The Duel between Thor and Hrungnir


By Jackson Crawford, University of Colorado, Boulder

The Norse myths are largely the account of the rivalry between two great sides of a family of powerful supernatural beings, the gods and the ‘anti-gods’. The myths tell about their fighting from the beginning of time to its end. One of the stories is about how the god Odin got his son Thor into a duel with the strongest anti-god of all, Hrungnir.

An illustration of the Norse god Odin with two crows sitting on each of his shoulder.
Odin was not a god who would always keep his word. (Image: Kalleeck/Shutterstock)

Hrungnir: The Anti-god

One time, the god Odin rode into the lands of the gods’ enemies. He came to the home of an anti-god named Hrungnir, who was made of stone. Hrungnir complimented Odin on his outstanding eight-legged stallion, Sleipnir. The horse was supposed to be extra fast because of the doubled legs. In response to Hrungnir’s compliment, Odin said that he was willing to bet his own head that no one there among the anti-gods had a finer horse than he had.

Hrungnir then introduced his own horse, named Goldmane. At this point, no doubt with the golden mane of this horse shining brilliantly in the breeze, Odin realized that he had lost his bet, and would have to forfeit his head. However, Odin was not a god who would always keep his word, so rather than lose his head over his bet, he started riding back home in a hurry.

But Odin was followed closely by Hrungnir, riding Goldmane. Hrungnir rode right in through the gates of the gods’ enclosure, right behind Odin.

Now that Hrungnir was within the homeland of the gods, the gods’ own customs dictated that they had no choice but to treat him hospitably.

The Great Thor

Hrungnir was served as much to drink as he wanted out of the huge drinking horns that Thor was used to drinking from. He soon got drunk and boastful, and bragged that he would uproot Odin’s own hall, Valhalla, and take it home with him. He even bragged that he would kill all the gods except for two goddesses, Freyja and Sif.

Thor arrived as Hrungnir’s threats continued. He was furious to see an enemy of the gods drinking inside the gods’ own feasting hall, being served from his own drinking horns by a goddess.

Hrungnir was amused at Thor’s anger and said that Thor’s own father, Odin, had invited him in to drink. Thor threatened Hrungnir with his hammer, but the crafty anti-god asked if Thor would really be so honorless as to strike an unarmed opponent within the gods’ own enclosure.

Instead, Hrungnir challenged Thor to a duel at the border between the gods’ homes and those of the anti-gods. The bold Thor agreed to face Hrungnir at the appointed place and time.

Hrungnir returned home to the adulation of his fellows, who celebrated him for being the first to challenge the great Thor to a duel.

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The Collapse of Hrungnir

On the day of the duel, lightning struck and thunder rolled as Thor made his dramatic appearance. (This was the only occasion in any story from Norse mythology when the god named for thunder was associated with thunder.)

Thor threw his hammer with all his might at his stone-headed enemy. Hrungnir, in turn, threw his heavy whetstone at Thor. The two weapons met in mid-air, with the hammer smashing the stone into a cloud of pieces.

The hammer, however, kept traveling and hit the anti-god directly in the middle of his head, killing him. In the battle, a fragment of Hrungnir’s whetstone got lodged in Thor’s own brain. Moreover, as the stone-bodied anti-god collapsed, one heavy leg fell over Thor and pinned him down where he could not move.

Magni, Thor’s Son

Because Hrungnir was made of stone, he was so heavy that no one, including the mighty Thor, could pull the leg off of Thor. That is, until Thor’s own son, named Magni, came forward. This son’s mother was one of the anti-goddesses, and it was only Magni who had enough strength to lift the stone leg off of his pinned-down father.

Gods’ and heroes’ children are often improbably young when they perform their first great deeds, and Thor’s boy Magni was only three nights old on this occasion.

After Magni pulled the leg off Thor, he bragged to his father that he surely would have defeated this stone being with only his mighty baby fists.

Thor was so impressed with his illegitimate son’s strength and braggadocio that he gave him the fantastic horse Goldmane from his slain enemy.

An image of Odin riding his eight-legged stallion.
Odin’s mother was an anti-god. (Image: Liliya Butenko/Shutterstock)

However, Thor’s reward to Magni angered Odin, who wanted to own the great horse that started all this. Odin berated Thor for giving such a special gift to the child of an anti-god rather than to Thor’s own divine father.

However, this was self-serving nonsense, given that both Thor and Odin were themselves the sons of anti-god mothers as well.

Shrapnel in Thor’s Head

Thor returned home with the piece of shrapnel still embedded in his head. The gods summoned a witch to come help him with her healing magic. She began to sing spells over Thor’s head, where the embedded piece of whetstone soon began to loosen.

As Thor felt the stone near to coming out, he decided to reward the witch with some good news. He told her that he had gone traveling with her long-absent husband, and that her husband would be coming home soon.

Unfortunately, the tale made the witch so excited that she forgot the rest of her spell, and the piece of whetstone sank back into Thor’s head, remaining there forever after.

This is a good example of a trope in myths, seen time and time again, that there is only one opportunity to do any given thing. Since the healing failed on this one occasion, there were no further opportunities for healing and so Thor was forever injured.

This brief narrative shows the relations between gods and anti-gods as far more complicated than simple antagonism. The anti-gods were thus not only the enemies, but also the lovers, parents, and guests of the gods.

Common Questions about The Duel between God Thor and Anti-god Hrungnir

Q: Who was Sleipnir?

Sleipnir was god Odin‘s outstanding eight-legged stallion. The horse was supposed to be extra fast because of the doubled legs.

Q: What did Hrungnir challenge Thor to do?

Hrungnir challenged Thor to a duel at the border between the gods’ homes and those of the anti-gods. The bold Thor agreed to face Hrungnir at the appointed place and time.

Q: What was Thor’s reward to Magni?

Thor was so impressed with Magni’s strength and braggadocio that he gave him Hrungnir’s horse Goldmane as a reward.

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