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Norse Hel v. Marvel Hela

You’re a Hela fan?

Click here to check out my fantasy novel with the Norse goddess Hel!

Thor, Loki, Odin – these characters lived in Norse mythology for thousands of years before they became stars in the Marvel universe.

And if you’ve seen Thor: Ragnarok, you might be wondering if badass Goddess of Death Hela comes from Norse myth as well.

(Warning: This post contains spoilers. If you haven’t yet seen Ragnarok, what the heck are you waiting for?)

Thor-Ragnarok-Hela

The answer?

Well, kinda….

Five Differences Between Norse Hel and Marvel’s Hela

1. Daddy Issues?

In Thor: Ragnarok, Hela’s parentage is the biggest, dirtiest secret in the Nine Realms.

River_spoilers

She’s Odin’s firstborn, sister of Thor and Loki (although, you know, he’s adopted). And when Odin could no longer control her, he cast her out of Asgard and literally covered up any record of her existence.

Which left her super happy and well-balanced.

In the Norse myths, Hel is one of three children born to the giantess Angrboda (also known as She-Who-Offers-Sorrow) and Loki.

Hel
Hel (1889) by Johannes Gehrts

Also leaving her super happy and well-balanced.

2. One Scary-Lookin’ Goddess

Hela is pretty intimidating in Thor: Ragnarok. Those horns. That scowl. That eyeliner!

hela is scary

In the Norse myths?

She’s scarier.

The Prose Edda, one of only two surviving primary text we have for the Norse myths, describes Hel as “half light and half dark” and “somewhat downcast and fierce looking.”

800px-Hermod_before_Hela
Hermod before Hela” (1909) by John Charles Dollman.

In some interpretations of Norse mythology, Hel isn’t just half dark and half light.

She’s half living and half dead, which is way scarier (black eyeliner notwithstanding).

3. Goddess of What Now?

“I’m the goddess of death,” Hela growls at Thor in Ragnarok.

She also brags about drowning empires in blood.

Like I said, super happy and well adjusted.

hela-cate-blanchett
Happy, right?

Hel in Norse mythology is a goddess as well, but not of death.

Instead, Hel rules over the inglorious dead in her eponymously-named realm. If you don’t die a glorious death in battle, according to the prose Edda, you end up in Hel.

With Hel.

While the realm of Hel isn’t quite modern-day Hell – no demons, no pitchforks, no eternal torment – it’s usually not described as a very cheerful place. The Edda notes Hel has a feast hall called Hunger, a bed called Sickbed, and a threshold called Stumbling Block.

Sounds fun, right?

4. That Wolf, Yo.

The wolf Hela rides in the hidden ceiling fresco. The wolf who has been waiting, in chains, beneath Odin’s treasure room for centuries.

You know, that wolf.

fenris
That wolf!

Turns out Norse mythology also has a monstrous wolf who plays an important role in Ragnarok.

Fenris, or Fenrir, is another child born of Angerboda and Loki. He’s an enormous wolf who was tricked into chains with a sword thrust between his jaws, and his foaming saliva forms a river. When Ragnarok begins, Fenris will kill (and be killed by) Odin.

So in Marvel, Fenris is Hela’s friend from work.

friend from work

In Norse mythology, Fenris is her brother.

And, no, he’s not adopted.

5. Queen of a Realm

Still, there is some clear common ground between Hela and Hel.

They’re both bad-ass rulers.

Marvel’s Hela is Odin’s first-born child, and the rightful heir of Asgard.

Hel you're in my seat
The lady’s got a point, Thor.

In Norse mythology, Hel is the only woman who rules an entire Realm.

Granted, it’s the realm of the dead, but she still wields real power. When Odin’s son Baldr dies, no one in the Nine Realms – not even Odin himself – can force Hel to return him to the lands of the living.

Baldr
“Each arrow overshot his head” (1902) by Elmer Boyd Smith

And if you’re thinking that sounds like a great set-up for a fantasy romance novel, I totally agree!

hellover-macleod-ebook

Click here to check out my fantasy romance based on the myths of Hel and Baldr.

Hel and Hela: Two badass women who take zero shit.

For more on Norse myth v. Marvel’s universe, check out my posts on Norse v. Marvel Thor, Loki, and Odin.

Like what you’ve read? Join my newsletter and I’ll send you a free copy of Tam Lin, my sexy modern take on the Scottish folktale.

7 thoughts on “Norse Hel v. Marvel Hela Leave a comment

  1. Hela and Fenrir are the two only things which cause the whole movie turning into a sorrow lot. Don’t misjudge me. The movie was great. The humour was great. The rocket engine dragon, Thor’s stupidity, the weird crap going on everywhere. But then there are the Hela scenes, who is Hel in true Norse Mythology. Hela turned from Loki’s youngest and least important child tinto Odin’s eldest and most evil child. I mean, where’s that going? Hela was NOT Hel, she was completely something else. Neither Loki’s nor Odin’s beget, but the spawn of the plotwriters of the movie.
    Hela had no really fun scenes. She had only the foreboding, dark moments, rendered into something that was meant to impress the audience. Well, obviously, it did work on some. In Norse mythology, she was only the ruler of Hel, a death realm. Even in the events in the Voluspa, in Ragnarok, the final battle of the gods, where Hela stood with Surtr and Loki (the evil ones) she had no personally power; her might relied on her endless armies of the dead. She was weaker than Surtr or any fire or frost giant, she was less than her father, Loki, who himself was not truly known for battle skills. Together with her older siblings, Fenrir and Jörmungandr, she formed the trinity of shock troops of the army that opposed the aesir, but it was only her name, her power were the legions of undead. All in all, the filmmakers managed to render one of the most hollow-title goddesses of Norse Mythology into a holy crap badass woman with undeserved hyper-powers, thus completely raping Norse Mythology. Weird, I never heard anyone utter a single “Me2” on that topic.

    At last, then, I will come to the quintessential part of my point of view. Truth, be told, I cold live with Hela, and still enjoy the movie. From the previous Thor movies, I already well knew that filmmakers are wont to rip ancient mythology apart and construct a frankenstein’s monster out of it, but never mind. The problem was Fenrir.
    In the movie, the Fenriswolf (as he is often referred to) is depicted as a wolf of enormous size and strength. The size was about ok. The strength was nothing. He was defeated by an angry little humanoid called Hulk. Shame on the filmmakers! No, truly!
    In Norse mythology, Fenrir managed with strength alone what nobody, no entity in the world could ever dream to achieve: He broke the chains that bound him, Gleipnir, chains that were supossed to (and surely were) indestructible. Gleipnir was a chain specially designed to withstand the otherworldy strength of Fenrir (that the aesir of asgard already saw in him as a pup), an increased in tautness and hardness the more the victim struggled in it. In other words, Gleipnir evolved with the strength of the victim. The stronger the wolf became, the stronger the chain grew, but always a few steps ahead. Thus, it is mad logic to say that Fenrir’s power lunged toward infinity at the dusk of the gods and Ragnarok – but there is no other explanation. A some point, Fenrir’s raw fury outstripped the chain’s strength, and free the fully grown Fenrir now was, virtually exploding out of his chains, endowed with a power in his limbs that knew no limit. Imagine Hulk lvl 10, size the thing up a hundred times, fill it up to the top with pure wrath, give it wolf’s shape, and release it onto the woeful world. I can only say: “Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes” (Brecht) He devoured the sun in the first moments of freedom – but as the battle of Ragnarok had already commenced, he joined the battle at some time. And must have made a serious impact on the tide of battle, too. He slew a LOT of aesir and god knows what else. He raged and wreaked havoc among the aesir, feasting on wholesale slaughter. At some point, Odin arrived, impaled him on his spear Gungnir, the weapon that could never fail. To his woe, Fenrir’s power must have been abominable. Or perhaps Hel helped him a bit in this case. Fenrir survived the mortal wound caused by the divine weapon long enough to devour Odin, until Vidarr emerged and killed Fenrir for sure.
    There surely is no need to recount what a lazy titan lapdog our dear filmmakers have made of Fenrir, there is not the least of his power, his wrath, his terribleness left in him. And then the final humiliation. Hel, his little sickly sister, RIDES ON HIS BACK AS IF HE WERE A HORSE. What a limitless disgrace. And completely senseless.

    My final statement, as I suddenly realise, should be that the filmmakers must have confused Hel with the wolf. Cut Hela out of every scene, silence her voice, smash a big evil wolf’s visage onto the screen, and be done with it. At the end, Fenrir can even ride his little pet sister. And no, I am NOT a supporter of incest. However horrendously ghastly such a version might seem, it has more truth in it than does the actual movie, Thor Ragnarok.

    I hope you can see reasoning behind my judgement, however harsh.

    Good day

    Like

    • Hi Bob,

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

      Yes, the Marvel movie really has very little in common with the Norse myth. However, I have to say I’m ok with that. Marvel never pretended to accurately represent Norse mythology, or they wouldn’t have given Loki the “adopted by Odin, brother of Thor” backstory. Stan Lee was looking for a new character, so he took the names and a few traits from one of the lesser known pantheons – Norse myth. Then he did something totally different with those characters.

      In all fairness, I do the same thing in my fiction, although I tend to stick a bit closer to the myths. Part of the enduring legacy of mythology is that the stories and characters adapt to fit the times. No one has a definitive claim to the “real” character – all those figures are amalgamations of hundred or thousands of years of human experience. We take the stories which resonate with us, then bend them to fit the times.

      For example, I just read a fascinating article about Medusa becoming a figure for women’s empowerment and rage. Is that the “real” Medusa? Well, the myth states the facts (her rape, her transformation into a monster, her death) and society chooses what parts to emphasize. Whether she’s the hero or the villain depends on your point of view.

      But I digress. My main point is that, while Marvel’s treatment of Hel and Fenris didn’t match the myths, it didn’t bother me. Different universe, different characters, same names. In fact, I think Marvel gets people interested in the original myths, which is pretty cool.

      Finally, this is not the cultural moment to make light of rape and #MeToo. Language like that can undercut the efficacy of your argument.

      Take care,
      Samantha

      Liked by 1 person

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