Idunn and the Golden Apples: a Retelling

This is a retelling I’ve done of Idunn and the Golden Apples.  I’ve told it many times to children and adults, and find that it’s a common myth that is retold in the spring, mostly because it’s about a lady who grows apples.

I’m super excited to announce that I made a set of jointed puppets for Idunn and all the characters and they’re now available on my Etsy store! So if you’re looking for a children’s activity for a ritual stop on by and pick up a printable PDF to go with the story.

 

black and white jointed paper puppets of all the characters in the myth of Idunn and the Golden Apples.
Idunn Puppets ready to color. by Rev. Mel

So onward to the story:

I’ve included notes on how I’ve adjusted the narrative and ideas for storytelling in a ritual or other event at the end.

I tell you a tale that may not be true, but yet has truth, that may not be wise, but yet has wisdom. Listen then, and enjoy.

In Which Dinner is Undercooked:

Long long ago, when all things were not yet formed as they are today, the gods still roamed the land. The forces of the earth reached up to the sky and in turn were molded into mountains and river valleys.  It was during this time that our story starts, in a river valley far away from here, where three guys were walking along.

Not just any guys though. These guys were gods. Thor Jotunsmasher was in front, swinging his hammer at stones or the occasional small mountain. Next came Odin Stormcrow, the one eyed wanderer and leader of the Aesir Gods. Last came Loki Laufey’s Son, the trickster of the gods and adopted brother of Odin. He made a game of snatching the rubble out of the air from Thor’s exploding boulder trick.  Throwing the stones at the back of Thor’s head was a pretty good game. He had almost convinced Thor that these were special stones with the magic of returning to where they started. Odin just rolled his eyes and walked on, deep in thought.

The gods came to a place they thought would make a good camp and decided to gather what they needed to build a fire and make a shelter.  Once they gathered the firewood they started to cook their dinner, which was an entire ox. Gods are hungry fellows. But the ox just sat there in the flames and didn’t cook no matter how hot the flames or how much wood they added to the fire. It was super frustrating.

Just as they were starting to think they were going to have to eat it raw, a voice from above called out and said to them, “Your meat will never cook while I wait here. My magic prevents it!” They looked up and the biggest eagle they had ever seen was above them perched in the biggest of the trees.  

“What do you want of us, magic eagle?”

“Share your food with me, and I will let it cook.” said the eagle.

So they agreed to share their food and thought it was strange that he didn’t just ask in the first place.  Once the ox was cooked the eagle swooped down and grabbed almost the whole thing!

Loki was enraged and swung at the eagle with a branch. The eagle caught the end and lifted Loki himself into the air and flew away with him.  

He landed and transformed into Thjazi son of Ivaldi, and thrashed Loki up and down.  Loki fought back, but was no match for the giant and in desperation shouted, “I give! I give up!  Please! What do you want of me?”

Thjazi told Loki to bring him Idunn who was the keeper of the Apples of Immortality.  Loki’s eyes grew wide with terror at that, but the fear of Thjazi was greater than the fear of betraying the gods.  He swore an oath to do so, and Thjazi released him to wander back to Asgard, limping and sore.

Back at Asgard Trickery Ensues:

When Loki approached Idunn she had just finished the fruit trees and branches were piled up waiting to be added to the sacred fires. She was carrying a basket of the apples of immortality to take to the halls of the gods and was clearly intending to walk right past Loki without saying one single word.

“You do have such a talent with these trees, Idunn.” Loki smiled his most charming smile as he said the words.

“Thank you, Loki.” Idunn said primly, unwilling to enter into much conversation with him.  But Loki being who he was, he continued striking up a conversation as he walked with her through the orchard and she couldn’t help but talk about her beloved trees.  

Idunn and the Apple Tree of Immortality done in sepia tones.
Illustration by Arthur Rackham (1910). The Rhinegold and the Valkyrie.

“They are so lovely. It’s just such a shame…” he let the sentence drop and silence drag the words away.

“What’s a shame?” Idunn asked, and Loki smiled inside because she had taken the bait the very first time.

“Oh.. It’s just such a shame you’ll never see the beauty of the wild apples of the lands outside Asgard.  I mean these apples are lovely and golden and ever so useful. But the wild apples, nothing compares to their freedom, their gnarled branches, their graceful bending, the way the winds and the spirits shape them, and the apples themselves!  So tiny yet powerful! So alluring with a scent that reminds one of the smell of mountain snow and spring grass. Ah.. they were delightful, free to be themselves and not bent to the will of anyone else. But of course, your apples are wonderful too, dear Idunn. So tame, so…functional.”

Idunn paused in her determined stride and looked off into the unseen distance.  Her face hardened and she thanked Loki for his time but said she must be on her way.  Loki only smiled a gentle smile and took his leave of her, knowing that the seeds of her capture had been well planted.

Sure enough it was but only a day before she went outside the gates of Asgard to look for those enticing wild apples.  She shrieked with anger when Thjazi’s trap was sprung and he took her back to his towering castle in the mountains of Jotunheim.

When in Doubt, Blame Loki:

It took some time for the gods to notice anything was amiss. Idunn was a quiet one, who liked to wander among the trees and the gardens.  It was Gerda, the goddess of the walled gardens who wondered first, and she brought it up to her husband Frey. Ing Frey, god of fertility brought it up to his twin sister, Freyja, goddess of love and magic.  She brought it up to Frigg, the queen of the gods, and she brought it to the attention of Odin. At that point a great search began and when no sign, high or low could be found of Idunn, the natural result of this was for Odin to shout, “Looookiiiii!”

Because of course it’s Loki’s fault. It’s always Loki’s fault.

He hemmed and he hawed and did his trickster god best to get out trouble, but it was to no avail with a circle of powerful beings who were slowly beginning to show signs of age.  That’s the thing of it. Without those apples, the gods would age and die just like anyone else. Letting Idunn be kidnapped was not an option. Loki would have to get her back.

“So, I can totally get her back, it’s not a problem, not in the slightest. I have no worries about getting her back whatsoever.  I just need one little thing.” Loki smiled his most charming and reassuring smile.

“And what thing is that, Loki Flamehair?”, Odin folded his arms across his chest and got a grim look on his face.  He had heard “One little thing” before.

Loki’s voice became more wheedling like a child asking for a cookie. “I just need to be able to keep up, you know. I can change into a mare or a milkmaid but I can’t quite do that bird thing. I’d just need to borrow one tiny thing.  Miniscule even. Nothing compared to immortality, I’m quite sure.”

“What is it?!” the gods shouted with impatience.

“Freya’s magical falcon cloak.”

Freyja flew into a rage at this statement. “What? No. I will not let this feckless, false, irritating, stinky…”

“Hey! I’m not stinky.” interruped Loki.

“…Sleezy jerk borrow my falcon cloak.”

Odin came to the rescue with words and promises.  He convinced Freyja to lend her cloak to Loki, just for this one time and with many a threatening glare for Loki, she handed it over.  Loki threw the cloak over his shoulders and transformed into a swift falcon flying out over the walls of Asgard without delay.

The Dashing Rescue:

He flew to the towering woods where the Jotuns lived and found the castle where Idunn was.  He waited in the trees until Thjazi went on his way, and then flew into the tower and found her, surprisingly calm and happy.

He swept off the cloak and once again took human form. “I’m here to rescue you!”

Idunn raised an eyebrow and looked totally unimpressed. “Oh, you’re going to rescue me from what?  My brother? Less work? More respect? What are you rescuing me from exactly?”

“But… Don’t you miss the gods? Don’t you miss your husband? The gods will get old and die!” Loki was actually a bit lost for words, which was a rare thing for him.

Idunn sat and thought. Loki plotted three different ways to get her to come with him and six different ways to trick her into it. But sometimes he could be truly wise, and instead he just kept his mouth shut and waited while she thought through it.

“Alright. I will come with you. The gods keep the balance, and I must keep them whole and healthy. It is my duty. Plus I do miss Bragi. You may take me with you.”  She stood, straightened her dress and picked up her basket of shining apples. Then took a single apple and breathed a message for her brother into it and left it on the chair for him to find.

“I am ready.”  

Loki spoke words of magic and she transformed into a tiny acorn. Changing into a falcon, he grabbed the nut and flew out the window and into the open sky, swiftly racing towards Asgard. But Thjazi happened to be coming up the road and saw the falcon.  He knew what had happened and transformed himself into the mighty eagle to race after them.

Loki flew with all his might, swerving this way and that, but slowly Thjazi gained. Loki flew down in the trees and up into the clouds but none of that slowed or confused the giant eagle.  Thjazi had almost caught Loki with his talons and was so focused on flying as fast as he possibly could that he didn’t notice they had reached the walls of Asgard and Thor was standing on that wall with his hammer raised high.  Loki put on one last desperate burst of speed and flung himself over the wall and Thor’s hammer came crashing down on Thjazi sending him spinning out of control with the worst headache he had ever had.

All ended well for the gods that day.  Idunn went back to her orchard tending, and the gods ate of the apples of immortality again.  The grey faded from their hair and the wrinkles from their faces as they tasted the golden fruit. All was well, and Loki told Freyja he had laid her cloak on a chair in her hall.  All was well, that was, until Freyja went to put her cloak properly away and discovered that Loki had dyed the feathers a bright hot pink color before returning it.

All the gods heard her shout of rage and indignation, “Looookiiiiii!”

Yup. Everything was back to normal.  

Notes on the changes I made to this story and ideas for storytelling with a live audience:

I tighten the narrative up a bit by replacing Hoenir with Thor in the original scene and I added in some fun with the image of Thor smashing boulders and Loki trying to play a trick on him in order to create an image in the minds of my listeners and readers. As a storyteller it’s great to mime these actions as you say them.  

Thjazi is the son of Alvaldi, Idunn is the youngest daughter of Ivaldi.  Some researchers (and I) believe that they’re both the children of the same being.  That means he’s not just stealing some stranger to get the apples of immortality. He’s planning to kidnap his sister from the people who dishonored his brothers. (See the story of How Sif Lost her Hair)  The various sons and daughters of Ivaldi are at times called dwarves, elves, and giants. All I can say is that as I’ve gotten into reading and studying, it’s all a pretty common mix up, especially dwarves and elves.  So Idunn might have been a dwarf or a giant, or maybe an elf. Who knows? At the time of the story she’s a goddess of immortality, which ain’t bad.

When telling the story of how Thjazi chases Loki and Idunn I find it very useful to flap my arms in a somewhat ridiculous way, with larger flaps for Thjazi, and smaller ones for Loki. This works particularly well with little kids and depending on the reactions I can draw it out for quite some time as Thjazi slowly gains on Loki, getting closer and closer to catching him.

I soften the ending as well, in the light of the fact that this is often told to children, and that it is likely that Thjazi is at least Idunn’s half brother. A few years ago I added the part where Loki dyes the cloak as a trick on Freyja.  It always gets a laugh at the end and is a fun way to close the story.

If you enjoyed that story consider getting signed up for my Patreon to get pre-releases and extras.  Or if you’d like to pick up the puppet PDF check out my Etsy store.

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