Thor: A World Where Magic and Science are the Same

I finally got around to watching the movie Thor last night and early this morning, and I’m glad I did. Thor has always been an interesting character in the realm of comic book superheroes. Others were godlike or messianic in character, and the lines between sci-fi and the supernatural, always blurry even at the best of times, are regularly transgressed in comic books and graphic novels. But Thor, as an actual classic deity from a human culture, still stood out in interesting ways. (On this subject, do see Charles Robertson’s various chapters and articles, including “Sorcerers and Supermen: Old Mythologies in New Guises” in Religion and Science Fiction.

The recent movie Thor approaches the story of Asgard and Thor in a science fiction framework. The movie begins with a voiceover by Anthony Hopkins (who we later learn plays Odin): “Once, mankind accepted a simple truth: That they were not alone in this universe. Some worlds, man believed, be home to their Gods…”

The Bifrost, the rainbow bridge of the Norse myths and Thor comic books, is viewed as a result of advanced technology which creates an Einstein-Rosen bridge or wormhole. This is very much the realm of the “ancient gods as aliens” mythos which Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Stargate have explored, and folks like Erich von Daniken have tried to treat as fact.

In the movie, scientist Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman) starts off skeptical of the claims of Thor, but eventually ends up quoting Arthur C. Clarke as having said “Magic is just science we don’t understand yet”. Thor himself will later say that he comes from a place where magic and science are one and the same.

It seems to me, as I have said before, that sci-fi and related genres move traditional human religious, spiritual and existential quests into a new framework. It holds out the hope of rainbow bridges, of living gods, and of immortality. All it does is propose a different route to achieving those ends. The question is not “religion vs. science” so much as whether there is good reason to think that either can deliver on such promises. But the stories, whether mythological or science fictional, give expression to the same human desire that such things be real.

If you have an Amazon gift card that you received for Christmas burning a hole in your pocket (fabric or digital), Amazon.com has the Blu-Ray on sale, and you can even rent the movie from them instantly as well as buy a digital copy.

Let me close with P. Z. Myers’ humorous summary of the movie’s basic plot: “Thor is a bad, foolish bully-boy who picks fights with the Blue Man Group, so Hannibal Lecter flings him to Earth to learn wisdom.” He also mentions some nods to and departures from the comic book canon.

  • Rick

    I enjoyed the movie as well. 

    The science/religion aspect you speak of reminds me of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and its dealing with the religion of Bajor.  There was a sense of combining science and religion.

  • http://twitter.com/RodATJr Rodney Thomas

    Yup. I loved Thor as well.

  • Anonymous

    I always find the religion-turned-into-science-fiction trope unsatisfying.  As a philosophical matter it may be interesting but it pretty much sucks the magic out of it.  Thor as a science fiction character loses some of his status and must now compete with Asimov’s Hari Seldon seeking the deep understanding required to save humanity from itself or Gilliam and Stoppard’s Sam Lowry struggling to find his place in dystopia.  

    It is a bit like trying to make a movie out of a poem.  By the time you have filled in enough plausible character and plot you have missed the entire point of the poetic enterprise. You have lost the evocative power of poetry and myth that triggers deep emotional responses untouched by everyday existence.  

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    I agree with Scott, the whole Stargate thing has been done to death. At this point people should be aware that our ancient religions and architectual wonders have nothing to do with aliens. I think there may be great fantasy stories to be told with out them. On Thor specifically, i have to say i was never cared much for the comic and I’m a little burned out on that genre to. Bat-Man still has some legs, but it has an excellent director. And if I might add one more gripe, I’m tired of scientist in movies doubling as the beautiful love interest. Most great scientist I’ve seen aren’t especialy attractive.

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  • http://digestofworms.blogspot.com admiralmattbar

    I’m glad they dumped the Donald Blake bit.  That never made sense to me.

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