I always liked the idea that Thor was the god who’d wake up every day and look at that hammer and not know if he was going to be able to pick it up. – Jason Aaron
Where does Thor begin and Mjolnir end? Is Thor’s entire sense of self-worth and identity wrapped up in a hammer forged from Uru in the heart of a dying star that was then “enchanted” by Odin?
After all, anyone who is worthy enough to lift Mjolnir, can and will become gifted with the power of Thor according to the cinematic canon established in Thor and the long-standing comic mythology in which both Beta Ray Bill and Jane Foster have assumed the mantle of the God of Thunder.
So, is Thor merely an avatar of Mjolnir? Is he only to summon the thunder and fly when he’s holding his hammer?
It isn’t quite as simple as Odin’s words magically carved into Mjolnir when Thor was banished from Asgard in his MCU debut in two thousand and eleven might lead you to believe.
Thor’s power, and how reliant he is on Mjolnir for it, is constantly evolving as the skein of his incredibly long life unfolds in the four-color universe, and his role in the MCU shifts and changes over time.
And the only way to find out whether or not Thor can soar through the heavens without his hammer is by plunging headlong into Marvel lore to attempt to find out how important Mjolnir really is to the God of Thunder.
When he first appeared in Journey Into Mystery #83 in ninety sixty-two, and the characters’ complex relationship with his earthly avatar Donald Blake was explained to the four-color faithful by Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Jack Kirby, it was emphasized by all three of the creators responsible for drafting a god into the world of superheroes, that without Mjolnir, Thor couldn’t “fly”.
The God of Thunder explicitly stated that he’s pulled through the air “like a rocket” by the hammer after he spins it incredibly fast and then hurls it, which further begs the question, is Thor actually flying, or is he just holding on to a magical hammer that he hurled into the air with Asgardian strength and speed?
Whether or not Thor can actually fly without the aid of Mjolnir has been further complicated over the decades since Stan and Larry first gifted him with the ability of “flight” by the writers and artists, who have followed in their stead, most notably by Jack Kirby and Walt Simonson, who have both portrayed the God of Thunder as being able to swoop through the sky unaided and unburdened by Mjolnir.
However, the Mjolnir conundrum may or may not have been finally answered by Jason Aaron in the aftermath of Original Sin, the crossover event in which Thor, following a brief conversation with Nick Fury, became unworthy of the mantle he possessed, and Mjolnir.
After being relegated to the sidelines, the former Thor was replaced by Jane Foster who was able to lift the hammer, and by doing so, became the God of Thunder.
What is, and was interesting during this period, and particularly pertinent to the question is that during Jason Aaron’s run on the title, the former Thor became known as the Odinson, and even though he couldn’t wield Mjolnir, he was still able to fly.
This tends to suggest that Thor’s ability to fly isn’t solely reliant on Mjolnir but is actually due to the same thing that allows him to fly through, and survive in, space, his Asgardian physiology. He is, after all, the Son of Odin, which makes him a “god” with or without the aid of Mjolnir.
The MCU Canon
Then there’s the post-Ragnarok Thor, who appears to be able to leap huge buildings and vast distances without the aid of his hammer which was destroyed by Hela at the beginning of the movie.
And, here’s the obligatory spoiler alert just in case you haven’t managed to catch the BEST big-screen Thor outing (seriously, take a look at the way fandom reacted to the movie) yet, look away now because we don’t want to ruin the experience for you, during the final skirmish on Asgard between Thor and Hela, the new King of Asgard spirals into his sister’s forces and “leaps” over them, while “bringing the thunder”, which further suggests that he doesn’t actually need Mjolnir to be “Thor”, or to fly.
It’s an argument that’s further reinforced during the climactic battle in Infinity War, in which Thor joins the fray in grand fashion by swooping down onto and leaping vast distances to fight Thanos’ forces.
As he manages to do so armed only with Stormbreaker, we’re led to believe that the power to be the God of Thunder, which again includes his ability to fly, exists in him, and is merely amplified and focused by Mjolnir.
The Scientific Principle Of Flight
It has also been suggested, first by James Kakalios in The Physics of Superheroes and also by Kyle Hill in is widely referenced and quoted article for the Scientific American, The God of Thunder and Momentum, that Mjolnir, or rather Uru the metal that the hammer has been forged from, could have a variable mass.
This would explain why certain worthy individuals are able to lift it, as it can be as light as a feather or as heavy as a small moon, and why, when Thor hurls it, it can be heavy enough to drag the weight of a god behind it.
While it’s an interesting and intriguing theory, until it actually becomes part of Marvel’s established mythology through either the comics or the MCU, that’s all it will be; a tantalizing theory.
The Final Flight
Can Thor fly with Mjolnir? Even though the evidence in both the comics and the MCU would tend to suggest that he can until it’s firmly established by canon, Schrodinger’s hammer will have to remain locked firmly in the box, which states that Thor can and can’t fly without it.
It seems like a muted way to answer the question, but until the God of Thunder’s ongoing journey into mystery provides a definitive aye or nay, we’ll just have to believe what we always have. Maybe he can and maybe he can’t.