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The myth of Loki’s monstrous children - Iseult Gillespie


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Odin, the king of Asgard, was plagued by nightmares. Three fearsome figures haunted his dreams: a massive, writhing shadow; a shambling, rotting corpse; and worst of all, a monstrous beast with a deadly bite. Though their true forms were unknown to him, he could tell they were related to Asgard’s most persistent problem: Loki. Iseult Gillespie details the myth of Loki's secret children.

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Odin, king of the Gods, was having nightmares. Every night, three fearsome figures haunted him. The first was a writhing shadow, while the second seemed to rot and wither. But most terrifying of all was a fearsome beast, who sank his sharp claws and teeth into Odin himself. To Odin, these were new monsters. But as the nights wore on, he saw that they stemmed from the same old problem: Loki.

Loki is one of the most intriguing tricksters in world mythology, whose motivations and character are still debated. See more of Loki’s misadventures in the TED-Ed lessons Loki and the deadly mistletoe and Loki and the master builder.

You can read more analysis of Loki here, explore an archive of podcasts related to Loki and Norse mythology here, and listen to a deeper dive on his antics here.           
For Odin, the revelation of Loki’s offspring implies that the cycle of chaos will continue. But Odin’s fear would only cement his doom.           
The myth of Loki’s children and Odin’s attempt to contain them is characteristic of much of Norse mythology, in which characters often over-correct for the actions of others or attempt to prevent bad things from happening. You can read more Norse mythology, including tellings of Loki’s children, in Neil Gaiman’s collection and Kevin Crossley-Holland’s collection.           
Each of Loki’s children is a distinct and captivating figure. The first is Jörmungandr, a serpent blasting venom. In the Prose Edda, Thor wrestles with Jörmungandr on Odin’s orders – only for the snake to sink beneath the waves, waiting for his revenge. You can read an extract from the epic here. Ultimately, Jörmungandr grows to encircle the earth and becomes known as the Midgard serpent. You can learn more about the Midgard serpent here.

The second child, Hel, appears to be a glowing young woman from the right. But the left side of her body is a moldering corpse. Hel is banished underground and comes to rule the dead. As this article argues, she is more of an outcast than a goddess, as she still harbors deep resentment towards the Gods. You can read more about her character and her relation to other deathly figures in world mythology here.

The third is Fenrir, the wolf cub who grows into a threatening hound with superhuman strength. Learn more about him here. Unlike his siblings, Fenrir remains at Asgard where the Gods try to control him.

Only Tyr considers Fenrir in his full complexity, and their friendship shows us that things might have turned out differently if Odin had also treated Fenrir with respect. You can learn more about their tragic friendship and the fate of Fenrir here.

Ultimately, Odin’s attempt to quash these strange beings only made them more monstrous. In this way, the myth of Loki’s children is also a tragic, self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Iseult Gillespie
  • Director Layron DeJarnette, Gumboyo
  • Narrator Susan Zimmerman
  • Music Salil Bhayani, cAMP Studio
  • Sound Designer Amanda P.H. Bennett, cAMP Studio
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Fact-Checker Jennifer Nam

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