17

Odin casts the following spell on Mjolnir:

Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.

I have boldfaced he to emphasize that Odin didn't say the following.

Whosoever holds this hammer, if they be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.

[minor but important digression: English does have a use of they as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun, so this is is a valid thing to say]

These two spells are crucially different. By using he instead of they, Odin is effectively restricting the use of Mjolnir to men. The Black Widow and Maria Hill could be worthier than anybody else, but they would still not possess the power of Thor. Is there any in-universe evidence that things work this way?

  • 11
    Imagine someone goes into your house, steals something, flee away, and you realise just too late and cannot see more than a shadow running away. What do you ask “Where is he gone?” ”Where is she gone?” ”Where are they gone?” Why do you believe that “he” is gender specific? – Michael Le Barbier Grünewald May 24 '15 at 23:14
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    You may think of it as a silly question but those semantics tricks got Witch King of Angmar killed. So this is a valid question. – Sok Pomaranczowy May 25 '15 at 6:41
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    He/his/him are both masculine and gender-neutral pronouns. There's no issue here. The increasing unpopularity of using it as such is a very new thing. – Shamshiel May 25 '15 at 12:05
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    @user20310: It is Modern English usage to use it in a gender-neutral sense; it's just now becoming less popular for PC reasons. But it's still mainstream usage. – Shamshiel May 25 '15 at 12:12
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    @user20310: The key word there being 'chiefly.' And no, by definition, a gender-neutral pronoun (evaluated in context) is not referring to only men, that's the whole point. It is for PC reasons - using gender-neutral pronouns that double as masculine pronouns is seen by some as excluding. It shows up all the other time in other English words: e.g. 'mankind' does not refer only to humans of male gender. (Interestingly, more gender-bound languages don't seem to have these PC debates.) Notice OED also says 'until relatively recently' and that 'they' is only now becoming acceptable. – Shamshiel May 25 '15 at 12:19
33

Marvel Wikia says about Mjolnir:

Owners Current Owner Jane Foster

Jane Foster (Earth-616), wikia

Marvel themselves have a press release for the new Thor

Writer Jason Aaron and artist Russell Dauterman unveiled longtime Marvel mainstay Jane Foster as the Goddess of Thunder on the issue’s final page

For the enchantement, there'S this image:

enter image description here.

I'm not much a comic reader, but it seems the answer is no, unless you talk specifially about MCU in which case we don't really know yet.

  • 2
    I've seen that image dozens of times, but I'e never noticed the "S" being burned into the hammer before now. Cool! – Nerrolken Aug 13 '15 at 16:22
24

The English used in the spell is rather old-fashioned ("whosoever", "be worthy" instead of "is worthy"), and until the mid-20th century, it was common (and often preferred by authorities) to use he as a gender-neutral pronoun, which in appropriate context could be understood to include both genders. See Wikipedia and references therein. You still see this usage occasionally today, though it has mostly fallen out of favor.

Given that Thor is at least 2600 years old, it is not surprising that his English usage would not entirely conform to modern preferences.

So despite the use of the apparently masculine pronoun, it's entirely consistent with the language that the spell could be intended to include females. And Eike Pierstorff's answer gives canon evidence that in fact it is.

(In legal writing, this convention is sometimes made explicit with a clause that says something like "masculine pronouns in this document shall be construed to include the feminine". Maybe the legal codes of Asgard contain a similar statute.)

  • 3
    It's not even all that uncommon. Anyone my age (mid-40s) who isn't active on the internet (or happens to not have run across a discussion about "they" as singular) would likely still use the old convention. I'm fairly sure that when the first Thor comics were written, it was universal, or nearly so. – Harry Johnston May 24 '15 at 22:23
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    "Shall" is hardly "old-fashioned". – Lightness Races with Monica May 25 '15 at 13:53
  • Have to agree with Lightness - Shall is more "official". Consider the RFC definitions here: ietf.org/rfc/rfc2119.txt 1. MUST This word, or the terms "REQUIRED" or "SHALL", mean that the definition is an absolute requirement of the specification. – corsiKa May 25 '15 at 15:11
  • Removed controversial "shall". – Nate Eldredge May 25 '15 at 15:26
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit A significant decline in usage however is an indicator of old-fashion-ness. Additionally I can not even remember the last time I heard a young person use shall, which is another strong indicator of old-fashion-ness. – David Mulder May 26 '15 at 19:12
13

I would expect Odin to perform the casting in old Norse, which has masculine, feminine and neuter. And the neuter form is generally used when the gender is unknown, which is what this phrase really calls for, since it is unknown who would hold it (actually I would have expected the cast to be "He who holds..." if he indeed intended to restrict it).

Wikipedia article has an interesting section about Old Norse Syntax.

I would blame the editor for doing a bad Norse translation into English. :)

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    Is the language used by Marvel's Asgardians (reminder: high-tech space aliens) ever explicitly specified? It could be English or Galactic Common as easily as Old Norse. – Avner Shahar-Kashtan May 25 '15 at 5:05
7

What If? #10 (August 1978) tells the story "What If Jane Foster Had Found -- the Hammer of Thor?". It retells the origin of Thor in the Earth-616 universe, only Jane Foster finds the disguised Mjolnir instead of Donald Blake. Foster gains the powers of Thor and calls herself Thordis. The image of her as Thordis contains an inset image of the hammer with the well-known inscription intact:

enter image description here

Technically, these events are set in a different continuity, Earth-788. But it's presented as a way that the Earth-616 origin of Thor could have happened. So it supports the idea that the enchantment on Mjolnir isn't gender-specific.

  • For another non-canon reference, IIRC the "Earth-X" volumes have also a female Thor (as a result of some Trickery by Loki). – Eike Pierstorff May 26 '15 at 13:35
3

In-universe evidence: Wonder Woman, Storm, and Jane Foster have all wielded Mjolnir.

In-MCU evidence: Vision (android so male might be a bit of a stretch) was able to wield it.

Seems like there is pretty clear canon that the term 'he' was meant in a gender neutral form in Odin's spell.

0

See "Belabored Inclusive Language" and "Naturally Inclusive Language".

It completely broke the illusion for me when, in the Lord of the Rings films, ?Sauron? said, "No man can [something or other that gave him some immunity]" and the woman attacking him retorted, "I am not a man!"

I would not particularly gripe if people said the wording of Mjolnir's spell was unfortunate or lacked adequate respect for women. However, I was disappointed when this note came out with an OP who actually treated it as a live question of whether the spell would do anything if a woman picked the hammer up.

  • Yes I agree, it seems silly to take it so literally when that doesn't seem to be the intention. – Bellatrix Jul 10 '17 at 5:15
-2

Women are only allowed to hold Thor's staff. You need jarn greiper, the girdle (big belt) and gauntlet to lift the hammer. They talk about them in the Norse Myths but not the comic books. Thor actually needs these 2 magic items to lift the hammer. Anyone who has the gauntlet and girdle can lift thor's hammer.

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    This has nothing to do with the marvel universe. – Theik May 26 '15 at 11:28

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