Fáfnir was originally a dwarf In Old Norse mythology. He was the son of the sorcerer, Hreidmar, and brother of Regin, Ótr, Lyngheiðr, and Lofnheiðr. Fáfnir became a dragon after he stole Andvari’s gold and a magic ring and fell under a curse. The great warrior Siegfried slew Fáfnir with his magic sword, Gram.
Is Fáfnir a God in Nordic Mythology?
No, he was the son of the dwarf king Hreidmar and guarded his father’s house of gold and jewels as he was the strongest and most aggressive of the five sons.
The Islandic politician, historian, and poet Snorri Sturluson compiled the Prose Edda in the 13th century. Fáfnir is present in the legend of Brunhilde. Snorri’s version of Brunhilde the Valkyrie story is similar, although shorter, to the one found in the Poetic Edda.
The tale also appeared in the Völsunga Saga, which took its inspiration from the heroic poems of the Poetic Edda. Völsung was Rerir’s son and an ancestor of the Volsung clan, which included the mighty warrior Siegfried (or Sigurd).
Fáfnir in The Legend of Brunhilde
Fáfnir’s brother Regin narrated this epic tale.
Odin, his son Hoenir, and Loki were traveling across the nine realms when they came across an otter. Its beautiful pelt caught Loki’s eye, so he killed it with a stone. Unfortunately for the three travelers, the otter was actually Otr, the son of the dwarf king Hreidmar, in animal form.
The trio arrived at the halls of the king and showed off the fine skin. The king and his court recognized it as Otr and took Odin and his companions prisoner. Loki convinced the king to free them when he had gathered a suitable ransom. Hreidmar set him the task of finding enough gold to fill the inside of the otter pelt with yellow gold and cover the outside with red gold.
Loki heard about the treasure of Andvari, who lived under a waterfall and could change into a pike at will and decided to steal it.
The Single Whisker
Ran, a sea goddess also associated with theft, lent Loki her fishing net to catch Andvari while he was transformed into a fish. Loki netted him and forced him to relinquish his golden treasure trove, which included the magical ring, Andvaranaut.
Andvari was incandescent with rage and cursed the gold and anyone who came into possession of it. Loki used the treasure to fill and cover the pelt, but there was not quite enough to envelop the outside fully, and a single whisker protruded. Loki had to use the cursed ring to hide the whisker.
Fáfnir, overcome by greed, decided he wanted Andvari’s gold instead and killed his father, stealing the hoard and the all-powerful Aegir’s helmet. Using the helmet, he banished Regin, who was badgering him for a share of the gold.
After dismissing him, Fáfnir took dragon form and took the gold to a wasteland, which he filled with noxious fumes so nobody could come close. The dragon spread the treasure over the wasteland, and the wilderness became known as Gnita or the “glittering heath.”
Regin And His Plan
Siegfried was the foster son and pupil of Regin. Regin was a cunning and greedy character and wanted to avenge his father and take the treasure for himself. He saw the mighty warrior Siegfried might be able to defeat the dragon Fáfnir and give Regin a way to access the hoard. Regin was a master smith and made Siegfried a magical sword called Gram.
Siegfried hid in a ditch and waited for the dragon to cross it while approaching a stream to drink. He then used Gram to thrust upwards and attack the serpent from underneath. His plan worked; he inflicted a mortal shoulder wound on the dragon and slew it.
An account describes how the king of the gods, Odin, disguised as a ferryman, gave Siegfried advice on how to ambush the dragon. Another tells of how Odin appeared in the ditch where Siegfried was lying to steady his hand and warn of the torrents of Fáfnir’s blood that would issue from the dragon and possibly drown him.
The treacherous Regin now plotted to kill Siegfried too. He pretended to be upset over how Siegfried had murdered his brother and had him roast Fáfnir’s heart to appease him. Feeling pangs of guilt after the killing, Siegfried agreed to cook the dragon’s heart for Regin to eat.
After a while, he put his thumb into the heart to ensure it was ready. As he licked the blood off it, he found he was suddenly able to understand the language of birds. He heard a pair of eagles nearby discussing how Regin planned to betray and kill Siegfried, so he used Gram to behead the dwarf.
In another version of the story, the birds in the trees are Odin’s ravens, Huginn and Muninn.
Fáfnir in Wagner’s Adaptation
A character called “Fafner” appears in Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. However, he was a giant before turning into a dragon.
In Das Rheingold, the first of the cycles, Fafner and his brother Fasolt attempt to kidnap the goddess Freia. Wotan, the king of the gods, has promised Freia to them in exchange for them building the castle Valhalla.
Fafner wants Freia as a way to secure the golden apples she keeps that maintain the gods’ youth. However, Fasolt wants her for purer motives, as he is in love with her.
On the promise of a huge treasure trove, the giants agree not to kidnap Freia. The hoard includes a magic ring of power and Tarnhelm, a magical helmet. Fafner kills Fasolt after an argument about the treasure and transforms himself into a dragon using the Tarnhelm. In the opera, Siegfried, the eponymous hero, kills the giant.
A famous 1910 illustration by Arthur Rackham depicts Fasolt and Fafner kidnapping Freia.
Tolkien’s The Hobbit: Is Fáfnir Smaug?
There are obvious similarities between Fáfnir and Smaug, the dragon from the Hobbit. They both guard treasure, and the hero of the story ends up killing them.