Asgard in Camelot: The similarities of Marvel’s Loki & Thor and BBC’s Merlin & Arthur

In which we describe the many aspects these two mythical adaptations are alike.

I’m not telling you anything new if I tell you that Marvel has, with its latest movie offerings, created a very big fanbase. Fans of Iron Man, of Captain America… the usual. But since the last movie (Marvel’s The Avengers) came out, there was a change in the fandom. A huge wave of Thor and (mostly) Loki lovers appeared, renewing the interest in Norse myths between young people quite spectacularly. Loki and Thor have appeared in only two movies: Kenneth Brannagh’s Thor (2011) and the aforementioned Avengers movie, but have created a great, dedicated fanbase. As of today, the tales of the Eddas (poetry works that talk about the story of Norse gods) — like the tale building of the wall of Asgard — appear in the Facebook walls, roleplaying Twitter accounts and Tumblr pages of many teenagers, which, up until some years ago, was a merely scholar matter has become much more popular.

But this revival of the myths through the media is not something the Marvel movies have invented. Four years ago, the BBC started broadcasting a show called Merlin, loosely based on the Arthurian legend. The show (for those of you who’ve never seen it) tells the story of a young Arthur Pendragon, not yet a king but a prince, and his servant, a young boy called Merlin who has a gift for magic. This is a story that starts before the Arthurian legend, a kind of Smallville for Merlin and King Arthur. Like in Smallville, we see the story developing towards the facts we already know.

On the outside, it may not seem like these two media products have much in common: one is a TV show, the other a movie series; one is British, the other American; one talks about Gods from another realm, the other about Kings from Earth. But if we look beyond the surface, many similarities are there, showing us that the two are not so different. To see this more clearly, let’s focus on the main characters: Thor and Loki from Marvel and Arthur and Merlin from Merlin (obviously).

The looks:

Not much to say about this, only that it is the most obvious similarity. Thor and Arthur are both blond, bulky, muscular guys with blue eyes. Even if Chris Hemsworth and Bradley James have very different features, there is clearly a type of men here. On the other end, we have Merlin and Loki who are tall but slim, yet small guys who don’t seem to have the brute force the blonds have. They both share the black hair and pale eyes (I’m not going to get in the debate of which colour are Loki’s eyes because, according to the fans this could — even if probably it’s not — be a plot point) and a remarkably pale skin. Thor and Arthur (does anyone see the resemblance in the names, too? Thor. Ar- THOR. Jeez. I must be going insane) are the picture of what’s right, they are beautiful and strong, while Merlin and Loki are wiry and often underestimated for it.

Arthur and Thor and their armours and smiles.

The skills:

As princes and heirs to the throne of a very important kingdom (another striking similarity) both Thor and Arthur are very good in the arts of war. They are the best warriors in the kingdom and have been raised to be prepared for battle. Both know how to act in war; how to counteract the blows of the enemy, even if sometimes they seem too eager for battle (this very reason caused Thor’s banishment in Brannagh’s movie). They are strong and would probably be the best in any type of sport.

On the other hand, Loki and Merlin are both incredibly gifted in magic, do many spells and tricks to save the day when strength is useless. They are much more subtle in battles and it is implied that they are smarter. In both cases, magic is something frowned upon and disliked (in Merlin’s case even outlawed) so their feats go unnoticed or their importance is minimized. Many times Thor/Arthur gets the credit for things Merlin/Loki has done leaving the magician part a bit bitter about it. (Fortunately, Merlin can complain about this to Gaius, his mentor, who once and again tells him he is awesome. Loki has no one and goes kind of crazy seeking approval. The poor thing.)

In the weapons department many things are similar, too.  The princes both have personal magic-y weapons that no one else can lift from the ground and that have funny names (Mjolnir is Thor’s Hammer and Excalibur is Arthur’s sword) and the magicians work perfectly without weapons (knowledge and spells are as powerful as any sword) but if they have to choose, they will choose sticks, for some reason. Magic sticks.

The personality:

Our resident princes are nice, loyal people who have had everything they wanted since they were kids. Born in a powerful family, everybody loves them and the main flaw in their character is that they love themselves as much or even more than the other people love them. Yep, they’re a bit arrogant. But they’re good guys and prove not being stuck up guys when they fall in love with common, not-at-all-royal women: the servant Guinevere and the physicist Jane Foster. They also seem a bit oblivious about the power of their brother/manservant.

Loki and Merlin are more insecure, more shady but really smart resourceful guys. This is the kind of person you go to when you have a problem because you know they have no issue with breaking the rules to get what they want. They are good guys too, but have secrets that kind of haunt them. Their origin is less stellar (Loki is a child of the enemy and Merlin the son of an outlaw and both their dads die minutes after being introduced) and people mistrust them because they are powerful and smart.

But, on the Merlin/Loki front there is a big difference: Merlin is not evil. He would never try to kill Arthur willingly; in fact, he’s prepared to sacrifice his life for the prince. Funnily enough, the Loki from the Avengers reminds me of yet another Merlin character: Morgana. Morgana is pale-skinned, has long black hair and pale blue eyes and an evil smile. She’s the ward of the king, a sort of adoptive daughter (sounds familiar?) and a friend turned foe. She used to be a great friend and counselor for Arthur but the darkness ended up consuming her. Oh, and she can also do magic.

Half Loki, half Morgana, 100% magic!

Another difference is the focus of the franchise/show: the names give a pretty big clue in this case. Thor is the main character on Thor (obviously) and we see everything through the golden prince’s eyes whereas in Merlin, he is the main character and we see the ups and down of being the magician-smart portion of the two. The proverbial magical geek who has much more difficulties fitting in who struggle with his magic.

People from the small screen who would probably be friends with…

Loki/Merlin:  Littlefinger from Game of Thrones. In the books, Littlefinger is described as a skinny guy with black hair and black eyes who is a bit too smart and very very shady. Littlefinger has an evil smile, too, and is way more powerful than people give him credit. He is not a magician, but, let’s face it, the way in which he finds money for all the lavish feasts and tournaments for King Robert is a kind of magic. Littlefinger uses his wit to be ahead and cannot be trusted. He is the god of lies of Westeros, like Loki is in Asgard. I can’t help imagining the two smiling mischievously over some wine and commenting how excessively simple and easy to fool are the warriors from their respective lands.

Thor/Arthur: Nate from Gossip Girl. I know, I know, it sounds crazy. And I know probably not many Marvel fans enjoy Gossip Girl or the other way around. But think about it for a minute. Nate is descendant from a very powerful family, he is blond(-ish) and blue-eyed, very easy on the eyes, and loyal to his friends and family. He’s also been great friends with a mischievous, rule-bending troublemaker (remember season one Chuck?) and is an all-in-all good guy. Also, it is a bit implied that he’s not the sharpest pencil in the box. But he is, by far, the prettiest.  I can totally picture the three, Thor, Arthur, and Nate, bonding over the importance of loyalty and their love for women. Lil’ royal heartbreakers.

In conclusion, there are many resemblances between both adaptations from myths. Was the Arthurian legend influenced by the tales of the Norse god?  Or are the adaptations at fault for this? Were the Merlin writers fans of the Marvel comics? Or was someone from Thor influenced by a couple of Merlin season? What do you think, dear reader?  Whatever the origin, truth is both adaptations and especially their main characters are quite similar. So, if you are a Thor of Loki fan, you should probably take a look at BBC Merlin, and Merlin fans would enjoy the Marvel films that feature Thor and Loki.

They are well-written, complex and thoroughly enjoyable.

In a word, they are both EPIC.

P.S. Would anyone be interested in a piece only exploring the success of Marvel Loki and/or the possible evolutions of the character?

Tags: , , | Categories: Film
About the author: Clara Luja Azpiri
Clara Luja Azpiri
Currently working as an English and Basque teacher, I'm from Bilbao, in the north of Spain. My passions are rock, cinema and all things british. I love sci-fi and fantasy, -especially in TV shows and movies- and I also love vampires, time travel, parallel/alternate realities and gossip! The shows I'm following right now are Vampire Diaries, Revenge, Gossip Girl and Doctor Who.

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