Dragon Fafnir | The story of an incredible transformation
Nordic mythology is full of fables and fantasies, mostly intertwined with each other. Sometimes moralistic, sometimes heroic, the link that unites them is their fantastic and unusual side. The story of the dragon Fafnir is a perfect example.
Her unbelievable character only makes her more interesting! Where does the dragon Fafnir come from? What is the story behind this strange creature? We tell you everything in this article.
Origin and History of the Dragon Fafnir
Although he is most often depicted as a dragon, Fafnir did not always exist in this form. His story is rich in morals and describes the circumstances of his transformation. Let’s discover together where this legend comes from, and analyze the series of events that led to this curious metamorphosis.
Fafnir in the cycle of Sigurd
The story of the dragon Fafnir is well known to the Scandinavian people. Told by word of mouth over generations, it is found on the vast majority of historical reference resources. The first time we hear about this myth is in the poems of the Sigurd cycle.
A multitude of books are devoted to this mischievous Viking hero, following his evolution and recounting his wonderful adventures over time. On the Poetic Edda, there is a poem entirely dedicated to Fafnir: the Reginsmál.
This is the first reference we find in this story. Here, Sigurd’s adoptive father tells him about the curse of Fafnir and the misfortune that befell him because of his father’s treasure.
It also appears in two other historical sources: the Volsunga saga and Snorri’s Edda, where the Skáldskaparmál section is entirely devoted to it.
The cursed treasure of Fafnir’s father
Initially, Fafnir was just an ordinary dwarf living with his two brothers Òtr and Regin, and his father Hreidmar. It is said that he had a good heart and an arm of superhuman strength, for which he was named protector of their house. Regin was the blacksmith who built the house of gold and precious stones, while Òtr was a skilled hunter who supplied them with food.
One day, three Viking gods were walking unsuspectingly around their home. It is none other than Odin, Loki and Hœnir, three emblematic figures of the Pantheon of Nordic deities.
Near a waterfall, Loki, god of mischief, hunts an otter. Taking refuge in the dwarves’ family, the fear quickly falls on the assembly when they discover that it is in fact the inanimate body of Otr. Having taken the habit of hunting fish, disguised as an otter, he succumbs to his passion in a tragic way.
Furious to learn the death of his son, Hreidmar binds the three Viking gods, and asks them for a ransom to free them. He appoints Loki, the culprit, to bring him a quantity of gold or else he will keep Odin and Hoenir as hostages.
The god of mischief seizes the fortune of another dwarf, named Andvari. Among the precious objects stolen, a ring to which the dwarf was strongly attached, but which the deceitful god refused to return. Stripped of his fortune, Andvari casts a spell on the lost treasure. He puts a curse on it so that anyone in possession of it will die.
Warned of the fate that awaited him, Hreidmar accepted anyway and released the gods. The curse will indeed affect Fafnir and his family, and the repercussions of this choice will be felt like a domino effect.
The Curse of the Gold of the Andvari Dwarf
Once in possession of the gold, Hreidmar, father of the dwarves, refuses to share it with his sons. Outraged by his behavior, they arrange to kill him, making him the first victim of the curse.
But the story continues, when Fafnir, blinded by the wealth he had just acquired, objects when his brother, Regin, claims his share. He threatens to kill him, and sends him away from their home.
It is here that the destiny of the two brothers bifurcates:
- Fafnir, for his part, goes to Gnitaheid. He transforms himself into a snake, or a fire-breathing dragon, according to the legends, and devotes himself entirely to guarding his treasure.
- As for Regin, he becomes the Danish king’s blacksmith, but he does not forget the gold that has slipped through his fingers. He prepares a plan in the shadows to return it, and fully enjoy these riches.
The fall of Fafnir
In the royal palace, Regin has the task of taking care of Sigurd, the legendary Vikig hero. He is therefore the adoptive father we meet at the beginning of the story. For years, he has been telling him the legend of Fafnir, and urging him to return the gold he has taken.
Once he is old enough, he commits himself to kill Fafnir, and to accomplish the mission that his father will have given him. On this occasion, the blacksmith makes him a special sword that will help him to accomplish this quest, the sword Gram. When he arrives at the entrance of the cave, he digs several pits in the ground:
- Sigurd would use one of them to hide, as Regin had ordered.
- The others will be used to collect the creature’s blood, an advice he received from Odin himself, who showed himself to him in the form of an old sage.
Thus, he triumphs, and puts an end to Fafnir’s days. This is how he earns the nickname of Sigurd Fafnisbani.
Before succumbing to his wounds, the dragon tells him of the terrible curse that ended his life, and warns him of the gold and the ring that were now in his possession. All these facts are detailed in the Völsunga saga, as well as in one of the poems of the Edda of Snorri, Fafismal.
A cycle of infinite unhappiness
Back at his adoptive father’s house, he asks Sigurd to prepare the monster’s heart for him to devour. By tasting a few drops of its blood, the latter gains extraordinary powers. Among other things, he is able to decipher the language of birds. Thus, they warn him against Regin, who wanted him dead to keep the treasure to himself.
Enraged, he kills Fafnir’s brother, and eats the dragon’s heart alone. He seizes the treasure of the dwarf Andvari, and finally thinks he is in a strong position. Unfortunately, the Viking hero is not spared by the curse of Fafnir’s treasure.
It changes owner when Högni and Gunnar, two warriors, kill Sigurd. There is mention of this story in the last poems of the Sigurd Cycle. However, the evil spell does not end here, and it is said that the effect of the curse persists until the end of time.
Analysis of the Viking myth Fafnir
The legend and story of Fafnir was never simply a Norse tale.In truth, it is a warning to the Vikings about the destructive power of greed.
This myth serves as a moral, and remains a perfect example of the teachings contained in Viking folklore. It teaches generations of Scandinavian children the dangers of letting this uncontrollable feeling get the better of them. It is a final reminder of the chaotic power of greed, which can rot several generations from father to son and spread like a plague.
The legend of Fafnir also serves as a reminder to Viking kings and nobles. Known to be conquerors and treasure raiders, the wealth amassed was not just to be harvested. Rather, it was to serve, above all, the prosperity of the Nordic community and that of the Viking civilization.
Fafnir and the Lord of the Rings
If the story and legend of Fafnir seem so familiar, it is not without reason. In fact, it is the inspiration for one of the greatest works of literature. Yes, you guessed it, it is the masterpiece The Lord of the Rings, written by J. R. R. Tolkien.
The great fans of this saga, both literary and cinematographic interpretation, already know this surprising fact. But for the less seasoned among you, we reveal the surprising hidden similarities:
- Bilbo or Turin, two main characters of the saga, are directly inspired by the legendary Viking hero Sigurd ;
- The story of the dragon Smaug is mostly taken from the story of Fafnir ;
- The dialogue between Bilbo and Smaug is largely taken from the exchange between Sigurd and Fafnir;
- Even Smaug’s death takes place in the same way as Fafnir’s, having his stomach pierced by the hero.
As you can see, one of the greatest epics and literary works of our era draws its inspiration directly from Viking mythology. Even more fascinating, it is the legend Fafnir that inspired the main events of this story!
Representations of the dragon Fafnir in modern culture
A symbol of greed and cruelty, Fafnir has terrorized many protagonists in various literary and cinematic works. In addition to the Lords of the Rings, Fafnir happens to be a symbol that is widely used in popular culture.
He can be found, for example, as the main protagonist in the opera “Der Ring des Nibelungen” by Melvin Burgess, in the Marvel comics, or even in the Smurfs comic strip.