a bit lazy, he sends these insults via squirrel mail. The squirrel Ratatosk, perhaps for fear of being eaten or his own boredom, bounds his squirrelly way up and down the tree delivering snarky comebacks between the two.
At the end of the world (Ragnarok), it is said Nidhogg will be among those to survive the fire and flood, and shall continue to nom tasty dead things for eternity. Yum!
Jormungandr (also Jormungand)
Ah, the timeless foe of Thor, son of Odin: the world serpent. The ocean of Midgard (earth) was said to be endless, and I'm sure it appeared so to early Icelandic tribes. At the bottom of this ocean lies Jormungandr, a beast so large that it curls its snaky body around all of Midgard, where it completes its circle by chomping on its tail.
Sounds like a certain Ouroboros, no?
Mm, slurpy tail.
Jormungandr is one of Loki's three children with the giantess Angrboda, the other two being Fenrir (a giant wolf god who shall one day get so chonky and hangry, he will eat the world) and a daughter Hel, an underworld goddess from whom the Christian Hell is derived.
The other gods, not being keen on having the trickster god and giantess's kids running around, decided to trap all three. Jormungandr's fate was to be tossed into the ocean by Odin, where he grew so large that he was able to cuddle the earth and have his own tail for breakfast.
Thor has a long history of shenanigans with the sea serpent, from Loki tricking Thor into seeing Jormungandr as a cat that Thor was tasked with lifting off the ground (and almost succeeded, to Loki's surprise), to Thor accidentally fishing the serpent out of the ocean and bashing it upside the head with his hammer, to Thor being destined to slay the mighty beast at Ragnarok (only to fall prey to its venom shortly thereafter).
Beginning as a shapeshifting man, Fafnir was the son of the magician Hreidmar and brother to Regin and Otter. Otter, as it so happens, was a literal otter. He was a shapeshifter who took the form of the water weasel by day.
The gods Odin, Loki, and Honir were travelling when they came upon Otter. Loki stoned him to use as a meal, and the three gods visited Hreidmar and his family for a place to pass the night. Hreidmar noticed the otter and initially planned to kill the gods, but Odin begged to pay the ransom (otherwise known as wergild, "man gold") for the offense.
Loki returned with gold he'd shaken a dwarf down for, but not without the dwarf cursing the gold. After paying the family with the cursed gold, the three gods escaped.
However, greedy Fafnir wanted all the Otter gold for himself, so he transformed into a dragon and made off with it to a lair in Gnita Heath. Here, he guarded his hoard for years until the warrior hero Sigurd, adopted son of Regin, fought and slayed Fafnir.
Okay, okay, I know. He's not Norse and he's not a part of their mythology. But as a dragon in a Viking-inspired world, how could I not include him? I mean, look at that face!
The detailed dragon lore in How to Train Your Dragon is at least worth an honorable mention. Toothless might not be a corpse-munching shadow serpent, but he is a Night Fury—the most deadly, mysterious creature known to Berk. Also, one of the most intelligent.
Don't worry, my Norse-loving friends. You'll be seeing plenty of How to Train Your Dragon love, amongst other things.
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