Article
Randy Pollak
Gods Versus Giants

An epic showdown

By Spencer Kayden
From the September 2019 Issue

Learning Objective: to draw a conclusion about a character and support that conclusion with text evidence

Other Key Skills: setting, inference, character’s motivation, text evidence, interpreting text, text structure

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As you read the play, study the illustrations, and read the captions, think about what Loki’s character traits are.

Prologue

SD1: Two storytellers dressed as Vikings step onstage.

Storyteller 1: More than 1,000 years ago, Vikings like us lived in Scandinavia.

Storyteller 2: Like the ancient Greeks and Romans, we Vikings worshipped many gods.

Storyteller 1: Gods such as Thor, the god of war; Idunn, the goddess of youth; and Odin, the king of all gods.

Storyteller 2: We believed the world had nine realms, or kingdoms. Our gods ruled over all of them.

Storyteller 1: The gods lived in the realm of Asgard.

Storyteller 2: We humans lived in the realm of Midgard.

Storyteller 1: Terrible monsters called frost giants lived in the realm of Jotunheim.

Storyteller 2: The gods and the frost giants were sworn enemies—and constantly at war. 

SCENE 1

Jotunheim, the realm of the giants

SD2: In an enormous ice castle, four frost giants sit at a stone table.

SD3: Ice crystals crawl up the windows like feathery white snakes. Cold wind whistles through the room.

SD1: Hymir is nursing a wound on his head.

Thiazi: Thor beat you in battle yet again?

Hymir: He would be nothing without his magical hammer.

Thrym: We must put the gods in their place.

Hymir: But how?

Thrym: We must find their weakness. What is something the gods cannot live without?

Thiazi: The Apples of Life.

Hymir: Yes! They must eat one golden apple a day or they will age rapidly—and eventually die.

Thiazi: Then we must steal those apples.

Skadi: Idunn never lets them out of her sight.

Thiazi: Then we’ll take Idunn as well.

SD2: Skadi exhales, her breath forming a cloud of mist.

Skadi: Why can’t we live peacefully in our realm while the gods live in theirs?

Hymir: Because we should be ruling the nine realms, not them. We’re better than they are.

Thiazi: Exactly. But we cannot defeat the gods unless we have Idunn’s apples.

Thrym: How do we get them?

SD3: Thiazi’s eyes brighten.

Thiazi: I have an idea. There is one god who will promise anything to save his own skin. I will disguise myself and find him.

Randy Pollak

Asgard: Home of the Norse Gods

Norse was the religion of the Vikings. In Norse mythology, the world is ruled by gods who live in a place called Asgard. Thor, god of war and thunder, was the most popular god among the Vikings. They believed he protected humanity, battled giants, and controlled thunder and lightning.

SCENE 2

Later that day • Midgard, the realm of humans

SD1: In a lush forest, three gods—Odin, Hoenir, and Loki—sit around a crackling fire. Above them a giant eagle sits in a tree. The eagle is Thiazi in disguise.

Odin: Is the meat ready yet?

SD2: Hoenir checks the meat on the fire.

Hoenir: It’s still raw.

Loki: What? It’s been cooking for hours.

Thiazi (in eagle form): Hee hee hee!

SD3: The gods look up and see the eagle.

Thiazi (to Odin): Are you having trouble?

Odin: Our meat won’t cook.

SD1: Thiazi swoops to the ground.

Thiazi: Your meat has been cursed. But if you share your meat with me, I will remove the curse for you.

Odin: Well . . . all right.

SD2: Thiazi flicks his head and the meat starts to sizzle.

SD3: Loki licks his lips eagerly.

Odin: It seems ready now.

SD1: Thiazi tears off a large hunk of meat and devours it. Then he eats more. And more. And more.

Loki: Come on! Save some for us.

SD2: Thiazi keeps eating. Enraged, Loki grabs a large stick and strikes the eagle.

Thiazi: You shall regret that!

SD3: Thiazi seizes Loki in his talons and takes off into the sky.

Loki: Let me down!

Thiazi: You gods think you rule the realms. But you do not rule us!

SD1: Thiazi flies low, dragging Loki across jagged rocks.

Loki: Ow! Ow! Ow! Who are you?

Thiazi: I am Thiazi, the frost giant.

SD2: Thiazi flies up in a spiral, whirling Loki like a tornado.

Loki: Please! Have mercy! I’ll do anything!

Thiazi: Anything?

Loki: Yes, anything!

Thiazi: Bring me Idunn and her Apples of Life.

Loki: No. Not that!

SD3: Thiazi loosens his grip and Loki begins to slip.

Thiazi: Shall I let you fall from here?

Loki: No! Please!

Thiazi: Then bring Idunn to the gnarled oak tree in the forest. Tomorrow.

Loki: How? She never leaves the safety of Asgard.

Thiazi: I am sure you will think of something.

SD1: Loki squeezes his eyes shut.

Thiazi: Enjoy your fall to the ground!

Loki: Okay! I’ll do it.

SD2: Thiazi swoops down and releases Loki back by the camp fire.

Hoenir: What was that about?

Loki (mumbling ): Nothing.    

Jim McMahon/Mapman

The Vikings

The Vikings came from Scandinavia, an area in northern Europe that includes the present-day countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The Vikings were most powerful from about 800 to 1050 A.D.

SCENE 3

That evening • Asgard, the realm of the gods

SD3: The gods are gathered in their gold-roofed hall. Idunn glides around the room passing out apples.

SD1: She hands one to Odin, who sits on his throne.

Idunn: For you, All-Father.

SD2: Odin takes a large bite. His blue eyes start to sparkle like sapphires.

SD3: Thor sets down his hammer and chomps his apple. As he wipes juice from his fiery-red beard, his powerful muscles grow larger.

Thor: Thank you, Idunn.

SD1: As Freya chews her apple, her cheeks flush with the bloom of youth.

SD2: Loki sidles over to Idunn.

Loki: My dear Idunn, I saw something fascinating today in Midgard—a tree with golden apples that looked remarkably like yours.

Idunn: My apples do not grow on trees. They magically appear in my basket.

Loki: But these apples were glittering even more than yours. (leaning in) What if they’re better than yours?

Idunn: That’s preposterous.

SD3: Idunn turns to leave, then reconsiders.

Idunn: Perhaps I should just take a look at them.

Loki: I will take you to see them tomorrow.

SCENE 4

The next morning • Asgard to Midgard

SD1: Idunn and Loki walk across a shimmering rainbow bridge that leads out of Asgard. As they near the end of the bridge, Idunn stops and clutches her basket.

Idunn: Are you sure I will be safe outside Asgard?

Loki: Don’t worry. I will protect you.

Idunn: What if the giants were to get my apples? Imagine a world in which our greatest enemies were immortal like us.

Loki: I would never let that happen.

SD2: Idunn begins to walk again. She and Loki travel over rolling hills as the sun rises high in the sky.

Idunn: How much farther?

Loki: Just a bit.

SD3: They arrive at the gnarled oak tree in the forest.

Idunn: Loki, this tree doesn’t have any—

SD1: Thiazi, in eagle form, swoops down and grabs Idunn and her basket of apples.

Idunn: No ! Loki! Help me!

SD2: Loki watches them fly away. 

Randy Pollak

Skilled Warriors

The Vikings were skilled warriors and sailors, traveling across the sea in super-fast boats like this one. Vikings were feared across Europe. They raided cities and villages, helping themselves to gold, silver, jewelry, and other riches. 

SCENE 5

That evening • The great hall in Asgard

SD3: Odin sits on his throne. He looks around, puzzled.

Odin: I am ready for my apple. Where is Idunn?

Thor: I have not seen her.

Loki: I’m sure she’ll be here soon.

SD1: They wait in uncomfortable silence.

Freya: I’ve never gone a day without an apple.

Hoenir: What will happen?

Odin: Let’s not panic.

SD2: The lights fade, then come back up.

SD3: The gods’ faces have become wrinkled.

Odin: Day three without apples. Has no one seen Idunn?

Freya: She’s still missing.

SD1: Thor walks in. His red beard is peppered with gray.

Thor: Where can she be?

SD2: The lights fade and rise again.

SD3: Odin’s chest has caved in. His eyes are like marbles floating in milk.

Odin (weakly): A week with no apples.

SD1: Thor hobbles in. His beard has turned white.

Thor: There is no sign of Idunn in all of Asgard.

SD2: Freya lays a hand on Odin’s shoulder.

Freya: I fear something terrible has happened to her.

SD3: Hoenir enters with Heimdall, the watchman.

Hoenir (to Heimdall ): Tell them.

Heimdall: The last I saw Idunn, she was with Loki. They were heading toward the rainbow bridge.

Odin (with rage ): Bring me Loki. NOW!

SCENE 6

An hour later • The great hall in Asgard

SD1: Thor drags Loki in.

Thor: I found this coward hiding in a field.

Odin: Where is Idunn?

Loki: Thiazi kidnapped her. What could I do?

Thor: Why would she leave Asgard?

Loki: She wanted to see the other golden apples.

Hoenir: What? There are other Apples of Life?

Odin: Bring them to me!

Loki: I can’t. They . . . don’t exist.

Thor: What?!

Loki: I told Idunn there were other golden apples to lure her out of Asgard.

SD2: The gods are fuming.

Loki: I had no choice! Thiazi was going to kill me.

Thor: I have a mind to tear your limbs off for this betrayal.

Freya: Loki was always going to betray us. His father was a frost giant. His loyalties are divided.

Heimdall: Loki’s loyalties are only to himself !

Thor: Because you’re a half-giant, you can survive without the apples, Loki. But we cannot. Even now the life drains out of us.

Odin: Do you wish to see us dead? Who would protect the nine realms?

Thor: The giants would destroy everything.

SD3: Freya walks toward Loki, her sword drawn.

Loki: Wait! Wait! What if I could bring Idunn back?

SD1: Freya freezes. Loki locks eyes with her.

Loki: I just need your falcon-feather cloak.

Freya: Give you my beloved cloak? Ha!

Loki: It’s the only way.

SD2: Freya begrudgingly hands Loki the cloak. He puts it on, turns into a falcon, and takes off into the sky.

Thor: Can we trust him?

Odin: No. But he is our only chance for survival.

Randy Pollak

Loki the Trickster

Though Loki lived among the gods, his father was a frost giant. Loki was always stirring up trouble. He held none of the qualities valued by the Vikings, such as courage, honor, loyalty, and discipline. But Loki wasn’t all bad. He had a great sense of humor. And he often helped solve the problems he caused.

SCENE 7

A short time later • Thiazi’s castle in Jotunheim

SD3: Loki lands at Thiazi’s castle, removes the falcon cloak, and creeps inside.

SD1: He finds Idunn locked in a dark room, clutching her basket of apples.

Loki: Idunn, I have come to rescue you.

SD2: Idunn lifts her tear-stained face.

Idunn: I will never trust you again, even if my life depends on it.

Loki: Well, my life depends on it. And so do the lives of all the gods.

Idunn: Your blood runs with deception, Loki.

Loki: You only have to trust me one more time. Let me turn you into . . . a walnut.

Idunn: What? A walnut?

Loki: I have Freya’s falcon cloak. If I turn you and your basket of apples into a tiny walnut, I can hold you safely in my talons and fly back to Asgard.

SD3: Idunn looks at him skeptically.

Idunn: Trick me again and it will be your end.

SD1: Loki puts on the cloak, turns Idunn into a walnut, and flies away with her.

SD2: Just then, Thiazi and Skadi return to the castle, looking for Idunn.

Thiazi: Gone! The Apples of Life are gone!

SD3: Thiazi scans the sky and sees a falcon flying away.

Thiazi: Loki! Curse you! Curse all the gods!

Skadi: Father, do not go after them! I fear you will never come back.

SD1: Thiazi ignores her.

SD2: He turns into an eagle and flies away.    

SCENE 8

A short time later • Asgard

SD3: Odin sees the falcon flying toward Asgard.

Odin: Loki! But there is the eagle—Thiazi—behind him!

Thor: Quick, let us gather all the wood we can.

SD1: The gods muster their strength and make a pile of wood near the entrance to Asgard.

Heimdall: Hurry! The eagle has nearly caught Loki.

Hoenir: If we lose Idunn, we lose everything.

Odin: All right. Light the fire . . . now!

SD2: Thor lifts his hammer, summoning lightning.

Thor: Aaaaaaaaaaah!

SD3: He brings the hammer down. Thunder rumbles. Lightning strikes the pile, setting it ablaze.

SD1: Loki soars just over the fire. The flames rise higher, and Thiazi is unable to avoid them.

Thiazi: Nooooooo!

SD2: Thiazi crumbles to the ground in a pile of ash.

SD3: Loki lands. He returns Idunn to her goddess form.

SD1: The gods gather round as she hands out apples.

Idunn: For you first, All-Father.

Odin: Bless you, Idunn.

SD2: Odin takes a bite, and his dull eyes turn back to shining blue. The other gods devour their apples.

Freya: Thor, your strength has returned!

Thor: And the color has returned to your cheeks.

SD3: Loki leans against the wall, relieved. Odin catches his eye.

Odin: It seems you will live another day, Loki. But beware. One day your treachery will be your end. 

AF archive/Alamy Stock Photo

Did You Know?

Many days of the week are named after Norse gods. For example, Thursday comes from “Thor’s Day.”

A Day in the Life of a 12-Year-Old Viking Boy 

The sun has just started to rise when you wake up to the sound of a rooster’s piercing crow. From your bed, you can hear the pigs rustling in their stalls at one end of your family’s longhouse—a narrow, single-room building with a timber floor and walls made from sticks, clay, and mud. As your father feeds the pigs, your mother stokes a blazing fire, which is beginning to fill the room with smoke. You quietly wash your face and hair with water from your bedside bowl; your grandparents and little sisters are still fast asleep, and you don’t want to wake them. You pull on your tunic and trousers and squeeze your feet into your leather boots. But wait! You almost forget your small leather purse. It holds a precious silver coin—a souvenir from your older brother’s last raiding trip to Ireland. You carry the coin with you everywhere.

You join your mother at the oblong stone hearth and scarf down your breakfast of buckwheat porridge and the sweet berries your sisters gathered yesterday. Then you wash it all down with some weak barley beer and head outside. Today you’re helping your father in the fields. It’s hard work steering the stubborn oxen that draw the plow, but you pass the hours singing songs about great Norse gods like Thor and Odin.

Before you know it, it’s midday and your stomach rumbles with hunger. You go back home for a meal of dried and salted fish and rye bread, followed by a quick lesson on runes from your mother. In the afternoon, your mother, sisters, and grandparents busily spin flax to make your family’s winter clothing while you and your father repair the roof with straw. The longhouse must be in tip-top shape for the new year, which starts in October. There will be a great harvest feast then, and all six families in your village will attend. Soon after that, it will be cold enough for one of your favorite activities: ice skating.

As the sky begins to darken, your mother calls you in for dinner. After the meal, your sisters play chess while your father recites your favorite saga. You listen eagerly for the best part—when the hero Grettir narrowly wins a battle against a band of terrible trolls. Your eyelids soon grow heavy. Exhausted, you plop down on your feather bed and fall asleep imagining the smell of salty air as you join your brother to sail across the cold sea to distant lands.

This article was originally published in the September 2019 issue.

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Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Close Reading, Critical Thinking, Skill Building

1. PREPARING TO READ

2. READING AND DISCUSSING (30 minutes)

3. SKILL BUILDING AND WRITING

Differentiated Writing Prompts
For Struggling Readers

In a well-organized paragraph, describe Loki’s character. Use details from the play to support your ideas.

For Advanced Readers

Write an essay in which you explain whether you think Loki is the villain in Gods Versus Giants. Begin by defining what a villain is and describing two examples of villains from other stories. Compare Loki with these villains. Be sure to use text evidence.

CUSTOMIZED PERFORMANCE TASKS
For Fiction Writers

Write a letter from Loki to Odin explaining Loki’s point of view on what happened in the play and whether Loki thinks he deserves to be punished.

For Historians

The last caption notes that many days of the week are named after Norse gods. Research other ways the Vikings influenced or contributed to the world. Present your research in a slideshow, video, or poster.

Literature Connection: Curricular texts that explore immortality

Tuck Everlasting 
by Natalie Babbitt (fiction)

Harry Potter series 
by J.K. Rowling 

 “The Weaver of Tomorrow
by Jane Yolen (fairy tale)