Storytime: The Binding of Fenrir (Norse Mythology)

Hello! I’ve always been a big fan of Norse Mythology and this is one of my favorite stories from the whole pantheon of tales. This is the binding of Fenrir, about the great wolf son of Loki who was raised by the gods but bound by them when he grew to large and his hunger too great.

“Tyr and Fenrir” by John Bauer (1911)

“Tyr and Fenrir” by John Bauer (1911)

Like all good Norse myths it starts with someone screwing something up. This time it is, of course Loki, the trickster god who has one too many drinks and gets it on with Angrboða, a giantess who had just fought a war against the gods. So when I say one too many drinks I mean one too many kegs. But it gets better – The Giantess has three children by Loki, all more monstorous than the next.

First there’s Hel, a powerful warrior cursed with ugliness and an unsatiable hunger for power, Jormungandr, a great serpent who eventually grows so large he consumes the entire universe and Fenrir, the largest wolf to ever live who was fated to devour the earth.

The gods of course find out about this (because they always do) and are majorly pissed off at Loki but like normal they don’t actually do anything about it. They consult the oracles and find out that all three children are fated to bring nothing but destruction and mischief to the world and go and steal the kids off the giants before they can be adopted there. Odin, the second in command to the King of the gods at this point talks to Hel and learns that she wants to rule one of the nine worlds, which of course is a little bit… well, evil.

Besides Hel seems to have lost a few of her marbles so together the Aesir trick her – they grant her Rulership over Helheim, the land of the dead and lock her in her “kingdom” for all eternity, which really makes her mad. Of course when they need to raise someone from the dead a bit later and find they need Hel’s help… well, they didn’t really think of that.
With Jormungandr they have a bit more of a problem and decided the only solution is to throw him into the celestial ocean and hope he drowns. Does he? No of course not. Instead he finds his way to the roots of Yasdrill, the world tree within which the universe sits and starts eating it until he’s big enough to just swallow the whole of creation.
So no points for smart planning there either.
So hoping not to repeat their mistakes the Aesir keep Fenrir in Asgard and try to domesticate him, a wolf his size and power would be a valuable asset, besides a load of the gods have wolves for pets right? Should be easy! Wrong.

Tyr was the god of Justice and War, considered the most courageous and honest of all the gods and was the current King of the Gods and Asgard, he adopted Fenrir as his own because well Odin had two wolves and two crows and Tyr had well…. He had a spear and that was kind of it.
So being a “good friend” Odin suggested Tyr raise Fenrir. He said that there was none other who would be courageous and strong enough able to rear Fenrir, to teach him to restrain his savagery and to defy his destiny and he was right of course, but don’t tell me he didn’t have an agenda! Well Tyr didn’t see it anyway, he was one of those poor naive types, who was so honest that he though everyone else was as well.
So Tyr raised Fenrir – took him on walks on the rainbow bridge between worlds, fed him all kinda of exotic foods. All the other gods loved Fenrir at the moment – he was a cute little puppy who loved to run around Asgard, break into war meetings and pee on important godly things like people’s capes – capes are important you know! So the gods thought ‘Well, if this is as much mischief as he’s going to get up to, maybe it’s not so bad? Besides, he was being raised by the king of all people – Tyr could handle it. And so it seemed he could, but every day with Tyr fed Fenrir, the pup would eat more and more. One day it was two unicorns for breakfast and the next it’s ten bears for lunch.

Loki was nowhere to be seen when it came to fatherly duties and Tyr was more of a warrior/judge than a father so Fenrir was turning into a pretty angsty teenage wolf. And a real teen wolf at that. Destiny doesn’t like being denied and Fenrir was growing and growing. He was already up to shoulder height and in a few weeks he towered above even Tyr. Soon he didn’t even fit inside their halls. When it got to the point where Tyr was having to kill a few giants for Fenrir’s meals the gods finally decided that enough was enough. Obviously Fenrir couldn’t stay in Asgard but neither could he roam free so the gods came up with a plan. It would be a good plan, it would actually work this time! Each day they came to Fenrir with chains of different strengths, asking the wolf to show them his strength and prowess by breaking out of them, making a game out of it while making a chain he couldn’t break.

Since Fenrir was Loki’s son he broke through all the chains made by the god’s magic. So the Aesir went to the dwarves, the most skilled craftsmen in the cosmos and asked them to forge a chain that could bind the wolf. The dwarves demanded an enormous payment from Tyr until Odin, always the negotiator stepped in and threatened to take Fenrir for a “walk” in Svartálfaheim – the world the dwarves share with the Dark Elves. Properly incentivised the Dwarves made Gleipnir (Open in old Norse) from the sound of a cat’s footsteps, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the breath of a fish and the spittle and teeth of a bird. Being made from thing that didn’t exist meant that Gleipnir itself didn’t technically exist and therefore it was useless to struggle against.

This is when the gods learned the usfulness of bureaucracy.

The gods then came to Fenrir with Glenipnir but the took one look at Gleipnir, which appeared as silk ribbon and scoffed, saying “Why is it that when you have bound me with iron chains before but now only come with a single ribbon? It would break it if I breathed!” But when the gods insisted he humour them Fenrir became distrustful, smelling the magic on the ribbon. So he refused to be bound unless one of the gods put their hand in his mouth and swore an oath to free him if he couldn’t escape.

Everyone kind of went silent at this because while loosing a hand was no big deal, breaking an oath was. An oath was an oath, no matter who it was given to or under what circustances and in the end the only god who stepped up to the plate was Tyr. Even though he knew he’d loose his kingship, he still felt it was the right thing to do. As he put Glenipnir on Fenrir Tyr had his hand trapped in the wolf’s jaws and as Fenrir discovered he couldn’t break free he asked Tyr to free him and when he didn’t Fenrir ripped off Tyr’s hand.

Supprisingly he didn’t curse or yell, he simply cried for the loss of his friend as well as his honour. He stepped down as King of the Gods and Odin took the throne, and ruled as a better king but not a nicer one. While Tyr had been honourable and straight-forward Odin was a cunning little bastard and many thought he’d actually arranged the whole situation to get the throne. Tyr however stood by his friend and supported Odin’s rule. As I said naive.

Tyr and Fenrir by Meredyth

Tyr and Fenrir by Meredyth

While the title of All-Father of the gods and much of the fame left Tyr he still wore much renown – Warriors would carve his symbol on their weapons and people devoted a day of worship to him – Tuesday, Tyr’s day. To this day, the spear – Tyr’s weapon is a symbol of justice, so it’s not all bad news, well except for what follows – it’s kind of all bad news from here.

The gods chained Fenrir on the edge of the world, which he wasn’t quite happy about considering that part of the chaining involved driving a sword through his jaw and nailing him to a boulder. It’s thought that Tyr would make the great journey to visit Fenrir and sit with him, though he never did try to free him.

Despite the protests of Tyr Fenrir believed that Odin had planned Tyr’s downfall, always coveting Tyr’s kingship. So suffice to say that when the end of the world came and Fenrir got free, he wasn’t a very happy camper. He joined in last great battle, called Ragnorok seeking out and killing Odin, though being killed in the process.

Tyr and Fenrir by Meredyth

The Binding of Fenrir by Patten Wilson

References:

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