Norse mythology for bedtime the last few days.
We're reading out of D'Aulaires Book of Norse Myths, which is fine, because D'Aulaire's is the awesome. However, when it comes to Ragnarok, they have to skimp just a little, because they want to stay true to the source material. And while Ragnarok is well attested, none of the sources are big on the details. Which has always struck me as a bit of a pity.
From the frothing sea the Midgard's Serpent slithered up on land. There he was met by his brother Fenris. By now the wolf was so enormous that his gaping jaws touched the earth and the vault of the sky; and there been room his jaws would have gaped wider still. Side by side the two dreadful monsters pushed forward.
"...side by side the two dreadful monsters pushed forward. Now, you remember about how these were Loki's children that the gods had locked up?"
"Well, that turned out to be a big mistake. The gods didn't want to kill the monsters, because they were Loki's children, and Loki was Odin's blood brother. And also because, even when they were little, the monsters were so strong that it would have been really hard and dangerous to kill them. But they probably should have tried, because the locked-up monsters just kept getting bigger and bigger, and stronger and stronger.
"When the Midgard's Serpent ripped loose from the ocean floor, he made waves so big that they flooded half the land. Ships were swallowed up and whole cities and towns were washed away.
"When Fenris got out of his chain, he started screaming, 'At last! Revenge! Kill you all! I'm the strongest one! STRONGEST ONE! ARRRGGGGHHH!!'
"Now, the wolf had a little of his father Loki's shape-shifting power. He couldn't turn into any shape like Loki, but he could be an almost normal-sized wolf, or a giant wolf, or a sort of human shape, or as big as a mountain. And as he came forward he kept shifting shape, wolf to human and big to small."
Out of the north came a ghoulish ship, the Nagelfar. Its sides were covered with clippings of finger- and toenails, and it was manned by a crew of ghosts. Standing at the rudder and sailing the ship straight through the raging sea was Loki, coming back for revenge.
"...revenge. Now, you remember how Loki was chained up in the cave, with the snake dripping poison on his face?"
"Well, when Ragnarok started and all chains were broken, Loki got loose. And he was going away, but then -- "
"What happened to the snake?"
" -- exactly, I'm going to tell you that -- Loki grabbed the snake and pulled it down and said, 'Since you've been so generous with your venom all this time, I'm sure you won't mind if I take a little more!' And he squeeeezed the snake's head and dripped some of the poison onto a knife.
"While he was sailng the ship, he used black magic to call up zombies from their graves. You remember how all the good and brave and honorable warriors who died, went to Valhalla to be with Odin?"
"Well, all the evil and cruel and dishonorable warriors were buried in unmarked graves and left unblessed. But when Loki called, they climbed out of the ground and came shambling forward... an army of evil zombies... thirsty for blood."
Led by Odin, the huge army of gods and heroes thundered up the field. Odin made straight for the gaping jaws of Fenris. But before he could throw his spear down the wolf's horrible gullet, the monster lurched forward and swallowed him.
"...Odin made straight for the gaping jaws of Fenris, and raised his spear. But Fenris gathered up all his strength, and screamed, 'Revenge! Strongest one! STRONGEST ONE!!' and he suddenly took on his biggest shape, bigger than a mountain. And he lunged forward and grabbed Odin and his horse -- Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse -- and he clomped his jaws down on them and shook them, like so. And then he swallowed them both. And Odin was dead.
"When the army of gods and good warriors saw this, they were dismayed! Odin, the king of the gods, their leader, was dead!
"It got worse. Fenris charged forward, his huge jaws gobbling up soldiers like... like popcorn, just tossing them up in the air and swallowing them down. And all the time he was screaming, 'Yes! Kill you all! STRONGEST ONE!'"
Thor could not come to his father's aid; he had his hands full fighting the Midgard's Serpent. Time and again he threw his hammer at the hissing head, until at last the serpent gave up its breath and died. Thor lived only long enough to stagger nine steps backward. Then he fell to the ground, killed by the serpent's poisonous breath.
"Thor rushed forward to avenge his father, but suddenly he had to stop, because the Midgard's Serpent slithered into his way. When the Serpent reared up, its head was higher than a skyscraper.
"Now, all that time at the bottom of the ocean? The Serpent hadn't just been growing bigger. It had gained a new power -- the power to breathe out huge clouds of poison gas."
"That's not good..."
"No. Because when the Serpent breathed out -- hhhaAAAGGhhh -- the cloud went all over the army of the good guys, and the poison was so bad that thousands of them dropped dead on the spot."
"I thought they were already dead."
"The poison was so deadly it killed them all over again. And one of the warriors grabbed Thor's arm and said, 'Sir! You have to do something! The poison is... uck...' And he died.
"So Thor threw his hammer at the Serpent's head. But he missed! Because he couldn't see anything through the cloud of poison gas. (The Serpent could see just fine, because it had lived all those years in the dark at the bottom of the ocean.) And he threw again, but it was no good.
"So Thor said, 'Where vision has failed, then touch must prevail!' And he rushed forward until he found the Serpent's body, and he grabbed it, and started to climb.
"The Serpent wiggled and rolled around and tried to shake Thor off, but he was too strong. And he kept climbing. So then the Serpent went to squeeze him. It wrapped its coils around and around and it squeeeeezed. It squeezed so hard that even Thor's bones started to crack. His ribs broke and blood came out his nose. But he flexed with all his strength and pushed out from between the coils and kept climbing.
"He climbed all the way up to the Serpent's head. He was badly hurt from the poison gas and the squeezing, but he called on his strength and raised his hammer and he said... um... "Die, monster! DIE!!!" And he slammed his hammer down with all his might. And he called on his storm power too, so that when he struck, a huge bolt of lightning hit the Serpent's head as well.
"And it worked! The Serpent's head was blasted to pieces. It was decapitated. But the Serpent was so big that it took a while to die. Its headless body went flailing all over the battlefield, crushing good guys and bad guys, warriors and zombies and frost giants alike. And finally it sort of flopped into the ocean, and then it stopped moving, and sank.
"But Thor went staggering backwards for nine steps... and then he fell down, dead. The poison had got to him and he was dead."
Odin's son Vidar avenged his father. He had an enormous boot made from the remnants of shoe leather that good men on earth had saved. When he leapt forward and thrust his foot into the mouth of the wolf, he tore the powerful jaws apart and split the monster's head.
Odin's son Vidar was a peaceful god. He was as strong as his brother Thor, but he didn't like fighting. He liked making shoes! That's why there aren't a lot of stories about him.
But he did have one magic thing. Just like Thor had his hammer, Vidar had a magic boot. And when he put his boot down, nothing could move it.
So Fenris was ripping through the army of the good guys, just gobbling them up, and all the time screaming, 'Strongest one! STRONGEST ONE!!"
"Doesn't he say anything else?"
"Well, he was very vain. And when Vidar stepped forward, the wolf looked at him and laughed. 'You? You?!? You're nothing! I killed your father! I'll kill your famous brother Thor, too! I'll kill all of you! I'll kill you all!' And he came rushing forward.
"But Vidar said, 'Less than Thor in fame, but no less in strength!' And as the wolf came at him, he stomped down hard with his magic boot, and he caught the wolf's lower jaw against the ground."
"So the wolf couldn't toss him!"
"That's right! Fenris tried to throw him and chomp him, but he couldn't! He was stuck!
"Fenris just had time to say, 'Hey, what iv diff, wha'ff haffening," when Vidar grabbed his upper jaw... and he surged forward and lifted with all his might... and he ripped the wolf's head right in two!"
The archenemies, Loki and Heimdall, fell, pierced by each other's weapons.
Now after Loki had docked his ship, he sent his crew of ghosts off to scare everyone, and his army of zombies to fight. And he stood there for a while watching the battle, and smiling. 'What fun!' he said. And then he said, 'Okay, what will I do next?' And he thought for a little while, and then he said, 'I know. I'll sneak around behind the army of the gods and attack them from behind.'
"So he went to do that. And he decided he'd take the shape of one of the gods. So he took the shape of Heimdall, because he hated Heimdall. 'This will be the best joke ever,' he said, 'when the gods are betrayed by their loyal watchman!'
"But Loki had made a mistake, because he forgot that Heimdall had the sharpest eyes of anything in the universe. So he saw across the battlefield to where Loki was. And when he saw another Heimdall, he knew just who it had to be.
"So just as Loki was sneaking up behind the gods, up came Heimdall. And he said, 'Loki, you have stolen many things, but you are bold indeed if you think you can steal my shape!'
"And Loki said, 'After I kill you, this shape will be all mine. And I'm going to use it to stab the gods in the back!' And he pulled out his sword.
"And Heimdall said, 'Loki, I knew you were a murderer, and a traitor, and a thief, but now I know you are also a fool. Because however clever you are with spells and shapeshifting, you are no match for me with a blade.'
"And it was true! Because Heimdall had practiced with the sword for hundreds of years, because he was the watchman of Asgard. And Loki was very clever with spells and magic, but he wasn't so good with a sword. So when they fought, it wasn't long before Heimdall beat him. He knocked Loki's sword away and then knocked him to the ground.
"But Loki cried, 'Mercy! I surrender! Please don't kill me!' And he went to beg, 'I surrender!' But -- "
"The poison blade!"
"That's right. Heimdall hesitated -- because it was dishonorable to kill an enemy who had surrendered -- and Loki pulled out the poisoned knife and threw it. And it went right into Heimdall's chest -- thunk.
"And Loki said, 'Who's the fool now, Heimdall? Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha! Ah ha ha ha ha --'"
"Well, the poison killed Heimdall in less time than it takes to count three. But Heimdall never said a word. He just lifted his sword and, whack, with one blow he cut off Loki's head. It went bouncing and rolling away. And then Heimdall fell down on top of Loki's body, dead."
The harsh and warlike days of the Aesir world were gone. But for hundreds of years,memories of the Aesir gods and of their foes lived on in the north. People were certain that behind the closed doors of the mountains, jotuns and trolls were hiding. And men, lifting their heads on a stormy night to look at the raging clouds, might glimpse instead a phantom band of wild horsemen, led by "one" on an eight-legged steed.
"...on an eight-legged steed. Okay, monkeys, it's totally past your bedtime. Hup pup! Lights off!"
"Good boys. Mwah. Okay, sleep tight now."
"Ragnarok was cool."