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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 Jötnar race, 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 source of his nourishment. Being a hermaphroditic Jötunn, his body conceived numerous smaller Jötnar when he slept. However, it all changed when Buri, the first Aesir 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.
At first, Aesir's presence caused a tension between them and Ymir and his descendants, which culminated with Odin and his brothers killed Ymir in a battle, resulting the first Jötunn's blood flood the world and killed most Jötnar in process, leaving Bergelmir and his wife as sole survivor of Jötnar race at that time. Their children soon repopulate the Nine Realms, but with inherent hatred towards the killers of their predecessors and their descendants Æsir and Vanirs.
Throughout attestations in the Old Norse record, 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 see Jötnar as unlikely allies and nuisance at best, and bitter enemies at worst. This is prominently shown in case of Loki, whose pranks and mischief troubled the Gods again and again despite being accepted as one of their own. While it can be inferred that Loki's motives 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 noted that Loki's inherent bigotry against the Gods IS the major reason of the afromentioned misery they gone through.
Comparison to Giants and the Gods of Asgard
Though the term has become a catch-all phrase for any kind of giant, troll or ogre in portrayal of Norse mythology in popular culture, Jötnar in myths are actually neither. In truth, Jötnar are primordial gods and related to Æsir in many ways. Yet, they represented primal, untamed and destructive aspects of nature, and many were more placated than worshiped. Also, unlike common mythological giants and their relatives, Jötnar are not necessarily notably large and may be described as exceedingly beautiful or as alarmingly grotesque, and thus stands out from the former thanks to their divine nature.
The most ancient of Jötnar race, Frost Jötnar were among the first of the giants created when the world began, symbolizing the time before the gods existed. Majorities of these Jötnar flourished at the realm of Jotunheim, one of the Nine Worlds, though some can be found at Muspelheim and Midgard.
Fire Jötnar are eager participants at Ragnarok and believe in the fiery destruction of the cosmos. They are arguably descendants of both Bergelmir and Ymir who inhabited Muspelheim and evolved into Jötnar race they were now. The most famous of the fire giants was Surtr, Fire Jötunn who guarded the gates to Muspellheim.
Not all Jötnar are born equal. Some are born as monsters and viewed as such despite their divine lineage. Many of them resemble animals in physiology and appearance, but still as powerful as their humanoid counterparts. Examples includes Jörmungandr, Hræsvelgr, Sköll and Hati, and Fenrir.
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 ordinary giants, trolls, and/or ogres, which is less faithful to that of their more divine counterparts 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 Jötunn seemed referring more to Frost Giants whereas Fire Jötnar being re-established as Fire Demons (though this is simply in-name only given that they still faitful to their mythological counterparts in many respects).
In 2017 film, Moder, is a Jötunn who is described as Loki's child.