Page 37 of Norse Mythology

Aegir knew well that the gods had no such cauldron. And without the cauldron, he did not have to give the feast.

Thor asked the other gods for advice, but each god he asked was of the opinion that such a cauldron did not exist. Finally he asked Tyr, god of battle, god of war. Tyr scratched his chin with his left hand, which was his only hand. “On the edge of the world sea,” he said, “lives the giant king Hymir. He owns a cauldron three miles deep. It’s the biggest cauldron there has ever been.”

“Can you be sure?” asked Thor.

Tyr nodded. “Hymir is my stepfather. He is married to my mother,” he said. “She is a giant. I have seen the great cauldron with my own eyes. And as my mother’s son, I will be welcome in Hymir’s hall.”

Tyr and Thor climbed into Thor’s chariot, pulled by the goats Snarler and Grinder, and swiftly they traveled to Hymir’s enormous fortress. Thor tied the goats to a tree, and the two made their way inside.

There was a giantess in the kitchen, cutting up onions as big as boulders and cabbages the size of boats. Thor could not help staring: the old woman had nine hundred heads, each head uglier and more terrifying than the last. He took a step backward. If Tyr was disturbed, he did not show it. Tyr called out, “Greetings, Grandmother. We are here to see if we can borrow Hymir’s cauldron to brew our beer.”

“Such tiny things! I thought you were mice,” said Tyr’s grandmother, and when she spoke it sounded like a crowd of people shouting. “You do not want to talk to me, Grandson. You should talk to your mother.”

She called out, “We have guests! Your son is here, with a friend,” and in moments another giantess walked in. This was Hymir’s wife, Tyr’s mother. She was dressed in golden cloth, and she was as beautiful as her mother-in-law was alarming; she carried two of the tiniest giant thimbles, which she had filled with beer. Thor and Tyr gripped the thimbles, which were the size of buckets, and they drank the beer with enthusiasm.

It was excellent beer.

The giantess asked Thor his name. Thor was about to tell her, but before he could speak Tyr said, “His name is Veor, Mother. He’s my friend. And an enemy of the enemies of Hymir and the giants.”

They heard a distant rumbling, like thunder on the peaks, or mountains crumbling, or huge waves crashing to shore, and the earth shook with each rumble.

“My husband is coming home,” said the giantess. “I hear his gentle footsteps in the distance.”

The rumbling became more distinct and seemed to be coming rapidly closer.

“My husband is often bad-tempered when he gets home, wrathful and grim of mind. He treats his guests badly,” the giantess warned them. “Why don’t you get under that kettle and stay there until he’s cheerful enough for you to come out?”

She hid them beneath a kettle on the floor of the kitchen. It was dark under there.

The ground shook, a door slammed, and Thor and Tyr knew that Hymir must be home. They heard the giantess tell her husband that they had guests, her son and a friend, and that he had to be on his best behavior as a gracious host and not kill them.

“Why?” The giant’s voice was loud and petulant.

“The little one is our son, Tyr. You remember him. The big one’s name is Veor. Be nice to him.”

“Thor? Thor our enemy? Thor who has killed more giants than anyone else, even other giants? Thor whom I have sworn to slay if ever I encounter him? Thor the—”

“Veor,” said his wife, calming him down. “Not Thor. Veor. He’s our son’s friend, and an enemy of your enemies, so you have to be nice to him.”

“I am grim of mind and wrathful of spirit and I have no desire to be nice to anyone,” said a huge rumbling giant’s voice. “Where are they hiding?”

“Oh, just behind that beam over there,” said his wife.

Thor and Tyr heard a crash as the beam she had pointed to was smashed and broken. This was followed by another series of crashes as, one after another, all the kettles in the kitchen were knocked down from the ceiling and destroyed.

“Are you finished breaking things?” asked Tyr’s mother.

“I suppose so,” said Hymir’s voice grudgingly.

“Then look under that kettle,” she said. “The one on the floor that you didn’t destroy.”

The kettle beneath which Tyr and Thor were hidden was lifted, and they found themselves staring up at an enormous face, its features twisted into a sulky scowl. This, Thor knew, was Hymir, the giant king. His beard was like a forest of ice-covered trees in midwinter, his eyebrows like a field of thistles, his breath as rank and foul as a midden in a bog.

“Hello, Tyr,” said Hymir, without enthusiasm.

“Hello, Father,” said Tyr, with, if possible, even less pleasure.

“You will join us as guests at dinner,” said Hymir. He clapped his hands.

The door of the hall opened, and a giant ox was led in, its coat shining, its eyes bright, its horns sharp. It was followed by another, even more beautiful, and then the last ox, even finer than the first two.

“These are the most excellent oxen in existence. So much bigger and fatter than the beasts of Midgard or Asgard. I am,” Hymir confided, “enormously proud of my herd of cattle. They are my treasures, and the delight of my eyes. I treat them like my own children.” And for a moment his scowling face seemed to soften.

The grandmother with nine hundred heads killed each ox, skinned it, and tossed it into her enormous cooking pot. The pot boiled and bubbled over a fire which hissed and spat, and she stirred it with a spoon as big as an oak tree. She sang quietly to herself as she cooked, in a voice like a thousand old women all singing at the tops of their voices at once.