Saturday, May 25, 2019

StorySpotting: Breastmilk from a giantess (Game of Thrones)

StorySpotting is a weekly or kinda-weekly series about folktales, tropes, references, and story motifs that pop up in popular media, from TV shows to video games. Topics are random, depending on what I have watched/played/read recently. Also, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Be warned!

Who doesn't like Tormund and his outrageous stories? If there was a true storyteller in this show (after Old Nan), it's not Bran, it's definitely the Tormund.
I'm just gonna say it up front: The research for this post royally messed up my search history and Facebook ads. You're welcome.

Where was the story spotted?

Game of Thrones, season 8, episode 2 (A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms)

What happens?

During the night of drinking before the Battle of Winterfell, Tormund Giantsbane, everyone's favorite Wildling, tells a story. It goes like this: "I killed a giant when I was 10. Then I climbed right into bed with his wife. When she woke up, you know what she did? Suckled me at her teat for three months. Thought I was her baby. That’s how I got so strong: giant’s milk."
The story has already launched a thousand memes. Just Google "Tormund" and "milk."

What's the story?

Tormund, in the fashion of a true storyteller, takes a story that already exists, and makes it his own. Suckling a giantess' milk is a common motif in world folklore, believe it or not. It usually goes like this:
A hero is on a voyage or a mission, and in order to complete it, he needs help from a giantess. To avoid her killing him on sight, he sneaks up on her, and in an opportune moment he latches onto her breast and sucks milk from it. Sometimes this maneuver is aided by the fact that the giantess wears her breasts thrown over her shoulders (motif number G123, because obviously). Thus, before she even notices, he becomes her milk child, and therefore she cannot hurt him.

Pic from here
The motif appears in a lot of different cultures. In the Abaza Nart Sagas, it's the hero Sosruquo who sneaks up on a sleeping witch and sucks milk from her breast, so that she has to adopt him, and give him a horse. In the Armenian tale of the Sunset Lad, the hero on his way to placate the Sun's mother (whom he'd cursed as a child) sucks a giantess' milk, and she helps him accomplish his quest. In another Armenian tale, The Wicked Stepmother, the hero sucks the breast of the giant mother of forty giants, convincing her to help him acquire the Melon of Life. In the Palestinian folktale of Little Nightingale the Crier, the hero in search of a magic bird sucks the breast of a ghoul woman to get her to help him find the bird (and allegedly so do his brother and sister, after he fails). There are some Turkish variants as well, and  Christine Goldberg lists a bunch of other parallels from the Middle East and Africa.
In a Scottish Traveler folktale, a hero on a journey for the White Glaive of Light pretends to be a baby and is picked up and cuddled by th Big Women who guard the glaive.


DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. In real life, sucking someone's breast uninvited (unless you are a baby) qualifies as sexual assault, not adoption. Obviously.


  1. I enjoyed a lot your conclusion!! And yes, Tormund is my favorite caractere (well, a little behind Jon od course!)

  2. Another good one with great links to stories.

  3. There is also the Grimm Brothers' "The Young Giant," which features a boy turning into a giant after suckling a male giant (one version explains this by having the first giant make a gash in his chest and feeding the boy his blood.)