Accepting Weakness in Thor

"DIGITAL PORTRAIT - THOR (CHRIS HEMSWORTH)" | Art by speedportraits. Used with permission.

I’ve heard it said that your greatest weakness is your greatest strength pushed too far. There’s some truth to this, because it’s easy to become so reliant on the things we’re good at that we don’t notice when exercising those traits has become counterproductive.

In the first Thor movie, we see the titular hero fall victim to this exact phenomenon. A small squadron of Frost Giants have infiltrated his home world, and despite their quick and trivial defeat, Thor prepares a counterassault to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Despite being the most foolish thing he does in the movie, this process clearly shows Thor’s strengths; his charisma, his passion, and his courage enable him to rally his friends and reach Jotunheim to confront the Frost King.

Superhero stories are not about demonstrations of power; they’re about learning to confront weakness.

Once he achieves his desired battle with the Frost Giants, of course, his plan falls apart. Rather than subduing them, as Thor had hoped, his attack only encourages them to begin a new war. While Thor’s abilities allow him to accomplish as much as he does, his over-reliance on them also leads to his fundamental flaws. He can’t see past his own sense of power to realize that brute force is useless in controlling the Giants. On top of that, he even becomes judgmental, rebuking Odin for taking a calmer, more rational approach to dealing with the situation.

While I’m the polar opposite of Thor personality-wise, I’ve recently become aware of that same type of judgmental attitude in my own life. For example, I tend to be an extremely cautious person. I like to gather as much information as possible and plan ahead before I say or do anything, and this has often kept me out of trouble. This tendency to “play it safe” has also made it easy for me to look down on others whose recklessness got them into problems that I believe I would never have gotten into myself.

But when I turn that critical eye inward instead of outward, I realize that I’ve also missed out on a number of experiences and opportunities because I was too hesitant to take a risk or too afraid to speak up. I used caution as an excuse for cowardice.

I think that Thor’s most heroic moment in the entire movie is when he utters the words, “I’m just a man.” It’s not flashy, but it’s the first time we see him accept a position of inferiority. At the beginning of the film, we see a protagonist who’s incapable of dealing with weakness. He’s enraged by the idea that enemies could have entered his home, and he boldly proclaims that those enemies must learn to fear him. He responds with an agonized howl when he learns he can no longer wield Mjolnir.

Thor’s most heroic moment in the entire movie is when he utters the words, “I’m just a man.”

Near the end, though, we see someone who understands that vulnerability and limitations are crucial aspects of life. On the verge of a climactic battle, Thor, a warrior accustomed to having godlike powers, knows that the best thing he can do is avoid the fight and help get others out of danger. His newfound willingness to face down his own insufficiency lets him think like a hero and a king rather than a selfish child, and it’s ultimately his choice to sacrifice a small form of power (namely, his ability to return to Jane) that allows him to foil Loki’s schemes.

This humble attitude, not his strength, is what truly makes Thor a hero, and I believe it’s also a key part of why he resonates so much with viewers. Because at their core, superhero stories are not about demonstrations of power; they’re about learning to confront weakness.

Lately, I’ve been in the process of trying to discern exactly what my strengths and my faults are, as well learning how to overcome my own limitations. Part of this has been getting myself to take more chances, even—and perhaps especially—when I’m not entirely sure how things will work out. The process is hard, and it’s been ugly at times, but I’m not willing to let myself go on making the same mistakes from my past out of fear or ignorance. Like the heroes I watch, I want the humility to recognize and surrender the foolishness in my life, rather than letting those weaknesses control me.

Ian Hancock

Ian Hancock

Guest Writer at Area of Effect magazine
Ian is a speculative fiction writer with an English degree from the University of the Fraser Valley. When he's not writing, he enjoys strategy games, hockey, anime, and finding new ways to make fun of life.
Ian Hancock

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