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What Marvel Gets Wrong About Loki’s Norse Mythology

September 15, 2020 3.5k votes 491 voters 28.7k views15 items

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Even the most diehard fans of Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe can’t claim to know the real Loki - as in, the Loki of Norse mythology. In fact, so many differences crop up whilst comparing the Norse Loki versus the Marvel Loki that he becomes almost unrecognizable to one only familiar with the works of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

The traditional Loki is not necessarily a Norse god at all, nor is he Thor’s brother or the adopted son of Odin. Instead, he’s an ambiguous figure with ambiguous morals who typically stands as an ally of Asgard - before ultimately betraying them and bringing about their end via Ragnarok

All accounts seem to agree, however, that the mythological Loki was at least as charming as Tom Hiddleston, if not more.

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  • Photo: Signed "H. L. M." / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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    Loki Is More An Ally To Thor Than An Arch-Nemesis

    Thor and Loki have perhaps the most complicated relationship in the MCU. They’re brothers who clearly love one another, but spend more time at each other’s throats than anything. When they’re allied, it’s almost always begrudgingly, and it never seems to last for long.

    In the traditional tellings of Norse legend, however, Thor and Loki are companions on several adventures. According to Snorri Sturluson’s 13th-century Prose Edda, Loki was the one who gave Mjölnir to Thor, and the two faced off against countless enemies together, including Skrymir and the confusingly named giant Utgarda-Loki.

    With that being said, their friendship does eventually sour due to Loki’s inherent trickiness. In one incident, Loki deceived Thor into committing murder within Asgard, resulting in a temporary exile. Then, he caused the demise of Thor’s brother, Baldr, ending their companionship for good. 

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  • Photo: Elmer Boyd Smith / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    2

    The Mythological Loki Usually Makes Up For His Mischief

    Whether it be in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the pages of Marvel Comics, or the Norse myths that inspired them, Loki is a complicated figure. But his morals are the toughest to nail down when it comes to the original source material.

    Loki is, of course, the god of mischief, and he can’t help but pull tricks on the Aesir gods. But whereas the Marvel Loki is chiefly motivated by selfish desire and envy, the Norse Loki is usually just looking for a good time - and he’s usually more than willing to make up for his misdeeds.

    In one tale, Loki cuts off all of Sif’s hair, but then he convinces the elves to craft her new hair out of gold. In another, Loki stops the rampaging giant Skadi - whose father Loki had caused the demise of - by making her laugh. He accomplishes this by tying his testicles to the beard of a goat and engaging in a genital tug-of-war. At one point, Loki gets himself back into the gods’ good graces by tricking some dwarves into creating wondrous treasures, including the hammer Mjölnir and Odin’s powerful spear, Gungnir.

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  • Photo: Signed "H. L. M." / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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    Loki Has A Wife, Sigyn, And A Son Named 'Corpse'

    The MCU Loki has no known romantic attachments, but in various Norse tales, Loki hooks up with pretty much anyone and anything. Despite this, he also has a faithful wife in the form of Sigyn, described by the Prose Edda as a goddess and a member of the Aesir. Though little is known of her, she’s dedicated enough to her husband to sit with him through his eventual eternal punishment, and theirs is one of the greatest love stories in all of Norse tradition.

    Sigyn also bore Loki at least one legitimate son, known as Narfi, whose name roughly translates to “Corpse.” Some tellings also mention a son named Váli, who is ultimately transformed into a wolf and consumes Narfi.  

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  • Photo: W.G. Collingwood / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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    Loki Is Gender-Fluid And Pansexual

    The Loki of the Marvel Cinematic Universe frequently uses illusory magic to disguise himself, instantly taking on the appearance of folks as diverse as Odin and Captain America. But the Loki of legend is an outright shapeshifter, able to transform his body into any form of his desire, including that of an animal.

    Ancient mythology being what it is, this of course lent itself to some fairly unique sexual proclivities. Various Norse tales tell of Loki transforming and taking on partners of varying genders and species, and of being equally comfortable in male- and female-presenting forms. In the annals of Marvel Comics, Loki is canonically gender-fluid and pansexual, but such attributes have yet to show up in the MCU. 

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