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), 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.

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