A few trolls, gathered around a campfire. Artist
not identified.A troll is a member of a fearsome
humanoid race from Scandinavian folklore, and
its predecessor Norse mythology, as in "The
Three Billy Goats Gruff ," the well-known
Scandinavian folk tale in which a troll living
under a bridge torments some billy goats that
want to cross. Grendel in the poem Beowulf is
a closely similar creature. The word "Troll"
is possibly derived from an old norse word meaning
magic, cf. Swedish trolla Danish and Norwegian
trylle ("perform magic tricks").
What is refered to as giants
(jotnar) in Norse mythology, who were sometimes
called trolls as well, have their closest mythological
descendant in the trolls in Scandinavian folklore,
where "troll" and "giant"
are many times used synonymous.
Trolls In Scandinavian Folklore
Statue of a troll at the Norwegian
pavillion in Epcot, Disney World
Trolls with an abducted princess (John Bauer,
Trolls with a changeling they have raised (John
Sticker often found on older SAAB automobiles.According
to a 1908 cyclopedia: "Trolls are Dwarfs
of Northern mythology, living in hills or mounds;
they are represented as stumpy, misshapen, and
humpbacked, inclined to thieving, and fond of
carrying off children or substituting one of their
own offspring for that of a human mother. They
are called hill-people, and are especially averse
to noise, from a recollection of the time when
Thor used to throw his hammer at them."
In Sweden there are many places
that are named after trolls, such as the town
Trollhättan (Troll's hood) and the legendary
mountain Trollkyrka (Troll church).
Trolls are one of the most frequent
creatures of Scandinavian fairy tales and more
common than elves, dwarves, witches and giants
(in the fairy tales, there is no clear-cut line
between witches and female trolls, nor between
male trolls and giants). They come in any size
and can be as huge as giants or as small as dwarves.
They are often regarded as having poor intellect
(especially the males, whereas the females, trollkonor,
may be quite cunning), great strength, big noses,
long arms, and as being hairy and not very beautiful
(Once again, females often constitute the exception,
with female trolls frequently being quite comely).
In Scandinavian fairy tales trolls sometimes turn
to stone if exposed to sunlight. (This weakness
is shared by Norse svartálfar (black elves)
and dwarves.) Again, like many other species in
Scandinavian folklore, they are said to reside
in underground complexes, accessible from underneath
large boulders in the forests or in the mountains.
These boulders can be raised upon pillars of gold.
In their living quarters, they hoard gold and
The trolls sometimes abduct people
to live as slaves or at least prisoners among
them (in the fairy tales, they are especially
fond of robbing princesses). These poor souls
are known as bergtagna ("those taken to/by
the mountain"), which also is the modern
Scandinavian word for mesmerized. When (if) these
people are let out from the trolls' captivity,
they does not seem to remember anything from the
time underground. Occasionally, the trolls even
steal a new-born baby, leaving their own offspring
– a changeling – in return.
Another popular image is that
of the troll (or giant) that throws large rocks
on a church, demonstrating his hatred for Christianity.
In Sweden, a large stone lying about seemingly
randomly in the country (actually a remnant of
the ice age) is called a "jättekast"
(giant throw). The trolls were often considered
enemies of the Church and sometimes even in league
with the Devil, and could as such be scared or
repelled with crucifixes, prayers or the sound
of church bells.
Tales also recollect of various kinds of trolls, depending on their habitat. We have the sea trolls (who could give both bad and good luck to fishermen, depending on whether you indulged them with treats), the subterranean mountain trolls, hassling tiny-trolls as well as the humongous though sluggish Elder Troll ("Gammeltrollet"). In this context, the common troll should probably be dubbed a forest troll.
The following excerpts from the
Danish Ballad of Eline of Villenskov describe
the physical aspects of trolls within Scandinavian
There were seven and a hundred Trolls,
They were both ugly and grim,
A visit they would the farmer make,
Both eat and drink with him.
Out then spake the tinyest Troll,
No bigger than an emmet was he,
Hither is come a Christian man,
And manage him will I surelie.
In a story in the Edda the poet Bragi Boddason encounters a troll-woman who hails him with this verse.
They call me Troll;
Gnawer of the Moon,
Giant of the Gale-blasts,
Curse of the rain-hall,
Companion of the Sibyl,
Swallower of the loaf of heaven.
What is a Troll but that?
Young Scandinavian children usually understand the concept of trolls, and a way to teach children to brush their teeth is to tell them to get rid of the very small "tooth trolls" that otherwise will make holes in their teeth. This is a pedagogic device used to explain bacteria by the Norwegian author Torbjørn Egner in his story "Karius og Baktus".
Camilla Asplund Ingemark's, The Genre of Trolls. The Case of a Finland-Swedish Folk Belief Tradition is the first doctoral dissertation on traditional forest trolls received in Finland. Her research describes trolls according to the folklore of Swedish-speaking Finns. Ingemark compares the style and content of Troll tales folklore with biblical stories.
In Shetland and Orkney tales, trolls are called trowe.
Trolls In Nordic Art, Music And Literature
Troll pondering its age. (Theodor Kittelsen, 1911)
Troll statue in the forest near Geilo, NorwayEdvard Grieg, Norway's greatest composer, wrote several pieces about Trolls. In the Hall of the Mountain King, and March Of The Trolls, are two examples of this theme. Regarding his motivations, Grieg wrote: "The peculiar in life was what made me wild and mad...dwarf power and untamed wildness...audacious and bizarre fantasy." Grieg's former home, Troldhaugen ("The Troll's Hill"), is now a museum.
Like Grieg, conductor Johan Halvorsen was a nationalist Norwegian composer. He wrote, The Princess and the Giant Troll, The Trolls enter the Blue Mountain, and Dance of the Little Trolls.
Geirr Tveitt was heavily influenced by Grieg's romanticism and cultural exploration of Scandinavian folklore and Norwegian folk-music. Tveitt's Troll Tunes, includes works such as Troll-Tuned Hardanger Fiddle, and The Boy With The Troll-Treasure. Tragically, 80% of Tveitt's oeuvre was destroyed in a fire.
In Swedish children's literature, trolls are not naturally evil, but primitive and misunderstood. Their misdeeds are due to a combination of basic and common human traits, such as envy, pride, greed, naïveté, ignorance and stupidity. In some early 20th century fairy tales, by Elsa Beskow, trolls are also depicted as an aboriginal race of hunters and gatherers who are fleeing the encroaching human civilisation. Where man makes a road, the trolls disappear.
The Swedish-speaking Finnish author Tove Jansson has reached a world-wide audience with her Moomintrolls.
In the genre of paleofiction, the distinguished Swedish-speaking Finnish paleontologist Björn Kurtén has entertained the theory (e.g. in Dance of the Tiger) that trolls are a distant memory of an encounter with Neanderthals by our Cro-Magnon ancestors ~40 kya during their migration into northern Europe. Spanish paleoanthropologist Juan Luis Arsuaga provides evidence for these types of encounters in his book, The Neanderthal's Necklace. The theory that Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon's occupied the same area of Europe at the same time in history has been confirmed by fossil evidence. Neanderthals may well have lived into historical times and may be remembered as trolls, but there is little evidence for this theory. Other researchers believe that they just refer to neighboring tribes.
A much more harmless variant of trolls are troll dolls, a type of toy doll that became a fad after its creation in 1959 by Danish Woodcutter Thomas Dam. The fad underwent a revival in the early and mid-1970s, with many motorists hanging small plastic troll dolls from their front windshield or mirror. Although retaining the fabled ugliness of trolls, troll dolls are also cute and cuddly, according to some tastes. Some people collect them, they come in many colors and styles, with garish colored hair that sticks up on their heads, and some of the later ones having jewels imbedded in their bellies.
"The Troll." A statue under the north end of the Aurora Bridge in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, USA.Scandinavian folk-tales involving trolls such as "Three Billy Goats Gruff" are familiar to other European and European-derived cultures. In the US and Canada, the old belief in trolls is parallelled by a modern belief in Bigfoot and Sasquatch. Many statues of trolls adorn the downtown business district of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, leading to the town being dubbed The Troll Capital. There is also a neighborhood on the northeast side of Fargo, North Dakota which is named Trollwood.
In the David the Gnome animation series, trolls persecute gnomes.
In the TV mini-series The 10th Kingdom, trolls are the ruling race of the 3rd kingdom, having large pointy ears and noses, wild hair, poor intelligence and a love of shoes and leather.
Modern Fantasy Trolls
In J. R. R. Tolkien's world of Middle-earth, trolls are very large (around 9 feet tall) and immensely strong humanoids of poor intellect. They are divided in many kinds: hill trolls, mountain trolls, snow trolls, cave trolls and stone trolls which turn to stone when exposed to sunlight. In The Lord of the Rings, a new breed appears, called the Olog-hai. Unlike the old trolls, they are capable of movement under sunlight.
In the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett, trolls are large creatures who are composed of, and eat, rock. They have a cultural tendency towards violence, and their intelligence is inversely proportional to the temperature, making them quite unintelligent in warm climates. Their size increases with age, from pebbles to mountains. They have had a bad reputation of eating people, but this stereotype is untrue, as trolls are unable to digest anything but rock; they do, however, have to pay special attention to avoid unintentionally crushing humans to a pulp in order to become socially acceptable. The bar 'The Mended Drum' has trolls for security. They are called "splatters" because when a trolls tries to bounce a human, they tend to make them splatter.
In the world of Harry Potter, trolls are giant monsters that kill everyone they encounter. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Harry and Ron Weasley save Hermione Granger from a full-grown mountain troll. In the film, the troll was animated with computer-generated imagery. There are a few other subsequent mentions of trolls; for example it was rumored that Harry's Firebolt, which Dolores Umbridge "confiscated" was guarded by trolls. "Security trolls" are also mentioned in several places - apparently they can be hired as guards.
Two Jungle Trolls from the MMORPG World of Warcraft.In the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, trolls are tall and skinny monsters with large, pointy noses and green skin. In D&D, trolls steadily regenerate all damage unless it is caused by acid or fire. (This version of troll originated with the Poul Anderson story Three Hearts and Three Lions.)
In the Earthdawn role-playing game, trolls are a tall, muscular and honorable race which players can role-play. Earthdawn trolls have curling horns like goats, lots of body hair and enlarged lower canines.
In the Shadowrun role-playing game, trolls are also a race available to player characters.
In computer games with a fantasy theme, trolls appear in many shapes and dispositions. In one of the most successful MMORPG, EverQuest, trolls are one of the choices for players to assume as their character. In Dark Age of Camelot, trolls are also a player race but appear more like a rock golem although they appear among the ranks of the Norse "Midgard" side.
Most computer games adopt the Dungeons & Dragons type of troll, with regeneration of some sort.
Warhammer Trolls are similar to Dungeons & Dragons Trolls. In additon, they have highly corrosive stomach acid that can dissolve anything from flesh and bone to rocks and metals. There are many different varieties of Troll, such as slimy River Trolls and magic resistant Stone Trolls. Trolls are rather stupid, and are typically allied with Orcs.
In the Warcraft series of PC games from Blizzard Entertainment, Trolls are an agile, mohawk-sporting, sentient race. They are savages, wielding axes and spears and practicing voodoo. There are five varieties of trolls in Warcraft. The green Forest Trolls of Zul'Aman (the Hinterlands), the icy blue Ice Trolls of Northrend and Khaz Modan, the large Dark Trolls of Ashenvale, the mysterious Desert Trolls of Tanaris, and the numerous Jungle Trolls. Of the many tribes of Jungle Trolls, the Darkspear Tribe was exiled from their native Stranglethorn Vale, and allied with the Horde when their new island home came under attack. The Trolls of Warcraft are different from most representations of Trolls in that they are extremely clever and are one of the craftier races in the game.
Games Simon the Sorcerer and King's Quest portray trolls that guard bridges, who are repelled with the help of goats (a reference to the folk tale). In The Secret of Monkey Island, the main character Guybrush Threepwood encounters a troll who does not allow him to use a bridge. Shortly after, it is revealed that the troll is just a man, resembling George Lucas, in a costume.
In Heavy Metal Music
Troll metal is black metal music dealing with trolls, goblins and related subjects. Finntroll is one of the most famous troll metal bands. Singing Trolls relate their hate of humans, especially Christians, which is for them a plague to eradicate - and to eat.