How does Marvel’s depiction of Loki differ from the myths?

Loki is a compelling figure in both Norse mythology and the Marvel universe. Unbeknownst to some Marvel fans, the Loki in the comics is significantly different from the Loki in Norse mythology.

Loki is a trickster god in Norse mythology, known for his cunning, mischief, and ability to shape-shift. He’s both a helper and a hindrance to the other gods in various tales. Image: Marvel Loki versus Loki in Norse mythology

Below, World History Edu present some of the primary distinctions between the two depictions:

Origin and Family

  • Norse Mythology: Loki is often considered a Jötunn (giant) and is the son of Fárbauti and Laufey. He’s sometimes referred to as the “blood brother” of Odin.
  • Marvel: Loki is the adoptive brother of Thor and the son of Odin. Laufey is presented as the king of the Frost Giants and Loki’s biological father. This makes Loki’s relationship with Thor and Odin central to his Marvel character arc.

Role and Character

Loki is a trickster, sometimes helping the gods and sometimes causing problems for them. He’s neither wholly good nor evil. His motivations can be complex, driven by both mischief and perceived slights. Image: Loki consumes a roasted heart in a painting (1911) by Swedish painter John Bauer.

  • Norse Mythology: Initially, in various prose (probably referring to the “Prose Edda” or other Norse writings), Loki’s character is ambivalent, meaning his intentions and moral alignments are unclear or mixed. However, a significant turning point in his narrative is his involvement in the death of Baldur, a beloved god. This event casts Loki in a more decidedly negative or malicious light.
  • Marvel: Loki often serves as an antagonist to Thor, with ambitions to rule Asgard and later, other realms. Over time, his character develops more depth, with elements of redemption, but he starts off as a more straightforward villain.

READ MORE: Most Famous Deities in Norse Pantheon


  • Norse Mythology: Loki’s appearance isn’t as extensively described in the old myths. However, his shape-shifting abilities are highlighted in several stories.

Loki in bondage – Loki and Sigyn (1863) by Mårten Eskil Winge

  • Marvel: Loki’s appearance, especially in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), is influenced by modern aesthetics. He is typically seen wearing green and gold armor with a horned helmet.

Despite his mischief and sometimes malicious intents, there’s an underlying desire in Loki to be acknowledged as good or to do right. This struggle is a key theme throughout his character arc in the MCU.  Image credit: Marvel Studios

Relationship with Thor

  • Norse Mythology: Loki and Thor have a complex relationship, sometimes as companions in adventures and sometimes at odds, but they are not brothers.
  • Marvel: The brotherly relationship forms the crux of many storylines, with themes of jealousy, rivalry, and later, reconciliation.


In the myths, Loki desires to bring an end to the world through Ragnarok. Image: Children of Loki in Norse mythology: Hel, Jörmungandr, and Fenrir

  • Marvel: While some of Loki’s children from mythology, like Fenrir, have appeared in Marvel storylines, their relationships and roles can differ significantly from the myths.


  • Norse Mythology: Loki sides with the giants during Ragnarök, leading to a final battle where many gods, including Loki and Heimdall, meet their end.
  • Marvel: Ragnarök has been adapted in various storylines with different outcomes and events, especially in the MCU’s “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) where the story is more about the destruction and rebirth of Asgard than adhering strictly to the mythological end of the gods.

In the myths, Thor and Loki are not brothers. Instead, the relationship is between the All-father Odin and Loki. Those two figures became blood brothers sometime in the far distant past. They did this by mixing their blood, resulting in their close relationship. A quick look at the myths and one realizes just how similar Loki and Odin are in character. They were both known for having trickster-like traits. And Odin, like Loki, was renowned for his shapeshifting abilities. Image: Odin in Norse Mythology

Loki’s Shape-Shifting and Gender Fluidity

  • Norse Mythology: Loki frequently shape-shifts, sometimes into female forms. One of the most famous tales involves Loki transforming into a mare and later giving birth to Sleipnir. In Norse myths, marriages and relationships often serve political or strategic purposes, and Loki’s gender transformations can be seen as complicating or challenging these alliances.
  • Marvel: While Loki’s magical abilities are highlighted, his shape-shifting into female forms and instances like giving birth to Sleipnir are not major elements in most Marvel storylines. However, Loki’s gender fluidity has been acknowledged in recent comics.

Interpretation of Loki’s destructive side

In essence, Loki serves as a cautionary symbol. Societies that don’t evolve or adapt, regardless of their perceived perfection, are doomed to decline or fall. Image: Loki and Svaðilfari (1909) by Dorothy Hardy

While on the surface Loki might seem like a mere troublemaker or antagonist, his character embodies deeper universal concepts. Here, he represents the ever-present force of change and evolution.

Change, like Loki’s actions, is unpredictable and can be disruptive. Just as the gods in the myths often have to deal with the consequences of Loki’s mischief, civilizations and societies need to manage and adapt to the inherent unpredictability of change.

Basically, Loki’s actions, while often problematic, challenge the status quo. This can be seen as a reflection of the tension between sticking to old ways (stagnation or regression) and the need for growth and advancement (progression).

Even though Loki symbolizes change, his containment represents the balance that civilizations must strike between embracing change and maintaining order. Too much unchecked change can lead to chaos, but resisting change can lead to stagnation.

Marvel films that feature Loki’s character

Since the chronological development of the MCU, which started with “Iron Man” in 2008, Loki’s character has appeared in multiple entries over the years, allowing for his character’s evolution.

Loki, from his introduction in the MCU, has been synonymous with mischief and deception. He has orchestrated numerous schemes, betrayals, and dangerous escapades. These “past actions” denote Loki’s original role as a villain and a threat to both Asgard and Earth.

When Loki first appeared in the MCU, specifically in the first “Thor” (2011) movie and subsequently “The Avengers” (2012), his actions were indisputably villainous. In “Thor,” he seeks to usurp the throne of Asgard. He does this by allowing the Frost Giants to enter Asgard on the day of Thor’s coronation ceremony, hoping to disrupt it and, in a more complex twist, to have Thor react rashly, thereby proving he’s not ready to be king.

Still in the “Thor” movie, using the Bifrost (a rainbow bridge that connects realms), Loki attempts to annihilate the home of the Frost Giants, Jötunheimr, to prove himself worthy to Odin and eliminate any threat the giants could pose.

In “The Avengers” (2012) Loki collaborates with Thanos, obtaining the scepter with the Mind Stone, and uses it to lead the Chitauri in an invasion of Earth, particularly targeting New York City.

READ MORE: Most Powerful Weapons in Norse Mythology

In “Thor: The Dark World” (2013) Loki indirectly contributes to the events that lead to the death of Frigga, Thor and Loki’s mother, when he aids the film’s main antagonist in infiltrating Asgard.

Following the events of “Thor: The Dark World,” Loki disguises himself as Odin and rules Asgard in his stead, an act that unfolds in “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017).

In “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) during the time heist, the 2012 version of Loki seizes an opportunity to steal the Tesseract (which contains the Space Stone) and escapes, creating a new branch in the timeline.

READ MORE: The Nine Realms in Norse Mythology

In the more recent films and series of the MCU, Loki has shown a shift in his character. In “Thor: Ragnarok,” Loki joins forces with Thor to stop their powerful, malevolent sister.

In “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) he attempts to kill Thanos to save Thor, leading to his own death.

Loki’s relationship with his family is a critical part of his character. Despite feelings of resentment or jealousy, particularly towards his brother Thor, deep down, Loki has a genuine affection for his Asgardian kin. The scene from “Thor: The Dark World” (2013) showcases a rare moment of vulnerability when Loki displays raw emotion over Frigga’s death. Image credit: Marvel Studios

In “Loki” series on Disney+, he becomes embroiled in a conflict involving the TVA, an organization that oversees the flow of time and ensures that the proper timeline is maintained. His actions there have potential universe-altering implications.

While he still possesses his trickster nature, there have been instances where he takes actions that are more aligned with heroism, even if it’s sometimes for his own reasons. An “anti-hero” is a central character in a story who lacks traditional heroic virtues but can still perform acts of heroism.

The character has had moments where he has shown genuine selflessness. These moments contrast starkly with his earlier actions, suggesting growth and complexity in his character.

The adjectives used to describe Loki such as “charming,” “cunning,” “determined,” and “vulnerable,” capture his multifaceted nature. Loki isn’t just a one-dimensional antagonist; he has depth and layers that make him relatable and engaging.

READ MORE: Most Famous Trickster Deities From Around The World

Why do fans of Marvel absolutely love Loki?

Despite having comparatively limited on-screen presence in the vast landscape of the MCU, Loki’s impact has been significant. It speaks to the efficiency of storytelling and the depth with which the character was portrayed.

While Thor is the titular character of his own series within the MCU and is played by the well-known actor Chris Hemsworth, Loki’s character has managed to garner as much, if not more, attention and admiration. This speaks to the power of Loki’s character development and Tom Hiddleston’s performance.

Take the case of “The Avengers” (2012), a box office record-breaking MCU film released in 2012, was pivotal for Loki’s character. Not only was he the primary antagonist in the film, which was written and directed by Joss Whedon, but Loki also got a chance to interact with and challenge a variety of heroes, showcasing his wit, charm, and depth. This expanded role allowed audiences to see the complexities of his character, making him memorable.

Due to his complexity, charm, and the multifaceted portrayal by Hiddleston, Loki attracted a massive following. Fans latched onto his multi-dimensional traits, from his mischievous and villainous acts to his moments of vulnerability and self-reflection.

Beyond just being a compelling character in the MCU, Loki has managed to stand out across Marvel’s entire pantheon of villains, which includes characters from decades of comic book history like Hela, Thanos, Red Skull, Killmonger, Kang the Conqueror, and Dormammu.

READ MORE: Most Famous Pantheons in World History

Did you know…?

Renowned German composer Richard Wagner‘s famous opera cycle, “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” draws heavily from Norse myths. While the character most akin to Loki in the opera is named “Loge,” his cunning and deceptive traits are clearly reminiscent of Loki’s nature in the original myths.


The above are just a few of the many differences between the mythological Loki and his Marvel counterpart. The Marvel version borrows elements from the original myths but adapts and changes many aspects to fit within its universe and narrative arcs.

Question and Answers

In the last few decades, elements from Old Norse mythology have been taken and used creatively in the Marvel universe to create a coherent story. What this means is that the Marvel’s version of Loki is not exactly true to the Loki in old Norse mythology. Image credit: Marvel Studios

Does Loki’s character in the myths symbolize a challenge to Christian values?

By the 13th century, Christianity had been introduced to Iceland, and with it came a new set of cultural and moral values. Loki’s character, with his trickster nature, moral ambiguity, and fluid gender identity, can be seen as a challenge to these Christian values. He stands in contrast to the more straightforward moral dichotomies often found in Christian narratives, which might have made his character particularly perplexing or unsettling to a Christianized Icelandic audience.

Why has the character Loki garnered so much admiration in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)?

The Marvel comics were a foundation for the subsequent Marvel Cinematic Universe. Loki, as portrayed in the comics, was adapted onto the big screen and became a central character in various films, most notably “Thor” (2011) and “The Avengers” (2012). In the MCU, Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, has garnered significant attention and admiration, further elevating the character’s fame and importance in contemporary pop culture.

Loki is not a one-dimensional villain. He oscillates between being a straightforward antagonist to showing vulnerability, depth, and at times, even heroism. This complexity allows audiences to both love and hate him, making him a more engaging character.

Furthermore, Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki has been widely praised. His charisma, charm, and nuanced performance have contributed significantly to the character’s appeal. Hiddleston captured both Loki’s mischief and his moments of vulnerability, making the character relatable and compelling.

Loki’s character, combined with Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal, has garnered a significant fan base. His complexities, vulnerabilities, wit, and charm have resonated with audiences, making him a standout character. Image credit: Marvel Studios

Despite being a god, Loki’s motivations are often very human. His feelings of jealousy, longing for approval, identity crisis, and sibling rivalry with Thor resonate with many viewers, making his actions understandable, if not always agreeable.

Loki has been central to several key MCU plotlines. He played the primary antagonist in the first “Thor” (2011) movie and “The Avengers” (2012) which were pivotal films in the early phase of the MCU. His actions have often been catalysts for major events in the cinematic universe.

Loki’s relationships, especially with his brother Thor and father Odin, add depth to his character. The fluctuating brotherly bond between Thor and Loki provides emotional depth to the movies, with themes of familial love, betrayal, redemption, and rivalry.

His character has experienced significant growth and change throughout the MCU films. From a jealous brother in “Thor” (2011) to a reluctant ally in “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) this evolution keeps audiences invested in his journey.

Memes, fan theories, fan art, and fan fiction have amplified Loki’s popularity. The character has a dedicated fan base that actively engages with and promotes his character on various platforms.

Seeing Loki’s popularity, Marvel introduced a standalone series for Loki on Disney+, further exploring his character and offering deeper insights into his psyche, adding to his significance in the MCU.

Given Loki’s continued presence in the franchise, including his own dedicated series on Disney+, it’s evident that the creators and writers of the MCU believe the character has a lot more potential for storytelling. Image credit: Marvel Studios

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