Asgard serves two roles in the popular imagination. In Norse mythology dating to the Viking Age and earlier, it is the otherworldly realm of the gods. To most modern audiences, it is the home of Chris Hemsworth in his role as Marvel comic book character Thor, star of The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World, opening this Friday. But Asgard, essentially, is Asgard. The Marvel characters of Thor, his father Odin, and his mischievous brother Loki, are all based on Norse gods of the same names. Ironman, however, is purely a 20th century creation.
Today let’s take a look at Asgard both within Norse mythology and the Marvel universe.
According to Norse mythology, a World Tree named Yggrasil connected all of the Nine Worlds together. One of these worlds, Asgard, was located on the upper level of the tree, because it was the home of the gods, called the Aesir. Asgard contains many halls, the greatest being Valhalla, the hall of slain heroes. Midgard, on the middle level, was another name for Earth, the home of the human beings. A rainbow bridge connects Earth to Asgard, and the gods use it to travel back and forth. There are several other realms as well, for dwarves, elves, giants, and other creatures.
Marvel’s comic books series on Thor is pretty faithful to the Norse cosmology. Just like in the mythology, Thor is the son of Odin, wields a giant hammer, and can produce thunder and lightning. Asgard occupies a plane which is not physically connected to Earth, but the gods can use the rainbow bridge to travel between the two, which is seen in the movie Thor.
Looking at the map of Asgard brings up some interesting questions: If it is truly a flat, stationary piece of land, then what happens when people go to the edge? Where does night and day come from? How does gravity work? I’m not sure if these questions are answered in the comics, but the movies do not dwell too much on the physics of it.
Another curiosity is the fact that Asgard is surrounded not just by space, but by the “Sea of Space”. According to the Marvel wiki entry, “This sea apparently has a surface, one that is navigable by Asgardian ships, which resemble Viking longboats.” Alien viking space marauders… that’s a pretty terrifying concept.
Perhaps the new movie will answer some of these lingering questions. But if not, that’s okay, it’s still great entertainment.