Making the Grade: The Nine Worlds of Norse Mythology

Asgard
There’s nothing to discuss. Asgard is it. It’s the alpha and omega, the ultimate destination, the skybox seat, the mack daddy cool of all divine abodes. You can keep your craggy Grecian mountaintops and cloud-infested harp recitals; show me a place where I can sit in a golden dining hall and drink mead from an enchanted goat’s teat for all eternity and I am one happy dead guy. Asgard’s only real drawback, aside from the slow progress on the representational democracy front, is the constant attacks from trolls, frost giants, and other assorted monsters that want in on the enchanted teat mead action. And really, can you blame them? A+

Midgard 
Or, as us mere mortals like to call it, “Earth” (though “terra firma” or “home of the Grand Slam Breakfast” will do in a pinch). It’s surrounded by a giant sea serpent named Jormungand — which sounds less like a frightening mythological creature and more like the name of the sixth-grade bully that started a young Schwarzenegger on the road to fitness — and was formed from the eyebrows, blood, flesh and armpits of an ancient ice giant, in case you were wondering why the gods don’t come by to visit as much as they used to. Armpit lineages notwithstanding, Midgard is home to — depending on which Thor stories you subscribe to — the comeliest nurses/doctors/paramedics/astrophysicists in all the Nine Worlds, and you know the gods are all about hitting that. Um, in the colloquial sense, of course. B+

Jotenheim
This realm is home to Frost Giants, Storm Giants, Mountain Giants, New York Giants, They Might Be Giants, all kinds of giants. Basically, if giants are what you’re into, then this is the place to be. It’s also the birthplace of Loki, but don’t expect the local tourism board to order up plaques commemorating that blessed event anytime soon. Other points of interest for the adventurous tourist: the river Iving, which never freezes over; Mimir’s well of wisdom, beneath a root of the ash tree Yggdrasil; and the stronghold of Utgard, largest city in Jotenheim (official town motto: “Bring a sweater”). Then there’s Thrymheim, the mountain stronghold with a name that means “house of uproar,” “crash home” or “noisy home,” depending on which ancient text you swear by. I’m totally snagging “House of Uproar” for the name of my next imaginary rock band. C

Vanaheim
This is the home of the Vanir, a race of gods that live right next door to Asgard. Kind of like how Canadians live right next to the U.S., and I don’t make that comparison lightly. Vanaheim is usually seen as pastoral and full of natural wonders by the more urbanized Asgardians — just like Canada. The residents of Vanaheim don’t get the same kind of attention as their neighboring Asgardians because they’re more into the boring, peace-loving stuff like farming and fertility — just like Canadians. Really, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out it’s common for the socially awkward kids in Asgard to claim that, sure, they totally have a girlfriend but she lives in Vanaheim and they don’t have any pictures of her because all the cameras over there are in metric, or something. B

Alfheim
No, not the mythical home of inexplicably popular puppet stars from mind-boggingly stupid ’80s sitcoms. Alfheim is home to the peaceful Light Elves who, as Marvel’s Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe tells us, “tend to be lighter in color than the Dark Elves.” Thanks for clearing that up, Marvel Comics! Those smitten with Orlando Bloom’s non-threatening features and/or mad archery skills might be tempted to make Alfheim their first and only stop on their trans-dimensional journey, but a word of warning: While most of Alfheim is depicted as a temperate forest just begging to be frolicked in, a good portion of it is a frozen wasteland of ice and snow, because God forbid even the denizens of the designated “happy place” of the Nine Worlds ever forget winter is always coming. Also, some of the smaller elves ride cats. That just ain’t right. And now I can’t stop imagining Orlando riding one. Weird. B+

Svartalfheim
Home of the Dark Elves who — and pay close attention now — tend to be darker in appearance than the Light Elves of Alfheim. A lovely realm of deep forests and large caverns, both of which the locals are equally at home in, Svartalfheim receives few five-star ratings in the Fodor’s Guide to the Nine Realms, mostly because the residents tend to get testy about outsiders setting foot on their land. This may have something to do with the lighter-skinned races from other places periodically popping by for a little light plunder and conquest, or the fact that Dark Elves who venture to other realms tend to be treated poorly by other races for no reason other than the elves’ dark complexion. If I think of any real-world analogies that can help explain this, I’ll let you know. B-

Nidavellir
If you’re gonna have elves, you gotta have dwarves. That’s just how it goes. Sharing the same landmass as Asgard, Alfheim, and Vanaheim, Nidavellir is home to underground-dwelling dwarves who while away the hours forging tools and weapons for themselves and their allies. If you can think of the entire cosmos as Fraggle Rock, Nidavellir would be the home of the Doozers, only instead of building plastic structures for the larger Fraggles to eat, they build swords and hammers. And I guess that would make Marjorie the Trash Heap the equivalent to Mimir’s well of wisdom? And the Gorgs are the Asgardians? And Sprocket is the Midgard serpent guarding the portal to our earthly realm? All right, so maybe my analogy needs a little work… B-

Niffelheim
It’s the farthest, coldest and deadest of all the Nine Worlds. And I don’t mean dead in the figurative sense — within Niffelheim lies the land of Hel, where those who died an unheroic death from disease or old age spend the rest of eternity as wraiths moping in the presence of the half-corpse, half-female ruler of the realm. You’d think a Viking’s vision of hell would feature gently rolling hills full of puppies and adorable youngsters singing “Free to Be You and Me” but no, Hel to the Norsemen meant a lot of standing around on a flat plain moaning about how much it sucks being dead. A step down from an eternity of gargling enchanted teat mead, to be sure. But you’d think a culture where rape, drowning, scurvy and ax blows to the head ranked above “bathing” on the list of everyday occurrences would be a little more receptive to the idea of being somewhere where nothing happens to them. D+

Muspelheim
A realm of eternal fire and demons that’s lorded over by a giant fire demon (Surtur, if you must know) who will someday bring about Ragnarok (the end of all creation, if you must know) by rising out of his realm and spreading fire throughout all the other worlds. That’s… really disappointing. I mean, for a culture that came up with magical goat-teat mead and creation myths involving eyebrows and armpits, tacking a “and then we all burn up” line at the end sounds like a really unoriginal way to wrap up the franchise. Legend has it the old Norsemen came up with Muspelheim after witnessing Iceland’s famed volcanoes in seismic action, and their stories of a land of never-ending fire influenced the Christian depiction of hell we all know and subconsciously scurry from today. If that’s true, then it makes Björk the second reason Icelanders owe the rest of us a sincere apology. D-

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