Myths and Legends: Origns of Jack Frost

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WhispertheWolf's picture
Supreme Viking Champion
Joined: 03/13/2015

Some of you may know about my Shivertooth OC Frostclaws, and some of you may also know that I based him off the legendary figure of Jack Frost due the Shivertooth's frost-breathing ways and mischievous personality.

When you think of Jack Frost, you may think of Rise of the Guardians. (After all, we're all DreamWorks fans here.)

Jack Frost in Rise of the Guardians


But I was actually a Jack Frost fan long before that. I think my fondness traces back to the Rankin/Bass Christmas special Jack Frost - I'm not sure - but I've always eaten up any version of Jack Frost I could find.

Jack Frost from Frosty's Winter Wonderland and Jack Frost (1979), respectively


But I've found that there's a lot of misnomers in the case of Jack Frost that are accepted as truth. So I thought I'd explore the origins and character of Jack Frost and then post my fangirl nerdism here...because why not? XD


So, in dedication to my beloved Frostclaws, here is:


The Origins and Character of Jack Frost


Winter deities and personifications are as old as time, and they are generally not benevolent. Usually they’re outright malevolent. But does Jack Frost lie among these ancient beings?


Many believe Jack Frost’s origins trace to Norse roots with a frost giant called Jokul Frosti (“Icicle Frost”). But this is actually a name confusion. In the Orkneyinga saga (a.k.a. the History of the Earls of Orkney) there is a frost giant called Frosti, while in the Hversu Noregr byggðist (“How Norway was inhabited”) has a frost giant called Jokul, and there’s no historical evidence that the names were smushed together until scholars began writing about him in the 19th century. In fact, in the Poetic Edda, Frosti is the name of a dwarf, and The Saga of Thorstein, Viking’s Son lists a character named Jokul who is a sorcerer. But despite all the confusion, we’ll talk about the sons of Kari nonetheless.


First, context. The first being in Norse mythology arose from fire and ice: Ymir (“Scream”). Ymir became the father of all jǫtnar, which arose from his sweat and includes all dwarves and giants. Odin eventually kills Ymir and fashions the world out of his corpse, but Ymir's descendants survive, and of his three sons, the third, Kari (“Wind”), is the father of the frost giants. Kari’s children (we think) include Jokul, Frosti, Thorri (“Bare Frost”), Fonn (“Packed Snow”), Drifa (“Snowdrift”), and Mjoll (“Fine Snow”). Frosti has a son named Snaer (“Snow”).

Frost Giant in Skyrim


Beyond that, most of what I know about the frost giant Frosti comes from a 20th century scholar. In his book Asgard and the Gods: The Tales and Traditions of Our Northern Ancestors, Forming a Complete Manual of Norse Mythology, published in 1917, Wilhelm Wägner claims Frosti was Kari’s most powerful descendant and ruled over the empire of the far north. He wears silver armor impenetrable to arrows and rides a storm horse. He often made raids into neighboring kingdoms, including Finland, which was ruled by King Snaer. Frosti fell in love with the king’s daughter Miou (“Shining Snow”) and they fled together. But wherever this legend is from, it does not seem to stem from common written literature. This was probably either from oral tradition or...Wägner's invention.


Written references to Jokul or Frosti remain scanty at best, and there is no mention anywhere of Frosti or Jokul having icy powers beyond simply being "frost giants". The loose origins of these tales mean that Jack Frost’s origin as a Viking frost giant is probably urban myth. He has more in common with other tales of the European north, such as Ded Moroz or Morozko (“Father Frost” or "King Frost") in Russian folklore.


A man dressed in furs with a sledge pulled by six white horses, Dez Moroz was actually relatively kind...if you treated him well. If you did not, he was a wicked, evil sorcerer who tended to carry away children in a sack. Be kind, and he protected you from the blizzard winds; be rude, and he froze you to death. His frost is his blacksmith’s work, forging chains to bind the earth and water together. You can even see a film version of this character in the 1964 Russian film Morozko...which was dubbed and released in English as Jack Frost.

Morozko in Morozko


And of course, there are others. Both Japan and Finland have Frostman. In Japan, Frostman and his brother Mistman are keepers of frost and dew. In Finland, Frostman and Frostwoman control weather and must be placated to keep good conditions for reindeer. Not to mention the many female incarnations of winter across the world (which would probably more appropriate to discuss in a Snow Queen thread).


The two-faced nature of these ancient snow beings of old likely reflects the origins of Jack Frost's nature, if nothing else. But Jack comes from the English tradition of personifying frost. His powers vary. Sometimes he is just the one who comes before Old Man Winter to paint the leaves in fall and leave the first frosts on the windows, painting beautiful colors and designs. He is an artist. But he also breaks things and ruins fruits, so there's a give and take.


So when was he named Jack? That's not entirely clear, but the roots appear to lie in England in the 16th and 17th centuries. Starting in the 1500s, "Jack" was a common slang term for a man, usually a funny or clever type of fellow. This was seen in words and phrases like "Jack-o-lantern" (man holding a light), "jackanapes" (a cheeky fellow), and "jack tar" (a sailor), as well as the many Jacks in fairytales and nursery rhymes. Jack must have seemed like a fitting name for the cheeky Frost fellow that paints your window but also shatters your jam jars.

Jack Frost from Hogfather by Paul Kidby


Evidence of this can be found in the very first known written mention of Jack Frost, from a 1734 book called Round About Our Coal Fire, or Christmas Entertainments, author unknown. In the first chapter, the author speaks of Christmases past with the phrase "when Jack Frost commonly takes us by the Nose," which mean that by the time this was published, "Jack Frost" needed no context. So it seems our Frost was born, not from an ancient myth, but by a common Enlightenment Era turn of phrase.


The first illustrated version of Jack Frost was - get this - a political cartoon. On October 5, 1861, the U.S. Harper's Weekly published an illustration of Jack Frost draw by Thomas Nast and entitled OUR NEW MAJOR-GENERAL. So, all you Americans, what was happening in the U.S. 1861? That's right, the Civil War. And the beginning of the Civil War was plagued with cholera among the ranks. Many hoped that the winter would kill the sickness. The Jack Frost cartoon referred to a speech made by Major-General Benjamin F. Butler, who stated "Our faithful old Ally of the North, General Jack Frost, shall come and clear away the Malaria of the South, and we shall march Southward from this place, and there shall be no footsteps backward until this Rebellion is crushed out of this Union." You can see the cartoon below.


"Our New Major-General" by Thomas Nast


The next known mention of the character was in a New York City Central Park illustration called Central Park Winter and published in 1864. This Jack Frost, while clearly a more kindly fellow, bears a striking resemblance to Nast's Frost.


Central Park Winter


In 1875, Jack Frost made his way into American poetry through Charles Sangster, who wrote "Little Jack Frost." The poem describes a playful spirit who covers the world in ice and cares little about the lives of the flowers and grasses, but when spring comes, he leaves in a pouty manner while the plants rejoice.


But Jack Frost finally hit the big leagues of literature in 1902 with The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, a children's novel written by L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz. I've heard this book described as "A Very Tolkien Christmas" due to how adventurous and otherworldly the story is, with immortal beings and fairy worlds, but Jack Frost is a very minor character with only 3 mentions that are really just fly-by cameos. The son of the Frost King, he's a jolly character who enjoys nipping noes and toes. Santa Claus likes him but doesn't trust him.


This was the jumping-off point. From here, Jack Frost would arise from a mere turn of phrase and poetic personification of nature and into an actual mythological character, first in the U.S. and then into the rest of the English-speaking world. Jack Frost went on to feature in stories increasingly in the last century and this one as well, with increasing popularity. From ComiColor Cartoon shorts to radio shows to Tolkien-style adventure stories to censored-fantasy novels to the big screen in live action and animation, Jack Frost has finally infiltrated culture as his own being. He's been a murderous villain, a great hero, a friend, a jealous trickster, and everything in between.


So, with these simple origins and all these different personalities, who is Jack Frost? Not a Viking frost giant, it appears, but is he an elfish creature, a winter sprite? Usually, but not always. Is he a jealous character? Usually, but not always. The truth is, Jack Frost is...whoever you want him to be. His personality became one of mischief and fun, but whether or not that “fun” was malicious or harmless depended on the situation and the point of view. For this reason, in film and literature, Jack Frost never follows a trend of good, evil, or in-between. He is whatever the writer wishes him to be, and how they feel about winter may have a lot to do with how he is portrayed. Jolly but annoying, comical but harmful, heroic but villainous; all can appear in this being or be blurred into one character. And, for me, that's half the fun! I'll always be eagerly waiting for the next Jack Frost incarnation!


...Even if the book or movie isn't a particularly good one.

Jack Frost in The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause


Hey, don't judge my guilty pleasures!


I'll go back to my own Jack Frost now.....



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queen of dark fire's picture
queen of dark fire
Supreme Viking Champion
Joined: 07/06/2014
wow! ^^

This was really informative ^~^


style="text-align: center;">(Credit 09.jpg/" style="font-siz

Let's start with some of my dragons B]

This is Magma, my chilling horror; adopted from goldenfury (lineart by nightmarerebuff)

This is Psychoblast, the eruditious shadowscorn by nightmarerebuff:

This is Ampora, my Tridenttailed Melodious Sirenvapor by Le Jigglypuff and Kimbenoso!

This is (The great) Maxie, my legendary Volcanic Woollyflare, by Le Jigglypuff and Kimbenoso!


This is Strider the Sidereal Sentinel by Varku!




And then I became Gravity falls, Steven Universe, and Homestuck trash. 

The end.

WhispertheWolf's picture
Supreme Viking Champion
Joined: 03/13/2015

Less 100 views? No other Jack Frost fans out there? :(


irinutza's picture
Berk's Power Player
Joined: 07/15/2014
Very interesting!:)

Very interesting!:)


.    This is me.Made by the amazing Pixel!

Madeby me traditionally and digitally by Queen of  dark fire  credits to  Royal Fury for this little fella

This is Sadachbia.Made by Varku.I love it!  This is my Frilled Acidspitter,Solar.Made by 1flower Made by BlackwolfenHOW CUTE IT IS!!! This is Thunder.Made by Gigimon

This is Metalhead,my razorwhip.Made by BeaReptileLover.        

My Shadow Ghost.Made by Dorina the Dragon.I really like it!

Phosphorus,my night fury,made by dragonrider34.     

  The Strawberry Wraith by Flaming Husky

Sweetie,my Nightterror.Made by Gigimon

Spiky,my Neon Nadder.Adopted from dragonrider34 

Made by me

Dark and Light,my Zippleback.Made by dragonrider34 

Strike,my Mained Stratofier.Made by mechfighter.Thank 



   My silly Phosphorus When it is happy.Made by dragonrider34

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This is Aqua,my Banded Featherlure,by Amberleaf

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He is Leonis Minoris,another Spacial Beauty.He is made by Krazykira too.

Supreme Viking Champion
Joined: 07/19/2014
Huh, well what'dya know? That

Huh, well what'dya know? That was very interesting to read! Very informative, Whisper! Thank you for posting this :D

I'm trying to learn more about mythology and stuff, so this really was a good source of info. Thanks :)

I do hope I'm not the only one who clicked on this fully expecting it to be about RotG... :P

And have I ever mentioned that I love this gif in your siggy?

idk, it's just so funny XD


clear the slate and start over

just watch it all burn

the name that you know

you will have to unlearn


she's no longer here

but what can i say?

he's happier now

it's the dawn of a new day


go forth, live your dreams

enjoy the fresh air

with a smile on your face

and the wind in your hair


it will be okay, yes

don't worry about me

because i felt so much better

once "she" became "he"


and now you know his name is not "catie"

WhispertheWolf's picture
Supreme Viking Champion
Joined: 03/13/2015

Ooh, awesome, another mythology buff! ^_^


Yeah, I figured people would think of ROTG when they saw it. I didn't know how to make a title that explained otherwise.


Oh my gosh, that gif! Thanks! XD


Let it go. Let it go.

Annoying Night Fury must die!

Let it go. Let it go.

You'll never see me cry!

WhispertheWolf's picture
Supreme Viking Champion
Joined: 03/13/2015
The Many Incarnations of Jack Frost

I made another post called The Many Incarnations of Jack Frost, which is about...well, the many different versions of Jack Frost. I actually wrote most of it when I wrote this post, but I waited to finish and upload it until I had read more of the book versions.