There is undoubtedly no more celebrated yet tortuous relationship between two brothers found in world literature than that of these two Norse gods.

It's complicated...

Let's face it; their relationship was never destined to work out well. 

One god is a protector of humanity, renowned for his super strength and magical accessories. The other god, on the other hand, has a reputation for being a trickster and prankster, overflowing with cunning and deceit. Thor and Loki may be the original odd couple. 

The rich tapestry of Norse literature features these two gods in many an epic tale or heroic saga. Yet it's their complex relationship and layered interactions with one another that have kept their popularity soaring, high enough perhaps to reach Valhalla since stories of their exploits were first narrated over 1500 years ago.

Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, was portrayed throughout the Norse sagas as a protector. 

When he wasn't fighting giants, monsters, or giant monster snakes, Thor was protecting Asgard from the forces of eternal darkness and chaos. He was said to be a son of Odin with his mistress, Jörd.

Loki is a member of the Æsir with a somewhat complex ancestry. 

Whilst some sagas portray him as the blood brother of Odin (thus making him Thor's Uncle), he is described, in the Poetic Edda, as the son of a jötun and a goddess, Laufey. 

He has the magical ability to shapeshift – often into a salmon, a mare, or a fly, and he is the father of Fenrir. The tales take an unusual turn in one saga when he is impregnated by a stallion and gives birth to Sleipnir.

However, he remains an ambiguous figure, sometimes helping and sometimes hindering the gods and humanity.

A clash of the titans... and heads

The most common way that the relationship between Thor and Loki is portrayed in the sagas is one of animosity towards each other. Three examples of this help summarize how Loki was often the bane of Thor and his exploits.

1) Thrymskvida – this saga deals with the theft of Thor's trusty hammer, Mjöllnir

In it, the thief is a jötunn, Thyrm, and demands Freyja, the Norse goddess of love and beauty, as a wife in exchange for the safe return of Mjöllnir. Loki tricks the giant into returning the hammer by transforming Thor into Freyja. 

However, Loki nearly blows their cover with his boorish attitude. Yet the two manage, despite almost coming to blows themselves, to retrieve Mjöllnir.

2) Lokasenna – in this epic poem, Loki plays the role of a very unwelcome house guest. 

He attends a feast in Asgard and proceeds to insult everyone present, including Thor. His sharp and hurtful critique of Thor – suggesting that he is more brawn than brains – prompts the other gods to physically restrain the Norse God of Thunder.

It's probably safe to say Loki should be crossed off the guest list for any party you intend to throw...

3) The Death of Baldur – one of the most well-known sagas deals with the untimely death of Thor's brother, the Norse God Baldur

The beloved son of Odin and Frigg, Baldur was thought to be immune from all and every ailment or method of harm.

Enter Loki doing, well, Loki things. 

He finds out that the only thing that can cause Baldur harm is mistletoe. He crafted an arrow from the plant and tricked the blind god Hodr to throw it at Baldur. The arrow hits Baldur, and he dies tragically.

Thor was incandescent with rage and pushed for Loki to be banished from the Æsir once and for all.

The most popular depiction of Loki throughout the sagas was less than flattering. Loki's provocative and downright disruptive nature often tested Thor's patience (to the limit), as well as his loyalty to the gods and humanity.

Amidst an imminent threat from a formidable giant, Thor's and Loki's turbulent relationship took an unexpected turn towards unity. Illustration: The Viking Herald

It wasn't all fights and brawls, though...

Yet despite seemingly rubbing each other up the wrong way in every saga, the two Norse gods could, occasionally, work together well.

In the poem, Þórsdrápa, Loki and Thor set about on an adventure to one of the lands of the giants, Utgard-Loki. The two became unwilling partners in a series of quests and challenges and must work together.

One of the funniest quests involves an eating challenge where Loki must quickly out-consume Logi, a fire giant. 

Thor rushes in to save the day and pig out. They overcome the other trials using Loki's cunning and Thor's superhuman strength.

Another example of this familial bonding and partnership occurs in the second part of the Prose Edda (Skáldskaparmál), compiled by 13th-century Icelandic author, politician, and man of letters, Snorri Sturluson

In this tall tale, Thor and Loki must combine forces to slay a giant, Hrungir. Not only is this giant a sworn enemy of the gods, but he goaded them by saying he would capture Valhalla and rape Freyja.

He had to be stopped. 

In an epic fight scene worthy of any 90s Hollywood movie, Thor battles with the giant but appears to be losing. Just in the nick of time, Loki shows up and deflects a huge boulder thrown at Thor by the giant. The boulder bounces back and ends up killing this giant pest.

Whilst the sagas often portrayed Thor and Loki as somewhere between frenemies and enemies, a surprising number of stories involved these two Norse gods working together.

Given the political insecurity of the early medieval era and Viking societies, they would often want to be regaled with tales that weren't always so "black and white." 

Scanning through any of the sagas, it appears that Thor and Loki were, to borrow a phrase from 19th-century British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, neither "eternal allies... or... perpetual enemies."

Like the best parts of life itself, the truth of their relationship lies somewhere in the grey areas.

To listen to an in-depth interview with The New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman on his latest book, Norse Mythology, visit the ABC Conversations website here.

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