A little about Trolls
Look at this fella here, ain’t he adorable:
This is a troll and he was given to me by my grandparents when they got back from a holiday in Norway. I loved the ugly thing - yet at the same time it terrified me. I wouldn’t put the thing in my bedroom as I was worried it was going to come alive during the night and kill me in my sleep. As such he sat in my parent’s room, though I would check on him frequently like a proud owner of a pet. I must add I was very young at the time.
But yes this is a troll, creatures that have seemingly always lurked in the corners of our imagination along with things like fairies, werewolves, and gnomes. They’re older then Orcs and come in many different shapes and sizes. I can imagine most of us were introduced to these creatures when we were little through Three Billy Goats Gruff. This was the story of 3 goats crossing a bridge and being confronted by a troll who threatened to eat them. The first 2 suggest the goat behind them, whilst the final and toughest member of their group proceeds to beat the living hell out of him. A weird little story when you think back to it now. It’s Norwegian, and from the mid-19th Century, so that might explain it. Just read the original Pinocchio. I swear I don’t hear about it anymore – I guess I am not the target audience. You can still buy versions of it online of course, and yes it is still a kid’s fairy tale. Now the troubling thing I faced when I was little was that trolls also liked to eat children (much like everything in classic fairy tales) and as such I remember crossing bridges rather tentatively, worried that a troll was about to gobble me up. Children nowadays are introduced to trolls through the DreamWorks film instead. If you haven’t watched or even heard about them, to put simply they’re every different. In fact they’re so nice I am worried that kids these days will cross bridges unaware of the potential child eating monsters lurking below…
If we are to go back and look at the origins of these funny creatures we need to head to Scandinavia. They are key park of Norse folklore, and attract tourists and merchandise sellers to this day. In some ways they’re their version of the Loch Ness monster. The old Norse noun troll means fiend, demon, and werewolf, and not tiny colourful singing creatures. The original sources state they lurk in isolated mountains and caves, sometimes together in small family groups, and are generally described as the opposite of nice and helpful. They, like orcs, are mean spirited creatures, though theirs’ is more to do with their beastly wild nature then an overriding evil. In the book Skaldskaparmal, Bragi Boddason, the hero, bumps into a troll woman on his travels and she describes herself as such:
They call me a troll, moon of the earth-Hrungnir wealth sucker of the giant, destroyer of the storm-sun beloved follower of the seeress, guardian of the "nafjord" swallower of the wheel of heaven. What's a troll if not that?
She sounds lovely doesn’t she? This is actually taken from the John Lindow translation and this is where a problem arises. Much like most folkloric creatures their exact nature, in their original form of course, is very much up for debate. It seems in certain interpretations trolls are almost identical to humans, the term troll being used to refer to mountain dwellers along with mythical magicians, boar creatures, among other things. In fact some believe it is a catch all term for a huge variety of beasts and beasties that lurk in the wild. Much like fairies, elves, and Father Christmas, they come in many different forms, often based entirely on regional preferences. What is certain however is that in the Western World, trolls are generally big brutish creatures keen on violence and trouble, or little mischievous things who like to steal socks, and cause mischief. In short they are not nice – not necessarily evil but definitely not friendly things. That is unless you really like the Trolls animated movies.
Despite this the term troll, over many generations, has generally ended up being used to refer to a particular type of being. These tend to be creatures of nature, that are extremely old, slow, and dim-witted, but immensely strong. It is from Norse mythology that most Trolls have that rather pesky attribute of turning into stone upon contact with sunlight. No holidays to the Greek islands for them! The particularly large members of their race transform into mountains when this happens, and many such places still bear a troll name. Quite a fun way of doing things really.
Of course I can’t talk about such creatures without referring to my 3 favourites – Lord of the Rings, Warhammer, and Warcraft. Each has their own perspective of these creatures though they all share similar wild brutish qualities. One of my early introductions to Trolls, apart from Three Billy Goats Gruff, was through this delightful Hobbit graphic novel, illustrated by David Wenzel. Example right below:
As you are probably well aware, early on in the story Bilbo and his dwarf friends are apprehended by 3 trolls and are almost cooked alive if not for the hobbit's quick thinking. He stalls for time, keeping the dim creatures occupied until dawn breaks when they are turned to stone. The dwarves are even more useless then they are in the film adaptation, though at least none of them waste the reader's time by falling in love with an elf. It’s a really wonderfully illustrated rendition of the story and if you can find one I would recommend you pick it up. My copy, having belonged to my older brother before me is falling apart. It cannot be denied – this version had a huge impact on my imagination. Like most people I was disappointed by the films. Who really cares about Bard anyway? To stay on the Tolkien adaptation, Trolls are generally pretty evil, often fighting beside their smaller cousins orcs and goblins, though they do not share their commitment to their evil masters. They are wild, violent, and brutish, though lack the cruel imagination of other creatures, living a rather primitive existence in comparison. They are often referred to as the antithesis of Ents – while the tree people are generally nurturing creatures of the wild, trolls are destructive, representing the more disastrous parts of Mother Nature. It’s no surprise that many end up serving Sauron, though whether this is more to do with regular feeding then to any dark cause is never properly revealed. In the films this goes further – they are the shock troops of the forces of evil, and though not necessarily smart have huge destructive potential. Sauron of course gets up to his mischief again and makes sure to breed his very own sunlight resistant versions. It would be a right pain having to hide them all in shade during a battle just because you forgot what time it was. With that one of the most recognisable troll traits from their Norse origins is removed. How is Middle-Earth meant to get any new mountains?
Warhammer and Warcraft trolls come in their own versions too, with many similarities. Warhammer ones come in varying designs, temperaments, and colours, though they are all mean and dim witted, being used by their goblin and orc masters to club particularly tough enemies. The Warcraft ones, though still rather wild and beastly, are a bit smaller, smarter, and independent. They don’t rely so much on orc friends but rather have created their own tribal societies, culture, and language. They don’t transform into stone either upon contact with sunlight, and they don’t have a preference for the under sides of bridges, or goats found in groups of 3.
But what of my book, what are they like in When the World Falls Down? Well you do meet a troll quite early on, so you don’t have to read far. His name is Grollp, he’s a space pirate, and he quickly befriends my main character. He’s not evil, though he is mischievous and quite large. I also have lots of different types of trolls too, though these are only really mentioned in passing. As a race they’re neither wholly evil or good, they’re like us humans – a weird messy mix. So much like my orcs it’s best to get to know a troll first before making judgements. That is if they’re not trying to club your skull in or eat you for supper. In that case it’s best to run!
Anyway that’s all I’m going to leave you with today. If you want to find out more, you can of course check out my book - link provided below. This has of course been a very brief look at these wonderful creatures. If you want to find out more there is plenty to read out there - trolls are as old as the mountains themselves, and in some cases even older. There are of course other adaptations, even films too. There is a wonderfully terrible film that stars Warwick Davis, as well as its sequel, which is one of the greatest "bad" films of all time (though it technically doesn't have any trolls in it...), Apart from that, I must conclude by saying that trolls, whatever version they might be, are incredibly interesting. I think I’m already starting to plan a trip to Norway to explore further. I do love my fantasy beasties and creatures after all! Just remember if you’re crossing a bridge with your pet goat be careful alright?
With that it’s by for now. I’ll be back soon.