Jötunn (plural: Jötnar) is a race of entities contrasting that of their eternal rivals Norse Gods from Norse mythology and legend.
All Jötnar were originated from the progenitor of their kind, the first Jötunn Ymir. Ymir himself was born from mythical substance Eitr, formed by combination of sparks of Muspelheim and frost of Niflheim along with Audhumla, primordial cow that acted as the source of his nourishment. Being a hermaphroditic Jötunn, his body conceived numerous smaller Jötnar when he slept. Things eventually changed when Buri, the first Æsir and progenitor of Gods of Asgard, was conceived from a salt lick consumed by Audhumla. Buri then had a son named Borr, who sired three children with Bestla, one of Ymir's descendants, and named them Odin, Vili, and Ve.
The Æsir's presence sparked a tension between them and Ymir's brethren which soon sparked into a battle that culminated to Odin and his brothers slew Ymir, flooding the whole world with the first Jötunn's blood and killing most Jötnar in process. Only Bergelmir and his wife who managed to survive the ensuing disaster and subsequently repopulate the recovered Nine Realms. Since then, the Jötnar harbored intense hatred toward the bane of their predecessors and their descendants Gods of Asgard, most notably ones hailed from Æsir tribe.
Throughout attestations in the Old Norse records, it is said that the relationship between Jötnar and the Gods is more complex than good and evil, let alone light and darkness. The Gods of Asgard perceived Jötnar as unlikely allies and nuisance at best and bitter enemies at worst as shown through their dynamic with Loki. Loki's mischief and pranks troubled the Gods again and again despite of them accepted him as one of their own. Though some argued his actions were stemmed from mistreatments on both him and his children by the Gods due to prophesied calamities that they would bring to the Nine Worlds, it must be stressed that Loki's inherent bigotry against the Gods IS the major reason of the aforementioned misery they gone through.
Comparison to Giants
Though the term has become a catch-all phrase for any kind of giants as well as troll, ogre, or even orcs in various portrayals of Norse mythology in popular culture, Jötnar in myths are actually more than either — Jötnar are primordial gods not unlike Titans from Greek myths and related to Æsir in many ways yet represent primal, untamed and destructive aspects of nature, and many were more placated than worshiped. What further set them apart from stereotypical mythological giants and their relatives is that they are not necessarily notably large and may be described as exceedingly beautiful or as alarmingly grotesque. The Jötnar are also demonstrate immense mystical abilities beyond those of mortals, most notably shapeshifting and illusion conjuration which can even temporarily fool Gods of Asgard in some accounts.
Additionally, the term "giant" was misleading Anglicization of the name of these deities; during the Norman (French) William the Conquerer's takeover of of England in 1066 CE, the English language became filled with French words. Among these loanwords was the Old French geant, the ancestor of the modern English word "giant", which replaced the Old English eóten. Geant referred to the Giants of Greek mythology, who were a group of spiritual entities that enemies to Gods of Olympus just as Jötnar being enemies to Gods of Asgard. The Greek ancestor of geant in turn, was once used to translate a Hebrew word that denoted beings of enormous size in the Bible, and over time this connotation of giant became the word’s dominant meaning.
Also known as Hrimthur (plural: Hrimthursar). The most ancient of Jötnar race, Frost Jötnar were among the first of the Jötnar created when the world began, symbolizing the time before the gods existed.
Also known as Eldthur (plural: Eldthursar), Fire Jötnar are eager participants at Ragnarok and believe in the fiery destruction of the cosmos. While very distantly related to Ymir as with Bergelmir and his descendants, Fire Jötnar are not necessarily descendant of the first Jötunn for related more to Ymir's half-sibling Surtr. Surtr himself is the guardian of Muspelheim, the home realm of Fire Jötnar.
Also known as Bergrisr (plural: Bergrisar), Mountain Jötnar lived in mountainous regions of Jötunheimr as well as those in Midgard and the most common type of their kind. Unlike previous types, they lacked specific elemental affinities but their physical and mystical capacities just as great, enabling them to compete with Gods of Asgard.
The unofficial fourth classification of Jötnar, specifically referring to ones who adopted/born with beast-like appearance and viewed as monsters despite their divine lineage. Many of them resemble animals in physiology and appearance, but still as powerful as their humanoid brethren.
In Popular Culture
As with well-known figures of Norse Mythology, Jötnar have been described in many films, comics, videogames, and books, as well as traditional lore. Some portrayals of these entities however, depicted them as storybook giants, trolls, and/or ogres as opposed to divine beings in myths.
In Marvel comics universe and live-action adaptations (particularly Marvel Cinematic Universe series), Jötnar also featured with similar role and relationships with the Gods of Asgard as with in myths, though the term solely applied to Frost Giants as the franchise replaced Fire Jötnar with equally powerful Fire Demons (though they nevertheless share many aspects to the former such as being natives of Muspelheim instead of Hell as their name suggested).
In manga series Records of Ragnarok and its anime adaptation, Jötnar appears as flashback antagonist. Depicted as primitive, humanoid monsters with animalistic mindset, they are constant threats to Asgard who nonetheless intelligent enough to learn to organize themselves. Around 66 of them managed to break through Asgard's wall and injure civilians and angelic guards alike during their full-scale assault only to be dispatched by Thor in the end.
In real-time strategy game Northgard, Jötnar appear as in neutral groups living in camps at the titular continent. In the game's story campaign, a horde of Eldthursar appear as main threat summoned by Hvedrung, who may or may not mortal disguise of either Loki or Surt.
In real-time strategy game Valhalla Hills, Frost Jötnar appears as one of more formidable challenges Leiko's band of dishonorable Vikings who struggle to prove their mettle by reaching the portal to Valhalla. Their in-game description says, "Ice Giants originate from the Old World and are hard to defeat."
In 2017 film, Moder, is a Jötunn who is described as Loki's child.
- Jötnar and trolls are thought to be one in the same in early Nordic mythological accounts until later Scandinavian folklore clarified them as separate races.