“He sent you to talk to me today,” he says, tossing his crimson mane and cracking his knuckles. He is huge, thick necked, bursting out of his leathers and pelts. “And talk to me you shall!” He swings a great hammer up onto his shoulder, its bulk swishing through the air like a feather. “Come on then, walk with me boy!” Silent, I fall in beside him, almost scampering to keep up.
“You have to understand, kiddo,” he rumbles, “that my power does not come from my muscles, or from eating so many beasts’ hearts and livers (though my kingly diet hardly hurts my cause!). Its root lies not in the primeval blood of my mother, Earth, nor in the patrician fury of my father (himself born in part of mighty giant stock).” It is hard to focus on his words; his stumping stride makes the ground shake, and he tosses boulders from his path like so many grains of cat litter.
We stop, suddenly, atop a cliff, looking out over vast forests, distant mountains of resplendent white. He sucks in tremendous gulps of air, beats his chest. “This is the air that a god deserves!” he shouts, and his eyes sparkle.
“Fresh air, my boy. There is no substitute for it. Fresh air and good humor. Good humor!” His words dissolve into guffaws. “When the air is freshest is when it tastes of ozone and rain, and black clouds, and clashing light and sound! Where some tremble, I cannot imbibe enough!”
Then he is silent, lips thin and carved from stone, for the sky is yet clear, pale blue, rarefied. His voice softens, as if following suit. “I laugh when I say this, but I do not joke. Good humor has no substitute. Good humor, boy. Laughter is the spring from which my power rushes. Laughter can forge mountains and level them, carve river valleys and flood them, birth stars and consume them in a trice. Without laughter I am nothing; laughter is the only thing I am.”
He thrusts a finger in my chest; I am driven forcefully to my ass, a dull ache shooting up my tail. “Don’t forget,” he admonishes fiercely. “Laughter is the greatest love, fury, and force in the universe. There is nothing that is not mirth, lad, and my spirit is the distilled essence of exuberance!”
I have always suspected it might be true. Even Thor’s violence emerges from boisterous celebration of life, not from malice. The brutality of Woden triumphant on the field, that insouciant will to slaughter: this is not Thor’s nature.
No. Thor is superabundance without limit. Confronted with armor, fear, hatred, the grime of miserliness (for surely such is the mean spirit of those he cannot abide), he cannot help but wish to liberate his enemies of their ugliness. He is a heavy handed masseur, not a boorish bully. Every knot of rigidity that he dissolves releases torrents of life into the world, like a kinked hose that is suddenly, violently, straightened.
And therein lies the heart of his friendship with Loki. Oh, the hiss of the anti-Loki brigade! But none can deny that Thor and Loki are boon traveling companions, for so our myths assure us. Two different expressions of the power of laughter, polar opposites that contain a seed of one another. It is just as necessary that they be sworn foes at the end of time as intimate comrades earlier on. Laughter knows no boundary; these are forged by the brittle clutches of seriousness.
Seriousness – that empty armor of lies and madness. That willingness to bind up the world in limitations, abstractions, supposedly moral injunctions. That addiction to the entrapments and blandishments of corporeal power, which is to say, power won not through the good faith of laughter but the poison tongue of the spirit of gravity. Perhaps here lies Loki’s fall – who could cling to their sense of humor after an age on the rock, the snake perched above, roped in the guts of their son?
The power won through seriousness is a brittle illusion, made to shatter, and the price paid for it is too high. It is always too high. But there are always fools willing to delude themselves into thinking otherwise. Eventually they turn to stone and arrogance, and as Thor demonstrated in his duel with Hrungir, the Thunder God is more than adept at breaking heads that have become too big for their bodies.
“Don’t forget it,” he says again. “You cannot get anywhere without laughter as your companion. That’s why I love these high altitudes – high spirits fly about the summits of the teeth of the world! We are natural siblings and companions.” He swings his hammer, that potent symbol of fecundity, of new life and pumping vigor.
“Laughter, little one, laughter! Who do the dour vultures of the halls of power hate the most? The servants of mockery and lampoon! Those that clutch at the illusion called “control” cannot bear to have the skins of their bad consciences pricked. And am I not a thorny god?”
The lesson is ended like that, abruptly and completely. I open my eyes and gaze at the predawn light outside. I see that it is good.