Oh Hel No. Thumbs Down for Thor: Ragnarok

As a devotee of Hel (or Hela), Norse Goddess of one of the Underworlds, I can not remain silent about her countless misrepresentations in Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok movie.  The Gods have spoken and asked me to write.  So here it is — everything they got wrong about Hel (and a little about Thor).

hel hela goddess underworld thor ragnarok wrong pagan norse dead
Hel, cropped. Image used courtesy of Tara Ryzebol through Wikimedia Commons, GFDL license.

For ease of differentiation, I’ll call the Goddess Hel and the Marvel character Hela (as long as we acknowledge that Hela was another name for Hel).

 

* * * SPOILERS * * *

 

Norse mythology inspired a Marvel comic book, which was turned into the movie Thor: Ragnarok, released November 2017.  While I’m no stranger to retelling mythologies, Marvel gets so many things wrong about this Goddess, and none of them are empowering.

The first thing that Marvel gets so very disappointedly wrong is Hel’s face.  The old Norse poems say her face is half-white and half-blue-black.  In my experience, Hel’s face is half rotted off, with bones revealed, and bits of flesh hanging off.  Does the face below look anything like that?

Hela, from Thor: Ragnarok. Photo Copyright Marvel.

Marvel also gets Hel’s parentage very wrong.  Odin isn’t Hel’s father, it’s Loki — huge difference, folks.  She’s not the firstborn of Odin, and definitely not “next in line for the throne.”  In fact, a lot of sources say she’s Loki’s third-born child.  This, in turn, makes the motivation for her taking over the world decidedly dumb.

But this isn’t just any kind of world domination we’re talking about — Marvel gave Hela a bloodthirst for world decimation.

This does not sit well in my Hel-worshipping bones.  In my opinion, Marvel wanted a baddie, and they created a somewhat two-dimensional one.  Hela is greedy and power hungry — basically, evil for evil’s sake.  There’s no end game besides power, and that’s boring.

In Norse mythology, the few stories there are about Hel show no such desire for world domination.  In fact, she seems quite happy to rule over Hel, the underworld where the non-battle slain dead pagans congregate.

Image courtesy of Tara Ryzebol through Wikimedia Commons, GFDL license.

The one story of Hel being cruel is when she refused to resurrect Baldr because not everyone in the world cared about him.  That’s to be expected — no one had ever been resurrected.  She’s playing by the rules — her rules.  To expect her to change them is to disrespect her.

I have to wonder if Marvel’s Hela is merely Norse mythology twisted by Christians.  They intentionally misrepresent her as a biblical Lilith-type demon, and present the shining Thor as a savior.  The fact that Hel is also a synonym for Hell isn’t lost on me, either.  But, as I’ve mentioned, Hel isn’t a place to be feared.  That is, unless you’re a Christian — I could see how they wouldn’t want to be surrounded by peaceful pagans making merry, but did they have to bastardize it that much?

Hmm . . . where else have Christians misrepresented the underworld and its rulers as evil?  Oh, that’s right.  When they changed the pagan horned gods, Cernunnos and Pan, to Satan or Lucifer.

Why should I be surprised that they’re making Thor a Christian story?  Indeed, at least one Christian blogger seems to think there are Christian aspects to Thor:Ragnarok.

More than anything, I just wish Marvel would stop using the names of our Gods.  It’s bad paganism.  Imagine the backlash if Marvel made up new bastardized stories about the Cherokee Gods or the Vodou Gods.  I’m pretty sure a lot of people would be boycotting the movies and up in arms, and rightfully so.  Why not now?

In my practice, Hel has a deep maternal nature, especially for people working with their shadow sides.  Sure, she’s scary, but death is a part of life.  She’s a misunderstood dark goddess, and she deserves to have her name cleared from Marvel’s perversions.

 

Here’s my experience with Hel.  I’m giving away an print of this gorgeous drawing from one of my favorite pagan artists, Michelle Maiden of Elemental Underworld.   Visit my facebook page for the details.

Lastly, I want to mention that I have permission (and more than a little impetus) from Hel and Thor to write this article.  Even though Thor and I don’t usually see eye to eye, we both felt this portrayal of Hel is cruel and unusual.

Also, Thor wanted me to mention that unlike some Thors, he has a real beard.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Jon Bixby

    As a previous moderator of a Thor related Yahoo! Group (with a few hundred members who collected Thor and Thor Annual comic books and would comment on old story lines and artwork), thank you for your contribution. I appreciated the quality of the cast members from the Marvel series Thor, but it loosely followed the antics of the comics. The names of most of the players are correct, but it’s a movie and they have taken liberties to jazz it up for an uniformed audience who are there to cheer on the protagonists. The cinema is visually stunning and the imagination of the representation of the nine realms (http://marvelcinematicdatabase.wikia.com/wiki/Nine_Realms) is inventive. That is what has continued to fascinate me.

  • Bor1am

    “Hmm . . . where else have Christians misrepresented the underworld and its rulers as evil? Oh, that’s right. When they changed the pagan horned gods, Cernunnos and Pan, to Satan or Lucifer.”

    And Lucifer was also misrepresented by Christians because he was a Latin god of light–his name means “Light-Bearer”. He wa not a god of evil. His Greek equivalent was Phosphoros, “Light-Bearer”, which was also a title of Apollo, which may be the reason why the Christians turned him into another name for their devil.

  • Tore S. S.

    All of Marvel’s Thor stuff is best thought of as comic book aliens that are veeery loosely inspired by Norse lore. The differences are so many that it’s just dumb. Given that foundation, I can’t say I’m particularly annoyed by the movies. The entire universe is so very clearly not our own that the many historical inconsistencies, when compared to our world, barely gets more than the occasional eyeroll from me at this point. What I do find annoying however, is how many Americans take the various relationships and depictions of these comic-book characters and assume they’re copied from the Norse myths.

    • Astrea

      Maybe people think the gods are copied from Norse myths because they have the same names… just saying!

  • Jeff Coté

    While I can understand the frustration with the neverending misrepresentations of the Old Gods, did you expect anything different? The comics from which these movies are based are the source material not classical mythology, and certainly not theology. Further, I fear that you are shouting into a wind tunnel and expecting to be heard.

    Sadly, these movies and the comics from which they spring are the American mythology. Perhaps instead of expecting a people cut off and lost from their ancient culture by a megalithic monomyth to suddenly honor their roots, one can examine the elements of these modern myths to understand the values that the modern American shares with her/his progenitors, and how differently she/he views the mythic landscape.
    While I feel your pain, I fear you are shaking your fist at the sky and cursing the Norns for they way fate has woven life.

  • Lynette Reynolds

    I get that you are frustrated, I really do. But these are based on comics that were drawn and put out decades ago. And they are just movies. Meant for fun. If anything, when people look them up or look a character up they will find lots of information about the actual deity even if they look on wikipedia. It’s planting the seeds in the youth of today, who might end up the Pagan adults of tomorrow. But really, its just entertainment. Take a deep breath, relax a bit.

  • SilverFawn

    If you can claim that Thor spoke to you, then some people are allowed to make a movie for fun based on some comics. Even historical movies are rarely completely historically accurate – that’s not really what mainstream movies are about and your religion isn’t the mainstream religion.

    Allowing people their freedom of creativity and not restricting them is a core concept of paganism (in my view). I never really know if the authors of blog posts like this are just looking for a little conflict for more views or something because it seems so against what they believe.

    • Astrea

      Thanks for your thoughts. I’m not trying to catfish my audience, but I have strong emotions when a blockbuster movie characterizes one of my most beloved goddesses as evil.

  • Nathan Groovy

    im still annoyed they made thor blonde. hes supposed to be red haired.

    • Astrea

      I know, right?! At least give him strawberry blond hair!