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Fenrir: The Norse Wolf that Inspired Marvel and J.K. Rowling

Discover one of the most important characters in Norse mythology, the one that kills the god Odin

In the battle for the domination of the Earth between gods and giants, which is depicted in the Poetic Edda of Norse mythology, the wolf Fenrir is one of the most powerful creatures. His role is essential, as he is the father of the wolves that destroy the Sun and the Moon, and the monster that will get to kill the god Odin.

Find out Fenrir’s genealogy and the role of this fearsome wolf in the cosmogony of Norse mythology. His magnetism caught the attention of the creators of Marvel and J.K. Rowling and enriched their intriguing world of myth and fiction.

Fenrir, the Wolf of Norse Mythology

The monstrous wolf Fenrir is one of the most important Norse mythology creatures because, within this cosmogony, he plays an essential role in the battle for the fate of the gods, Ragnarök, where he kills the god Odin.

According to the most important epic poem of Norse mythology, “Völuspá”: “Then is fulfilled Hlín's second sorrow, when Odin goes to fight with the wolf”.

The importance of Fenrir is based on his origin, since he is the son of Loki, the “origin of all evil”  in Norse mythology. Although Loki is a giant, he mingles with the gods and ends up being considered a son by Odin (often, he appears as Thor’s brother in genealogies) until he cunningly plots the murder of his brother Baldr.

Fenrir is the fruit of the union between Loki and the giantess Angrboda, who also gives birth to Hel, the goddess of Hell, and Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent that will kill the god Thor in the battle for the fate of the gods. When the gods of Asgard find out about these creatures, they banish them: Hel is sent to the realm of darkness, and Jörmungandr, to the bottom of the sea.

Fenrir’s Role in Ragnarök

However, Fenrir is still a cub and the gods take pity on him. For years he lives in his dwelling and is fed and taken care of by Tyr, the god of war. However, his fast growth scares the gods, who ask the Black elves (the best blacksmiths of Asgard) to find a way to bind the giant wolf to stones.

The dwarves agree to forge the most solid chain ever created. According to Norse mythology, in order to bind the wolf Fenrir, the chain was made of “the sound of a cat's footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish, the spittle of a bird”.

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Legend has it that in order to convince the wolf to be bound with the fetter called Gleipnir, the gods appeal to his pride betting that he will not be able to release himself from the new chains. Fenrir takes on the challenge, but on condition that one of the gods put his hand in his jaws as a guarantee that he will not be tricked. And so, it is explained how the god Tyr lost an arm.

Fenrir manages to free himself and to get ready for the great final battle.  According to the legend, Fenrir has two sons: Sköll, the wolf that chases the horses Arvakr and Alsvidr which pull the chariot of the god Sun; and Hati, the wolf that chases the Moon. This is foretold in one of the most important mythological stanzas.

“In the east sat an old woman in Iron-wood

and nurtured there offspring of Fenrir

a certain one of them in monstrous form

will be the snatcher of the moon”

Craving for revenge, when Fenrir arrives at the decisive battle of Ragnarök, he sends Hati to destroy the Moon while Sköll finishes off the Sun, immersing the Earth in complete darkness while Odin and the Asgard gods wage war against Loki and the Jötunn giants.

Fenrir kills the revered god Odin by devouring him. However, he will be rescued from his jaws by Odin’s son and god of vengeance, Vidar, and so ends the epic tale of the monstrous wolf Fenrir.

Marvel’s Fenris Wolf: from Myth to Fiction

The Norse mythology has served as a basis for many fiction stories which present several characters inspired by the wolf Fenrir.  His power, since the legends describe him as a monstrous wolf with great jaws and incredible strength, and his decisive role in the war between gods and giants have turned him into a source of inspiration.

He appeared for the first time in a comic book in March 1965 in the Journey into Mystery by the name of Fenris Wolf and then reappeared in the series about Thor. In the first comic book, Marvel created Fenris Wolf by keeping part of his real story and adding new elements of fiction.

So much so that, in his first appearance he serves as a basis for the adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood, a tale by Charles Perrault, to Norse mythology, since here the young Idun brings the golden apples of immortality to Odin through the woods of Asgard. In these stories, it is the goddess Hel who releases the wolf Fenrir causing the Ragnarök.

The Norse Wolf that Inspired J.K. Rowling: Fenrir Greyback

In the magic universe created for the Harry Potter series by successful writer J.K. Rowling, the powerful character of the wolf Fenrir is combined with the ancestral myth of the werewolf to bring forth Fenrir Greyback, a horrible lycanthrope with a great appetite and a preference for children. 

This creature is the leader of a werewolves’ community and his final goal is to infect all humanity with the lycanthrope virus in order to form a powerful army that will defeat the magic world. He is described as a Death Eater being and his end is uncertain: he is either dead or locked up in the dungeons of Azkaban.

Fenrir Greyback participates in the Battle of the Astronomy Tower, at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, during the Second Wizarding War, when he badly scars William Weasley’s face. He appears in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and also in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In the film adaptations, he is portrayed by David Legeno.