Happy Saturn’s Day
I suppose the imagery of a giant is pretty universal but as we will see there is a controversy about it when it comes to Norse Mythology. Giants are the primary antagonists in most of the stories of the gods in Norse mythology. The frost giants take prominence but there are also other types of giants. Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition’s Monster Manual lists six types of giants – Cloud, Fire, Frost, Hill, Stone and Storm. It might be argued that all of these have some from ideas found in Norse mythology.
But the question starts pretty early as regards if the Norse people actually conceived these giants as ‘giants’. The problem is one of translation and when Christians began to translate the word for ‘giant’ they may have bastardized it by adding the Greek mythology concepts and used the word for ‘giant’ that reflected this change. What you see then is a mutation of the original Norse Idea and the Greek idea of titans.
The original concept in the Norse may simply have been beings that represented the forces of Chaos. When you look at some of the giants you get that – Storm, Fire, Frost, Hills, Stone and Clouds are forces of nature that are both large and powerful. Both needed for survival, but also feared because of their destructive nature at times. The “giants” are simply personification of these forces. They may or may not have been large humanoids to the Norse people. It would make more sense if they were not.
The reason I say it would make more sense if they were not, is the simple fact that the gods and goddesses mate with giants and produce offspring. Sex between two individuals of great difference in size becomes problematic, unless the Norse people didn’t really have the concept of giants being large humanoids but rather simple humanoids that personified certain powerful natural forces. To the Norse people the gods and the giants may simply been the same size just representing on the one hand forces of order and civilization (the gods), and on the other, the raw natural forces of the world (the ‘giants’).
What I am saying is that the whole notion of these ‘giants’ being large humanoid like creatures might be a later addition. This would explain why later writers had to give some of the gods the ability to shape shift and change size. But the original myths may not have had this at all. The my simply have been referring to ‘giants’ as those being who represented the great powers of nature.
To me this makes the parings of some of the gods and giants interesting because it represents symbolically the need for the forces of civilization and humanity, if you will, to sometimes cooperate and draw strength from the chaotic forces of nature. That sometimes the ‘children’ of these paring represent both sides of that equation such as Loki pairings with the giantess that produced Fenrir, Hel, and Jormungandr. All of these Children have their chaotic element but there is also the ability to think and speak beyond the base animal that they represent in the case of Fenrir and Jormungandr. Hel herself is human like but represents that primal force of Death, but also her realm is orderly and well thought out.
It is why in Norse mythology all of the gods and giants are the product of a an original giant. That out of the primal forces of nature came the forces of order and chaos. Both are necessary and both can be in conflict or in love (lust) for each other. To me it speaks of how the Norse people could recognize that; in all things, some necessary things were present. Fire is a primal natural force that is dangerous; but without it, civilization and technology is simply not possible. The earth and hills can be wild and dangerous places; but without the earth we mine and the trees we cut down, we would not have tools or shelter. The mythology reflects this idea of necessary harmony, even tough at times those forces are a threat to each other.
In our world the giants represent much the same. Large chaotic forces that must be fought and overcome. The show up in a lot of places in fantasy mythology. But the idea of being primal natural forces is pretty interesting and we see that too. For me though I prefer if the giants remain as the larger than life humanoids. It just makes the battles more epic. Courage is a necessary thing when facing them. Every movie or book that uses them reflects this. Or on rare occasions we find a giant that is actually gentle who desires to help but his great power can unintentionally cause harm. Thus even when we bend such forces to our will, there is still a danger because of their nature.
All important lessons taught to us through the giants.
The Rabyd Skald – Wandering Soul, Bard and Philosopher. The Grey Wayfarer.