Fáfnir

I warned you before that there might be a disproportionate number of dragons from Medieval European myth, and more specifically from Old Norse myth, and, as promised, here’s another one. Quite a famous one, actually, and one that I find quite interesting. Because it’s not just the dragon itself that’s exciting (which dragon isn’t), but it’s the way in which this dragon came to be. Also what he comes to symbolize, but that’s not terribly unique to Fáfnir, as most dragons in literature represent something or other. In Christian narratives it’s usually the Devil or avarice or some other unpleasant sinful thing. And like always, we’re gong to have to call in pest control services.

Okay, so our story begins not with a dragon, but with dwarves. Fáfnir wasn’t always a dragon, you see. He began his life as a dwarf. And not just any dwarf, either! He was one of three sons of the dwarf king Hreidmar, his brothers being Regin, Ótr, Lyngheiðr, and Lofnheiðr. So one day Thor, Loki, and Hoenir were on a journey, and they came across an otter. Loki killed the otter with a stone and skinned it. The gods arrived at Hreidmar’s dwelling later that night and were proud of their lovely otter skin, so they showed it to the king.

The king was not at all impressed by the skin, nor was he very happy about it, because it turns out that his son Ótr could turn into an otter at will, and that this is actually who Loki had killed. Oops. So the king decides what would make me feel better about the death of my son? …. gold. So in payment, Hreidmar insists that Loki fill the skin with gold, and also cover the outside of the skin with gold. Loki does this, but, being Loki, uses cursed gold, one piece of which is a cursed ring, said to bring death to its possessor.

So Hreidmar’s got all this gold, but Fáfnir isn’t thrilled that he didn’t get a cut, and murders his father for the gold. Fáfnir becomes greedy and reclusive, and takes the gold away into the wilderness to hoard it. It is here that Fáfnir eventually turns into a dragon, thanks to his avarice and general piss poor attitude. He also poisons all the land around him so that no one can come close to him, because he can. Regin, his brother, isn’t super thrilled with this arrangement, as you can imagine, and sends his foster son, Sigurd (yes, that Sigurd, for those of you that are familiar with Old Norse literature), to deal with Fáfnir.

So Sigurd kills the dragon by digging a hole, hiding in it, and stabbing the dragon in the heart form underneath. Before he does this, though, Odin tells him to dig more pits so that he doesn’t drown in the blood. Smort. So Sigurd stabs Fáfnir, and Fáfnir, learning that this was a plot of his brother, warns Sigurd that he’ll probably meet the same end, and not to take the treasure, because it’s cursed. Turns out Fáfnir wasn’t wrong about the treacherous Regin, who was planning on killing Sigurd. But Sigurd, having learned the speech of birds when he tasted Fáfnir’s blood (because of course he did), learns of the plot from some Odinnic birds, and cute off Regin’s head. Ta da!