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'Thor: The Dark World' mixes fantasy and mythology

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 6 2013 5:25 p.m. MST

Still, he had some interesting insights into the mythological underpinnings of some of the movie’s central characters. For example, he said that “the god Odin is a relentless seeker after knowledge.” While Odin is often likened to Zeus, the ruler of the gods of Greek mythology, McCoy said they really are very different.

“Zeus is anchored to Olympus and is concerned with maintaining structure and order among the gods, while Odin is constantly away from Asgard on self-interested quests,” McCoy said. “Odin only uses structure to help him achieve his objectives for personal fulfillment.”

Thor, on the other hand, is “a very dutiful and loyal guardian of Asgard.”

“The giants (another tribe of Norse divinities, along with the gods) are constantly trying to destroy Asgard, and Thor is constantly trying to stop that from happening,” McCoy said. “Thor is thunder and his hammer is lightning. According to mythology, whenever there is thunder and lightning, that is Thor crashing down on the giants and killing them.”

Although the decision by Marvel creators to make Loki Thor’s adoptive brother is “definitely not true to Norse mythology,” the decision at least “makes poetic sense,” McCoy said.

“Loki is the constant companion of Thor and Odin,” he said. “The stories suggest that the three of them often had adventures together,” although it is also clear that Loki “is not on anyone’s side. He seems to enjoy playfulness and mischief just for the sake of playfulness and mischief.”

Such departures from Norse mythology don’t bother McCoy because “I don’t even think of the Thor movies as being especially tied to Norse mythology since they are focusing on the superficial details and missing the heart of it, which is the worldview of mythology.

“Traditional mythologies are expressed in terms of stories, and modern worldviews are expressed in terms of conceptual language,” he explained. “In animistic societies people see themselves as being part of a larger story, which is the story of the land around them. Since everything in the world is in some sense alive or conscious or spiritual, they believe we are all characters in the grander stories of the land.

“Norse mythology,” McCoy continued, “is ultimately one long, grand narrative that ultimately shows that the world itself is divine — that everything we need is right here. We just have to look for it harder.”

Farr and other fans of the Marvel-ized version of Norse mythology aren’t really looking for such profundity from “Thor: The Dark World.” Rather, they are looking for a couple of hours of escape from the harsh realities of life into a world of creative fantasy.

“I think what happens as people start watching the Marvel movies is it touches the creative, fantasy-oriented part of their brain,” Farr said. “It’s not like a cop drama, that is grounded in reality and mimics real life. You can certainly enjoy a movie like that and be compelled by it. But I don’t think it stirs your soul as much as going into a world of fantasy that touches the creative portion of your brain and allows you to escape into something that is imaginative and unreal.”

At least, Farr said, that is what is going on for him when he goes to a Marvel movie.

“I like to be able to step back from the real world and go into something fantastical,” he said. “I find I become more immersed in a Marvel movie than I would something that is more realistic. It’s like a roller coaster, where you can just go for the ride and enjoy it. You know that you’re going to be thrown around a little, but it’s all safe.”

If there is a deeper level of appreciation for such movies, it’s probably in what Farr calls “the very human desire for heroes.”

“I think that’s kind of in our nature,” he said. “We all want to believe that there’s something more. We want to believe in something bigger than ourselves. Thor gives us that. He’s flawed, and his character is evolving. But then, he’s also a god with these amazing powers, and this really cool hammer. How can you not get lost in that?”

Email: jwalker@deseretnews.com

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