T is for Troll
I’m doing folklore and book review posts to reach and please a larger audience. Previous years have shown select interest in both and to minimise blogging throughout the year, I’m focusing my efforts on April.
If you’d rather check out my book review for today, go here.
I first encountered trolls in the TV series Dawie die Kabouter (David the Gnome). I’ve seen several variations since.
The Fairy Mythology by Thomas Keightley 
DWARFS AND TROLLS
THE more usual appellation of the Dwarfs is Troll or Trold, [a] word originally significant of any evil spirit, [b] giant monster, magician [c] or evil person; but now in a good measure divested of its ill senses, for the Trolls are not in general regarded as noxious or malignant beings.
The Trolls are represented as dwelling inside of hills, mounds, and hillocks–whence they are also called Hill-people (Bjergfolk)–sometimes in single families, sometimes in societies. In the ballads they are described as having kings over them, but never so in the popular legend. Their character seems gradually to have sunk down to the level of the peasantry, in proportion as the belief in them was consigned to the same class. They are regarded as extremely rich for when, on great occasions of festivity, they have their hills raised up on red pillars, people that have chanced to be passing by have seen them shoving large chests full of money to and fro, and opening and clapping down the lids of them. Their hill-dwellings are very magnificent inside. “They live,” said one of Mr. Arndt’s guides, “in fine houses of gold and crystal. My father saw them once in the night, when the hill was open on St. John’s night. They were dancing and drinking, and it seemed to him as if they were making signs to him to go to them, but his horse snorted, and carried him away, whether he would or no. There is a great number of them in the Guldberg (Goldhill), and they have brought into it all the gold and silver that people buried in the great Russian war.” [d]
They are obliging and neighbourly; freely lending and borrowing, and elsewise keeping up a friendly intercourse with mankind. But they have a sad propensity to thieving, not only stealing provisions, but even women and children.
They marry, have children, bake and brew, just as the peasant himself does. A farmer one day met a bill-man and his wife, and a whole squad of stumpy little children, in his fields; [e] and people used often to see the children of the man who lived in the hill of Kund, in Jutland, climbing up the hill, and rolling down after one another, with shouts of laughter.
The Trolls have a great dislike to noise, probably from a recollection of the time when Thor used to be flinging his hammer after them; so that the hanging of bells in the churches has driven them almost all out of the country. The people of Ebeltoft were once sadly plagued by them, as they plundered their pantries in a most unconscionable manner; so they consulted a very wise and pious man; and his advice was, that they should hang a bell in the steeple of the church. They did so, and they were soon eased of the Trolls. [f]
These beings have some very extraordinary and useful properties; they can, for instance, go about invisibly, [g] or turn themselves into any shape; they can foresee future events; they can confer prosperity, or the contrary, on a family; they can bestow bodily strength on any one; and, in short, perform numerous feats beyond the power of man.
Of personal beauty they have not much to boast: the Ebeltoft Dwarfs, mentioned. above, were often seen, and they had immoderate humps on their backs, and long crooked noses. They were dressed in gray jackets, [h] and they wore pointed red caps. Old people in Zealand say, that when the Trolls were in the country, they used to go from their hill to the village of Gudmandstrup through the Stone-meadow, and that people, when passing that way, used to meet great tall men in long black clothes. Some have foolishly spoken to them, and wished them good evening, but they never got any other answer than that the Trolls hurried past them, saying, Mi! mi! mi! mi!
Thanks to the industry of Mr. Thiele, who has been indefatigable in collecting the traditions of his native country, we are furnished with ample accounts of the Trolls; and the following legends will fully illustrate what we have written concerning them. [i]
We commence with the Swedish ballads of the Hill-kings, as in dignity and antiquity they take precedence of the legends.
SKOTTE IN THE FIRE
NEAR Gudmanstrup, in the district of Odd, is a bill called Hjulehöi (Hollow-hill). The hill-folk that dwell in this mount are well known in all the villages round, and no one ever omits making a cross on his beer-barrels, for the Trolls are in the habit of slipping down from Hjulehöi to steal beer.
One evening late a farmer was passing by the bill, and he saw that it was raised up on red pillars, and that underneath there was music and dancing and a splendid Troll banquet. The man stood a long time gazing on their festivity; but while he was standing there, deeply absorbed in admiration of what he saw, all of a sudden the dancing stopped, and the music ceased, and he heard a Troll cry out, in a tone of the utmost anguish, “Skotte is fallen into the fire! Come and help him up!” The hill then sank, and all the merriment was at an end.
Meanwhile the farmer’s wife was at home all alone, and while she was sitting and spinning her tow, she never noticed a Troll who had crept through the window into the next room, and was at the beer-barrel drawing off the liquor into his copper kettle. The room-door was standing open, and the Troll kept a steady eye on the woman. The husband now came into the house full of wonder at what he had seen and heard. “Hark ye, dame,” he began, “listen now till I tell you what has happened to me!” The Troll redoubled his attention. “As I came just now by Hjulehöi;” continued he, “I saw a great Troll-banquet there, but while they were in the very middle of their glee they shouted out within in the hill, ‘Skotte is fallen into the fire; come and help him up!”
At hearing this, the Troll, who was standing beside the beer-barrel, was so frightened, that he let the tap run and the kettle of beer fall on the ground, and tumbled himself out of the window as quickly as might be. The people of the house hearing all this noise instantly guessed what had been going on inside; and when they went in they saw the beer all running about, and found the copper kettle lying on the floor. This they seized, and kept in lieu of the beer that bad been spilled; and the same kettle is said to have been a long time to be seen in the villages round about there. [a]
Popular Tales from the Norse, by George Webbe Dasent, 
The Three Billy-Goats Gruff
Once on a time there were three Billy-goats, who were to go up to the hill-side to make themselves fat, and the name of all three was “Gruff.”
On the way up was a bridge over a burn they had to cross; and under the bridge lived a great ugly Troll, with eyes as big as saucers, and a nose as long as a poker.
So first of all came the youngest billy-goat Gruff to cross the bridge.
“Trip, trap! trip, trap!” went the bridge.
“WHO’S THAT tripping over my bridge?” roared the Troll.
“Oh, it is only I, the tiniest billy-goat Gruff; and I’m going up to the hill-side to make myself fat,” said the billy-goat, with such a small voice.
“Now, I’m coming, to gobble you up,” said the Troll.
“Oh, no! pray don’t take me. I’m too little, that I am,” said the billy-goat; “wait a bit till the second billy-goat Gruff comes, he’s much bigger.”
“Well, be off with you;” said the Troll.
A little while after came the second billy-goat Gruff to cross the bridge.
“TRIP, TRAP! TRIP, TRAP! TRIP, TRAP!” went the bridge.
“WHO’S THAT tripping over my bridge?” roared the Troll.
“Oh, it’s the second billy-goat Gruff, and I’m going up to the hill-side to make myself fat,” said the billy-goat, who hadn’t such a small voice.
“Now I’m coming to gobble you up,” said the Troll.
“Oh, no! don’t take me, wait a little till the big billy-goat Gruff comes, he’s much bigger.”
“Very well! be off with you,” said the Troll.
But just then up came the big billy-goat Gruff.
“TRIP, TRAP! TRIP, TRAP! TRIP, TRAP!” went the bridge, for the billy-goat was so heavy that the bridge creaked and groaned under him.
“WHO’S THAT tramping over my bridge?” roared the Troll.
“IT’S I! THE BIG BILLY-GOAT GRUFF,” said the billy-goat, who had an ugly hoarse voice of his own.
“Now I’m coming to gobble you up,” roared the Troll,
“Well, come along! I’ve got two spears,
And I’ll poke your eyeballs out at your ears;
I’ve got besides two curling-stones,
And I’ll crush you to bits, body and bones.”
That was what the big billy-goat said; and so he flew at the Troll, and poked his eyes out with his horns, and crushed him to bits, body and bones, and tossed him out into the burn, and after that he went up to the hill-side. There the billy-goats got so fat they were scarce able to walk home again; and if the fat hasn’t fallen off them, why, they’re still fat; and so—
“Snip, snap, snout
This tale’s told out.”
Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane
In Scandinavian myth, trolls are one of the four types of fairies and are generally described as being the enemies of mankind; they also appear as such in the folklore of Finland, Germany, Russia, and Siberia. Larger and stronger than humans these cannibalistic fairy beings came to be the size of humans over time. Usually trolls have a hunchback and a long, bent nose, and dress in grey coats and wear red hats. By use of a magical hat, trolls can walk about invisibly; they also have the ability to bestow bodily strength on anyone, foresee the future, shape-shift into any form, and an array of feats beyond the power of man as needed in folklore. Only in ballads do the trolls have a king ruling over them, they do not in lore or mythology.
It is said because of a racial memory from the time when the god of thunder, Thor, used to throw his hammer at them, trolls disdain loud noises. Trolls are believed to be virtually indestructible due to their hard skin and size; however, if they are exposed to sunlight they will retreat into the shadows or they will turn into stone.
*Read more in the book.
The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper
Scandinavian mythology is full of tales involving mountain-dwelling trolls. Their appearance ranges from hideously ugly monsters with tails and hairy feet to extremely good-looking human forms toward whom one should demonstrate a suspicious wariness.
Although living well away from human populations, trolls weren’t solitary creatures but lived in small communities who could often be helpful to their distant human neighbours. This benevolent attitude was somewhat blighted by a tendency toward kidnapping young children and solitary walkers.
*More can be read in the book.
Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel
There are several arguments over the meaning of the word troll. Some believe it’s interchangeable with demon and giant, while others feel there’s an overlap with jötnar (giants from Norse mythology) and hostile monsters. And then there’s the belief that it’s a catch-all word for mischievous creatures.
Of course, in the internet age, we call those creatures lurking in their parents’ basements who leave rude comments online, “trolls”.
Etymology aside, there are distinct features to true trolls.
Mostly from Nordic folklore, trolls are monstrous beings possessing magic. They are sometimes giant in comparison to humans. They usually lived in castles and haunted the surrounding areas after nightfall as sunlight turned them into stone. Most lived in hills, were human-sized and enjoyed kidnapping human maidens, and could foretell the future. These hill-dwelling trolls enjoyed night-time revels where the hills themselves were lifted on stilts to allow in fresh air – and prying human eyes.
In later tales, they dwell in isolated areas – usually mountains – and live together in small family units. They are not friendly or helpful to humans. They are usually described as being dim-witted, old, slow, but strong. Trolls are always afraid of lightning and thunder, though. This is believed to be because of Thor’s role in fighting them – or versions of them – through the centuries.
Many fairy tales have trolls living beneath bridges, expecting a toll of some kind to be paid to cross the bridge. This toll can be in the form of labour or in answering a riddle. This theme is found in many older tales and modern stories alike.
But trolls aren’t merely figments of the imagination. In 1276, King Magnus Haakonsson made it illegal to attempt to awaken the “mound-dwellers” or, rather, trolls.
There’s even a Troll Museum in Norway dedicated to trolls and fairy tales with the aim to bring people closer to the magic of Norwegian folklore.
Whatever you think of trolls, they can’t be that stupid if they can get others to do things for them, foresee the future, use magic, change their shape at will, challenge the skald Bragi Boddason with a riddle describing their attributes, and even get themselves written into human law. Not to mention their popularity in tales across the ages. Maybe they appear exactly the way humans expect them to, just to be left in peace.
Trolls in Modern Culture
I can think of many examples, but I like the visual differences of these.
Merlin TV series
Trolls are magical beings, and are known for being greedy, yet powerful and vicious creatures.
Trolls have enormous strength, able to rip a door off it’s hinges and throw a fully grown man across a room. Their breath can turn into green fog making food rot so that it suits their taste.
Trolls have strong magic, beyond most human capacity. They are able to cast powerful love spells, and when someone is under such a spell they will do anything the troll wants them to. Trolls with knowledge of the right spells/potions are able to shape-shift in a way that mirrors can’t show their true forms.Learn more here
“Trolls despise all other living things, especially humans. They prefer to lurk in the darkness of their nests, feasting on rotten filth.”— GaiusLearn more here
Discworld books by Terry Pratchett
Trolls in Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld novels, unlike the monstrous trolls of folklore and J.R.R. Tolkien, have been subverted into a moderately civilised race. Trolls on the Discworld are, essentially, living, mobile rocks. Trolls have grown to overcome those vicious stereotypes of yore and have lived very prosperous lives in heavily populated cities with (relatively) little killing, and have held jobs as diverse as police officer and concert promoter. They have also held jobs as “bridgekeepers,” taxing those that cross their bridges. It is relatively harmless, although farmers in the company of billy goats have to pay a hefty tax. In early books trolls were generally treated as stupid and inferior, but their apparent intelligence has increased rapidly through the books. For example, in The Colour of Magic, trolls were not allowed in the Broken Drum, and Rincewind feared roaming trolls out in the country in The Sender of Eight. They were later indeed attacked, but Hrun killed the trolls, an act that would have been later considered as murder. In Witches Abroad, the witches take a ‘troll boat’, similar to the oxen-boats featured in Snuff, but powered by a troll. The first appearance of trolls as a truly sapient, cultured, race was probably in Men At Arms, which was a turning point for the portrayal of dwarfs and trolls (dwarfs had hardly featured, troll were regarded as bodyguards), but this was further developed in Thud!.Learn more here
The Hobbit book/films by JRR Tolkien
Tom, Bert, and William (“Bill”) Huggins were three trolls encountered by Bilbo Baggins in the Trollshaws, while with Thorin and Company on their quest to regain the Lonely Mountain. Like most of their kind outside of Mordor, they were vagabonds who robbed, stole, and killed for what they needed or wanted. They were destroyed by sunlight which turned them to stone with the aid of Gandalf‘s trickery.Learn more here
The trolls are a very tight-knit group and function as a cohesive whole, keeping in line with their belief that they “need each other to raise [them] up and round [them] out”. They are very hospitable and show no hostility towards their visitors, having opened their home up to Agnarr and his family as well as Kristoff and Sven. Trolls are also optimistic, as they brightened upon hearing Bulda’s suggestion for Anna to try a true love’s kiss, despite being aware of the severity of the princess’ condition.
The trolls also love to set up romantic relationships, to the point that Kristoff referred to them as “love experts”.
Trolls have the ability to curl into balls, taking on the appearance of rocks. In this form, they can roll about for transportation and rapidly burrow underground. However, this transformation is not entirely voluntary, as the rising sun compels them to turn to stone.
Trolls are attuned to their environment, carrying crystals that channel the aurora borealis.Learn more here
A troll doll (Danish: Gjøltrold) is a type of plastic doll with furry up-combed hair depicting a troll, also known as a Dam doll after their creator Danish woodcutter Thomas Dam. The inspiration came from trolls in old Scandinavian folklore. The toys are also known as good luck trolls, or gonk trolls in the United Kingdom.
The dolls were first created in the late 1950s, and introduced in 1959, before becoming one of the United States‘ biggest toy fads in the early 1960s. They became briefly popular again during the 1970s through the 1990s and were copied by several manufacturers under different names. During the 1990s, several video games and a video show were created based on troll dolls.Learn more here
David the Gnome TV series
The Trolls are the villains from the spanish animated series The World of David the Gnome.Learn more here.
Trolls in My Writing
Origin of the Fae: Trolls
Trolls are made up of various minerals – and depending on exactly what, they can turn to stone or into glass, by either the sun or the full moon. Trolls live in the mountains, usually in a cave system of some sort. Not all live in family groupings, as their society is as complex as that of humans. They don’t kidnap mortals or fae, keeping to themselves. They have a cultural feud with dwarfs, as these creatures are always digging and creating cave-ins.
Trolls are strong magic-users, but even among them there are those who excel. They can turn themselves invisible, change their shape, foresee the future, and give good advice.
Translation of Troll/Trolls to Afrikaans: Trol/Trolle
See them in action:
What do you think of trolls? Where did you hear about trolls for the first time? Any folklore about trolls you’d like to share? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the subject.
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10 thoughts on “Terrifying Trolls #folklore #AtoZChallenge”
I’ve never thought of trolls as inherently evil but as creatures rather slow-witted – obviously I was influenced by the Three Billy Goats Gruff!
I like the troll with the bagpipes.
I like that one, too!
Mercy Thompson’s battle with a troll atop a modern city bridge is my favorite scene with a troll. (FIRE TOUCHED by Patricia Briggs – soon to be an Amazon Prime series) https://rolandyeomans.blogspot.com/2023/04/t-is-elusive-as-smoke-in-night-sky.html
Thanks for the recommendation!
Such a comprehensive post! I first encountered trolls in the three billy goats gruff, but of course the ones I knew best were the three in The Hobbit. I love reading about the origins of folkloric characters!
Thank you. I liked the ones in The Hobbit, too.
I had a troll doll when I was a kid, but my mom threw it away because she said it was bad luck. I collect gnomes now. They are kind of like shy trolls.
I should totally do a post about gnomes 🙂
That first source from 1870 is very interesting in saying there’s no negative association with the word, which is certainly not true for me! But I do love the way Terry Pratchett portrayed them in Men at Arms and Thud.
Alphabet of Alphabets: Translating Trades
Yeah, I don’t have any positive associations with the word “troll” either, but then that was a different time!