Fenrir is the giant wolf in Norse mythology born from the union of the god Loki and the giantess Angrboða. He is therefore the brother of Hel, the goddess of the underworld and the serpent Jörmungandr. The name Fenrir literally means “the one that dwells in the marshes” in the Old Norse language.
According to the myth, Aesir gods heard a prophecy that said a wolf and his family would bring the end of the Nine Worlds. That is why they decided to lock Fenrir up. However, things did not go as they expected. Fenrir started growing up incredibly fast and that caused fear among the gods. So they decided to put him in chains and tricked him into being chained saying he was weak and could not be able to break free if he was chained. The wolf accepted their challenge and broke free quite easily during their first two attempts.
Gods ordered dwarves to forge a chain that would be able to keep Fenrir captive. The dwarves’ work was a bit unexpected; a thin and soft ribbon named Gleipnir. However, it was not an ordinary ribbon but a magical one made out of various ingredients that were impossible to find; the beard of a woman, the sinews of a bear, the sound of a cat’s footsteps, the breath of fishes, the roots of a mountain and the spittle of a bird.
Fenrir refused it when he was challenged by gods with this ribbon stating the chain was weak. But he was later convinced to accept it since he thought would seem weak if he did not. He asked one of the gods to put one of their hands in his mouth as a show of good faith.
None of the gods were brave enough to do that, except Tyr, the god of war, the only one that had to courage to feed the giant wolf when he was caged. Fenrir tried to break free from Gleipnir but the magical ribbon was very strong and the giant wolf could not manage to escape. As his revenge Fenrir bit and ripped of Tyr’s arm.
A sword was placed between Fenrir’s jaws to prevent him from biting. It was believed that Fenrir would break free from his imprisonment and fight side by side with giants against the gods on the day of Ragnarok. He would then sweep and devour everything including Odin with his lower jaw buried in the ground and his upper jaw up in the air. Odin’s son Vidar would avenge his father by killing the giant wolf.
It was also believed that Fenrir kept howling and the foamy river of Ván (which means “expectation” in Old Norse language) was flowing from his drooling mouth. That is why he is also called Vánagandr, which literally means in Old Norse language “the monster of the river Ván”. The names Fenris, Fenrisúlfr and Hróðvitnir are also among the names given to the giant beast in the accounts of Norse mythology.