The Prose Edda and the tale of Helgi Thorisson
13th century, Icelandic: numerous copies in Iceland, Copenhagen | 14th century, Old Norse.
Whenever any god or goddess felt old age creeping upon them, Idun would give them one of her apples to eat, and they would find themselves back in the prime of their youth.
The pagan Scandinavian goddess Idun kept some magic apples in a box, according to Snorri Sturluson, who in the 13th century was worried that the old pagan knowledge upon which traditional Icelandic poetry rested was about to die, and so he took the trouble to commit to writing all that he knew. Whenever any god or goddess felt old age creeping upon them, he recalled, Idun would give them one of her apples and immediately they would find themselves back in the prime of their youth.
One day, it is told, the god Loki allowed himself to be coerced into betraying the gods. He told Idun that he knew of another tree of magical apples and urged her to bring her box of apples to compare them with. Once out in the forest, she was abducted by a giant and she and her apples were taken to Giantland. As the gods became old and grey, and with the threat of infirmity hanging over them, they threatened Loki with such dire consequences if he did not recover the apples that Loki was forced to take on the shape of a falcon and fly to Giantland to retrieve them, and to rescue Idun.
'Idun was a very powerful goddess, then,' said Miranda.
Quintin tapped off the volume. 'So was Freya,' he said. 'It was Freya's hawk-shape that Loki borrowed so that he could fly into Giantland. And speaking of giants, here's a curious one: the saga of Helgi Thorisson. Helgi and his brother have not long been alone in a forest where they have briefly put in to find timber to repair their longship. Helgi is startled suddenly to see twelve women clothed all in red, mounted upon red horses, riding towards him. They stop a little way away, quickly erect a tent and lay out a table full of delicacies. One of them is more lovely than all the others.
‘Come over here, Helgi,’ she calls suddenly. ‘I am the daughter of Godmund of Glasir Plains, a giant who lives in a region of the Otherworld. Tell me, would you rather sleep with me tonight or sleep alone?
'Does that remind you of anything?'
'Did to me as well. If Sir Launfal's fairy mistress can be counted as a goddess, I'm sure this one can as well. But she is the daughter of a giant.