Comics and Cosplay

Who Is Lorelei? A Brief History of (Marvel’s) Asgard

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More than just the vengeful stalker from The Mighty Thor, Lorelei’s origins are in a legitimately tragic real-life folk tale. Also, we discuss the time Loki had sex with a horse.

I’m not going to lie. At this point, I’m beginning to think Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is ultimately unsalvageable. The season has notable mainly for being directed, edited and choreographed as though its producers think that 4:3 aspect ratio and 1990-era production values are still the televised standard. It also contains what might be the most painfully incompetent character shilling since Scrappy Doo – I’m talking about Skye, of course, aka the “let’s grind every episode to a halt so that every other character can talk about how unique, special, talented and amazing she is” character. And even if these things weren’t problems, the fact that all ties to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe have so far been insultingly superficial would be enough to exhaust the patience of even the most dedicated Marvel fanperson.

But at the conclusion of last week’s otherwise painfully mediocre episode, things threatened to get interesting again. An Asgardian criminal named Lorelei, who has the power to ensorcel men to do her bidding, dropped into the California desert and turned a human man into her slave, setting up something called Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Uprising. So far it mainly justifies a guest appearance by Jaimie Alexander, reprising her role as Lady Sif from the Thor films, but for the first time since the Deathlok reveal, the show is once again getting a distinct Marvel super-character with potential beyond one-off appearances.

So who is this oversexed hypnotist-goddess-criminal mastermind? In comics, she’s a petulant stalker with a constant thirst for power who generally finds herself allied with some of the Marvel Universe’s more unsavory gods and villains. But as it turns out, the source material Marvel used is a tragic romance that casts her as the victim of a capricious, male-dominated world. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Lorelei 80s Style

Marvel’s Magical Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Introduced in 1983 in The Mighty Thor #337, Lorelei’s Marvel comics persona can be boiled down to one concept: ladies are trouble with capital ‘T’ and that rhymes with ‘b’ which stands for breasts, amirite guys?

I kid, but only slightly. The younger sister of Amora The Enchantress, Lorelei is an Asgardian goddess with a particular talent for magic who generally plots to make herself queen of Asgard. However, unlike her sister (or Loki for that matter), Lorelei has focused her magical education solely on romantic and sexual powers. She has the ability to seduce and control any man, mortal or immortal, and since she’s also bitter and spiteful, she causes enormous trouble wherever she goes. It’s never quite consistent, but she tends to use both her natural ability and a copious amount love potions. And in all instances, she veers dangerously close to being a crazy stalker.

In her official backstory, Lorelei first came to the attention of Marvel’s Asgardians after winning a hunting contest via use of her (sigh) feminine wiles. This impressed Loki, who saw in her as a potential weapon against Thor, so he took her under his wing and, promising to help her win the love of Thor, made her his henchwoman. This leads to a silly, complicated series of events in which Lorelei travels to New York, puts herself in apparent danger in order to catch Thor’s eye, succeeds, then uses a love potion to ensure that Thor falls for her, is later kidnapped by Malekith the Accursed and subsequently rescued by Thor. Somewhere in the middle of this, a war between some random demons and Asgard breaks out, during which Lorelei is tricked by her sister into falling in love with Loki, who spurns her affections, which naturally inflicts upon her the pain she’d been inflicting on everyone else.

Lorelei eventually sacrifices herself to save Baldur, and subsequently goes to the Norse afterlife. Fortunately, since this is Marvel, no one need ever stay dead, and she is soon brought back to life by the Egyptian god Seth, because sure, ok, why not. After dying a second time, she again manages to come back to life and, because reasons, forms an alliance with Pluto, ruler of the Greco-Roman afterlife. Naturally, she causes more problems, and ultimately disappears after being the apparent sole survivor of Asgard’s destruction during Ragnarok.

At best, Lorelei is a complex woman motivated by sibling rivalry and personal ambition. At worst, she’s a troubling retread of the madonna/whore complex that has made so many female comics characters difficult to take in light of social progress in the last 40 years or so. Even so, like many characters with unfortunate implications underpinning their origins, Lorelei has enormous potential to be more than a magical femme fatale. We’ll find out tonight if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. manages take advantage of that potential.

But, like most of Marvel’s gods and goddesses (but curiously, not her sister Amara), Lorelei is based on actual mythology (of a kind), in this case German folklore. And despite her rather juvenile embodiment of vagina dentata in the comics, in the story on which the character is based, she is a sympathetic, tragic figure, unlucky in love and doomed to die unfulfilled.

Lorelei Statue

The Folk Tale

The name”Lorelei” probably means “murmuring rock” in Old German. It first appears as the name of a famous rock formation on the eastern bank of the Rhine river, near St. Goarshausen, Germany. Rising about several hundred feet above the waterline, this rock marks the narrowest, and thus most difficult, part of the Rhine. A local tourist attraction to this day, early regional records suggest that at one point it was believed to be home to dwarves. Some traditions associate it with the fabled treasure of the Nibelungen (see also Wagner’s Rings cycle; more on that shortly).

Lorelei herself is a bit murkier to figure out, and not just because she’s a water spirit (zing). Her story was only codified in the early 1800s and in fact, there is considerable debate as to whether or not the tale even existed prior to the poems written about her in the early 19th century. We’ll pretend it did.

The basic story has it that Lorelei was a young peasant woman who fell in love with the Count of Katzenelnbogen. The count was of course happy to knock boots with her, but when it came time to marry he spurned her and married a fellow noble instead. Reading between the lines, the maiden was pregnant, and faced a rather gruesome fate once the fact became known. Despondent, Lorelei committed suicide by flinging herself into the Rhine, but was resurrected as a water spirit who, grief-stricken, lures men sailing down the river to die smashed against the rock.

In 1801, German poet Clemens Brentano wrote the version of the story from which all other modern versions come. Compounding romantic betrayal with persecution by religious authority, in his ballad Lorelei’s lover not only betrays her, but also accuses her of using witchcraft to beguile men to obey her. Spared execution, a local Bishop instead sentences her to life in a convent. However, on the way to the nunnery she convinces her knightly escorts to permit her one last look at the Rhine. Reaching the top of the rock which now bears her name, she attempts suicide by jumping into the Rhine, and upon death is transformed into a water spirit. The echo of her voice lives on in the river, hence “murmuring rock”.

This story inspired an 1824 poem called Die Lorelei, in which Lorelei, gifted with immense beauty and an incredible singing voice, accidentally (and not purposefully) distracts sailors and causes them to crash their boats on the rock. Die Lorelei was later set to music (at one point by Liszt) and the resulting song became a standard in German-speaking regions, and hugely influential. Wagner, in particular, is believed to have based the Rhinemaidens from the Ring Cycle on Lorelei. For those of you planning a trip to Germany sometime soon, there is a statue of Lorelei on an island in the middle of the river, directly within view of the rock.

Whether she was derived from actual folklore or sprang from the heads of imaginative writers, Lorelei had a lot of reasons to be a bit angry about her love life.

Meanwhile, we’ve already seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe reimagine the Asgardians as aliens who essentially conform to Clarke’s third law, and Loki as a tortured, conflicted genius whose fatal flaw isn’t that he’s irredeemably evil, it’s that he’s got an inferiority complex and doesn’t think things through. It’s not that long of a leap to get from the rather insulting Marvel comics take on Lorelei to something a bit less condescending to the entire notion of womanhood. Here’s hoping Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t drop the ball.


Wait, you’re still here? Then let’s take a moment to commemorate another Norse myth far more disturbing and weird than the Marvel comics version. Hit the next page, and enjoy the thrill of a man giving birth to an eight-legged horse.

Loki Avengers

In Which Loki Really Screws Up For The Last Time

Loki won’t be appearing on tonight’s episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but his story is too weird and awesome to pass up the opportunity to talk about it now. On the pages of Marvel comics, Loki is the god of evil and a constant thorn in the side of the Asgardians. He’s the reason The Avengers originally assemble, and on film he not only invited an alien invasion, he also helped make the great Tom Hiddleston a star. But good lord, Marvel’s version is positively ordinary compared to the Norse myth.

Like his comic book equivalent, Loki is the son of Frost Giants. But in the original myths he was actually Odin’s blood brother. A trickster archetype, he was as likely to help the Norse gods as cause them problems and he tended to love nothing more than sowing discord, particularly while the gods were drinking. Ho-hum, pretty standard so far. Fine, haters, try this: he fathered the wolf Narfi, took the form of everything from salmon to a mare in heat, and at one point convinced Thor to cross-dress with him (no, seriously). Oh, and remember how he turned into a mare? Yeah, so that resulted in him becoming the mother of Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse. Yes, you read that right, he was the mother. You may now squick out.

Eventually, Loki went too far and engineered the death of Baldur. For this he was subjected to one of the most gruesome punishments ever devised: The Aesir killed his son Nari and bound Loki to an underground rock using said son’s entrails. A venomous snake was then positioned above Loki so that its venom dripped onto Loki’s face. Loki’s wife, Sigyn, would collect the poison in a bowl, but whenever the bowl would fill up she would have to dump it out, at which point the poison would get into his eyes, causing him to writhe in pain, thus giving us the Norse mythology explanation for earthquakes.

Obviously, this fate probably isn’t looming for Tom Hiddleston. But I can’t help but hope we get a joke about a horse with eight legs, someday.

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