McKinnell, John. “Myth as therapy:The Usefulness of Thrymskvitha”. Medum Aevum.

2000. 69:1. 1-20.


John McKinnell’s argument focuses on the social and psychological implications of Thor’s loss of his hammer and the necessity of cross-dressing as a woman to regain it. After a discussion of the problem of dating the Icelandic and Norse myths in general, and Thrymskvitha in particular, Mckinnell decides that the historical context of the myth is not necessarily required to understand the social import. McKinnell asks the question of why Thor, a God, would submit himself to the abuse of having a giant, Thrym, steal his hammer in the first place. There is some possibility that this serves as a model for the concept of  ‘argr’ as McKinnell describes it, the condition of a male taking the passive role in a homosexual relationship. The loss of the hammer, figuratively the phallus, results in the questionable male-ness of the subject, Thor, in this case. There is an additional intrigue regarding the sexual politics of the myth that occurs when Thor asks Freyja to have relations with the giant in order that Thor’s hammer be returned. Freyja’s refusal and the then seeming necessity of Thor dressing as her in order to fulfil the giant’s request creates the dramatic, psychological, and social tension within the story. According to McKinnell, there are two ways to resolve the fear of assuming the condition of ‘argr’. There is the psychological reading that borrows from Jung the use of the “Shadow” or dark element of the individual’s subconscious that is the evil of negative aspect of the personality. Thor, by undertaking the quest as a woman, confronts the Shadow and regains the hammer and thus repairs the ego from the threat of dissolution under the accusations of lost manhood or argr. The first and perhaps less satisfactory resolution McKinnel proposes is a social explanation. The sexual politics involved in the myth serve to highlight women’s position in the Norse society. As figures beholden to men for their wedding rights and even considered properties to facilitate agreements, a woman has less than explicit control over her sexual and economic fortunes. McKinnell posits a possible female author, or at the very least a male author with clear insight into the female situation who creates a social parody for the sake of relieving tension, while also, I might add, serving an instructional function. The usefulness of Thrymskvitha turns out to be its ability to make light of what could be considered very serious social issues. The individual’s need to confront the dark aspects of the self, and the collective perspective regarding the situation of women are both dealt with in the myth and according to McKinnell, his analysis provides an introduction to the tast of understanding the Norse mindset.