There’s a good chance that when the title for the third Thor movie was announced, you looked at your buddy and asked “what does Ragnarok” mean? Don’t feel bad. You weren’t alone. I was calling the movie Thor: Rangcock for at least a week before a friend finally set me straight.
As with most of the backstory and terms related to Thor, Ragnarok’s origins lie in Norse mythology. In Old Norse, the phrase means fate of the gods, with “ragna” meaning “gods” and “rok” meaning “fate.” Ragnarok would come to mean the twilight of the gods or doom of the gods eventually. The pre-Christian Norse used the word to describe the ending of their story or cycle. The cycle consists of seventeen tales, starting with “The Creation of the Cosmos” and ending with “Ragnarok.”
During Ragnarok the cosmos are destroyed and numerous major players in Norse mythology are killed, including Odin, Thor and Loki. After the destruction the world is then rebuilt and populated by two humans: Lif (presumably female) and Lifthrasir (presumably male,) as well as surviving gods.
In the story, the Gods, well aware of various prophecies detailing their demise and the destruction of the cosmos surrounding them, had been preparing for a final battle against giants. In “the realm of human civilization” known as Midgard, humans had all but given up, knowing the end was near, while Loki, who was imprisoned, had broken free and was creating havoc across the Nine Worlds. Loki would go on to join the giants in the assault on Asgard, the gods’ fortress. In the ensuing battle a giant wolf ate the sun, a giant wielding a flaming sword left an inferno in his wake and finally the “ravaged land sank bank in the sea and vanished below the waves.”
While the tale of “Ragnarok” seems like a tragedy, there are some that see it differently and see it as a tale of rebirth and the cyclical nature of civilizations.
“Old Norse philologist Rudolf Simek realized that the tale of Ragnarok conveys a very, very different message. Given that the accounts of the destruction of the world in the Old Norse primary sources are immediately followed by accounts of its re-creation, the assertion that Ragnarok describes the end of linear history is completely unfounded. A more sensitive reading of the primary sources makes it obvious that what Ragnarok describes is a cyclical end of the world, after which follows a new creation, which will in turn be followed by another Ragnarok, and so on throughout eternity. In other words, creation and destruction are points at opposite ends of a circle, not points at opposite ends of a straight line.”
It remains to be seen how closely Thor: Ragnarok follows the Norse tale, but based on the trailer, certain elements are there: giants, Loki being held captive, and Fenrir, Loki’s son and giant wolf going on a tear, as well as Cate Blanchett’s Hela, who is determined to destroy the world and remake it to her liking.
Will Thor die at the end, though, as he does in the Norse tale?
That remains to be seen.