Hermod the Nimble: the Nordic God That Inspired a Classic Comic Book Superhero
The Flash is quick and nimble. DC Comics introduced the costumed crusader of justice as the fastest superhero in the pantheon of comic book mythology. Due to his popularity, when somebody thinks of a character with extreme speed, he comes to mind.
But, he wasn’t the only character of both literature and myth who could claim that title. In many respects, the Flash was inspired by the Norse god whose main power was to run faster than any human or god could do.
Interestingly, in a twist of superhero fate, Hermod was revived by DC Comic’s biggest publishing rival. Since the 1960s, Marvel Comics has been bringing various Norse gods to a modern public. Instead of gods, however, they’ve become superheroes with mortal aliases. The first was Thor, others – including Hermod – soon followed as the Thunder God’s story became increasingly popular with comic book readers.
Hermod may have been overshadowed by more famous Nordic gods, but he's not one to be forgotten. Whether he's the inspiration for an iconic superhero, or one that's been brought back to life in the colorful, paneled pages of comic books, Hermod has the distinction of being a bridge between ancient myth and modern lore.
The Modern Hermod
The best place to start understanding this ancient god is to see how he was transformed by the superhero myths of the modern age.
In 1978, Hermod got his shot. His first appearance was in Thor #274. According to Marvel Comic’s Marvel Universe website, Hermod has the same role he played in ancient mythology; he was a young god and was employed by Odin as a messenger due to his great speed. In fact, his speed was so great that he could sprint through dimensional apertures between worlds such as Earth, Asgard, and Niffleheim without stopping (www. marvelunapp.com, 2010). Also, he belonged to the group known as the Asgardian – which was a combination of Aesir and Vanir of Norse mythology.
There were some differences. To begin with, Marvel’s Hermod had an alias, just as Thor did. He was known as Howard “Howie” Barker. Howie turned into Hermod through the use of an enchanted headband which allowed him to travel at superhuman speeds.
When Howie became Hermod, he was given an interesting physique. He stood at 5’11 and weighed 415 lbs.
Also, in later appearances, he usually wore in-line skates to accompany that speed. When Howie became Hermod, he was given an interesting physique. He stood at 5’11 and weighed 415 lbs. The pictorial image of him indicates there’s no fat on him: just muscles.
The Marvel Universe is not the only appearance Hermod has made through Western literature. His name and presence has been mentioned in numerous epic poems and stories throughout Middle Ages. His name was even mentioned in the Old English Poem, “Beowulf”. In that story, he was referred to as a Danish King.
Hermod’s Place in Nordic Mythology
Still, Hermod got his start in Norse Mythology. One of the most important forms of literature pertaining to Norse Mythology gave ample information – and a storyline – to Hermod. In the early versions he went by another name: Hermóðr.
His most pivotal appearance was in Snorri Sturluson’s “Gylfaginning”. In this epic poem – also known as one of the poems from the Icelandic collection, Prose Edda – Hermod was considered the youngest son of Odin and Frigg, the patriarch and matriarch of all the Nordic gods. He was a member of the all-powerful Aesir, and derived his powers from magical staff called Gambantein.
From the Verses of “Gylfaginning”
“Gylfaginning” contains the only story attributed to Hermod. This particular story was told in what is known as Section 49, and it started with the death of his brother, Baldir.
Baldir the Brave was beloved by the gods. And when he died, many of them were devastated. Among the most distraught was Frigg. She asked her fellow Aesir who among them wished “to gain all her love and favor” by riding the road to Hel (similar to the modern version of Hell) (Wikipedia, 2010). Hel was the place where the dead were interred and it was named after the goddess Hel (or Hella) who governed this underworld realm.
The plan that Frigg and Odin had was to offer Hel a ransom in exchange for Baldir’s return to Asgard. Of all the gods, Hermod agreed to take Frigg’s offer to beg for Baldir’s release.
Still, Hermod got his start in Norse Mythology. One of the most important forms of literature pertaining to Norse Mythology gave ample information – and a storyline – to Hermod
Ragnarok, the Movie
By the way, if Ragnarok sounds familiar, that's because it will be the title of the third Thor movie. Most likely this movie will follow the Marvel comic version rather that Prose Edda. Still, as of this writing, the movie will most likely be released on November 3, 2017.
There's no indication if Hermod will be a character in this film. However, Hel (named Hela) will be the main antagonist.
Although Hermod was a god known for incredible speed, he was given a horse to travel on the road to Hel. This horse was a special one; it was Sleipnir, Odin’s personal horse. With Sleipnir, Hermod traveled for nine nights on this road, confronting several obstacles including the maiden, Móðguðr (‘Battle-frenzy' or 'Battle-tired') who guarded the pivotal and final bridge before entering Hel called Gjöll bridge.
After being informed by Móðguðr that Baldir had already crossed the bridge, Hermod continued his journey until he finally came face-to-face with Hel. Once before her, Hermod pleaded for Baldir’s release. Hel agreed to it only under one condition; Baldir can return only if the living and dead wept for him.
Before leaving, Hermod was able to meet with Baldir. Baldir gave him the ring Draupnir which had been burned with him on his pyre, to take back to Odin, as a sign that he met with Baldir and Hel.
Finally, Hermod returned to Asgard and told Odin and Frigg of the bargain. The bargain would turn out not be fulfilled. Not every living or dead being mourned for Baldir. Thus, Baldir remained in Hel until the end of the world in the apocalypse known as Ragnarok (this story would also used in various Marvel Comics titles that Hermod would appear in between 1978-1994).
His Relations with the Other Gods
There is some confusion about Hermod’s relations with Odin. While “Gylfaginning” refers to him as Odin’s son, the Codex Regius version – normally considered the best manuscript – refers to him as “sveinn Óðins “ or Odin’s boy, suggesting that he was a servant. Later translations or updates of the manuscript would imply that he was the son of Odin and the brother of Thor and Baldir.
Hermod’s eventual fate is never known, for his story ends within the “Gylfaginning”. It is assumed that he perished in the mythology’s end-time battle of Ragnarok. In terms of a superhero, however, he tends to pop up as a supporting character for his popular brother, Thor.
Hermod may not be as popular as the Flash, despite having the same power; however, Hermod has had a longer history, and appears to have some longevity over the 20th century superhero. Household name or not, Hermod lives on, quick and nimble and ready to battle and run circles around meanest and baddest villains the Marvel Universe has to offer.
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© 2017 Dean Traylor