Author: Lucinda Morrow

Wandering Tales: Trolls

Ah, you survived Baba Yaga? Great! Really! It’s just… Every time I see you, I know there’s going to be trouble. We’re in troll country and that’s a bridge up ahead so I’m suddenly feeling a lot less confident.


I always have toll money just in case though, have you got yours ready? Ah, well, historically, trolls aren’t all that smart so you could try buying time until the sun comes up? You know, lots of checking your pockets, swearing your coins must be in the other one. Asking what their favourite part of a human is to eat. Oh yes, trolls love to eat human! Especially naughty children.


Well, let’s get you prepared, we’re only going to be venturing further into troll country after all. What we’re most likely to encounter in this region is a Nordic mountain troll.


The name troll tells you a lot, in Old Norse tröll means fiend, demon or werewolf… In Middle High German, there’s trolle which simply means fiend. Most say trolls are simply born to other trolls, but there is an old word “trylla” which means to enchant or turn into a troll so be careful.


Trolls have been part of legend since the Prose Edda of the 13th century, but stories were passed in taverns amongst travellers long before that. When they were first mentioned it was as part of the Jötunn, a fearsome race of giants whom Odin is descended from.


Troll is also very similar to many words for magic, such as the Scandinavian words “trolleri” and “trylleri” or the Swedish word for witchcraft “Trolldom”. We have no definite source these words are actually linked, so hey, maybe that’s something you can ask our troll about while you’re trying to keep him busy.


Nordic and Scandinavian trolls have a lot in common, having the same cultural roots. You’ll tend to find them living far from humans, where possible, so you’re not going to find one knocking around cities or busy towns. At least not a happy troll. They’re generally at home with nature, in caves, deep in mountains or in the midst of thick forests. Trolls are not the most sociable creatures either, tending to live solitary lives or in small, tight-knit families. 


Around Norway, there are several places named for trolls, like Trollstigen, the Troll’s path, or the unfortunate Trolltunga, The Troll Tongue, rock formation where a troll didn’t make it back inside their  mountain home before the sun came up. 


Why does the sun turn them into stone? Some say it’s simply the ancient magic whereas others say trolls are born of stone so return to stone. No one knows for sure why, but it’s important to know. As far away as Iceland, where the trolls must have migrated wit Scandinavian travellers, there is the Reynisdrangar rock formation off the shore of Reynisfjara beach. It’s said to be the frozen remain of three trolls, who were perhaps exploring these new lands just like the human settlers.


Iceland’s most famous troll is Gryla, who likes to kidnap and eat children. Gryla has thirteen sons, named her Yule Lads who spend the thirteen days before Christmas leaving either gifts, or rotting potatoes for children, depending on how well they’d behaved throughout the year. See, sometimes trolls are kind! Although, generally, trolls who do favours for humans expect some kind of reward. 


In fact, we can be quite sure trolls love to travel. They’ve even been found in the Shetland and Orkney Islands where Scandinavians once settled. There they are known as trows and appear as the shorter variety, dwelling in mounds or near the sea.


Wherever they are, there tends to be two types of troll. Large, hulking beats, said to be ugly, slow-witted creatures with sharp teeth and dirty, matted hair, although never to their face. This kind tend to live in mountains and caves, such as the famous Trollfjorden which is filled with mountains and caves, perfect for our slow-witted friends. The other kind are less commonly seen, generally living underground and overall, short, rounded, stubby things. 


Some stories even cite trolls with multiple heads and tails. Be wary though, some trolls are said to be shapeshifters. Why, I could be a troll! Or even… Where did you say you were from again?

Wandering Tales: Baba Yaga

Wandering Tales October: Baba Yaga


You look familiar, did we meet in East Anglia or was that some other crazed adventurer… What are you doing in Siberia, anyway? It doesn’t matter, quick, behind this bush.


Have a peek, can you see it? The wooden hut standing on a pair of chicken legs. It’s Baba Yaga’s hut. The strange thing is, no matter how you approach the hut you’ll always come upon the back of it. The hut waits, you see, for you to say the special phrase then it spins on its legs and presents the front door. No, I’m not telling you the words! The decorative skulls adorning the fence posts should give you an idea of how welcoming she is. 


Look, Baba Yaga is a… complicated woman. Some say she’s a villain, a trickster who takes great joy in misleading with a taste for the flesh of would-be heroes. Then, there are those who see her as a force of nature, the bringer of death and rebirth. A guardian of the wild forests she inhabits and occasionally, Baba Yaga has even been sought out to share her wisdom.


Baba Yaga is as old as time itself, which leads to the confusion of just who, or what, she is. Many tales are actually of three Baba Yaga’s, sisters, who protect the fountains of the water of life. Old clans believe in a horde of Baba Yagas acting as watchful matriarchs over families. How would you sleep with Baba Yaga as your shield?  Like a small babe, knowing no one would challenge her wrath by hurting you? Or maybe, fitfully, constantly waking in a cold sweat, terrified of what would happen if you disappointed her?


Among her followers are three mysterious horsemen, White, Red and Black, whom she calls her “Bright dawn, red sun and dark midnight”. All you need to know about them today, is that they are best avoided. Baba Yaga herself follows no one, but she has been known to accompany Death on his travels, flying on her mortar and pestle. She has a particular taste for newly released souls. Death is always happy to let her eat her fill.


Whether there’s one, three, or more, do not cross Baba Yaga. She likes courage, there are countless tales of her testing would-be heroes, forcing them to prove their bravery before she’ll assist them, but she does not enjoy being fooled. 


The first time we know anyone dared to commit her name to paper, was in a Mikhail V Lomosov’s 1755 book on Russian Grammar. No, I’m not joking. In a section dedicated to comparing Slavic and Roman gods, such as the Slavic god Perun and the Roman god Jupiter… Baba Yaga had no counterpart, no equivalents. Baba Yaga is a force unto herself.


If you’re still intent on meeting her, you should know that she looks… distinct… and it’s best not to stare. In some parts she goes by “Baba Yaga boney leg”, her skeletal legs a reminder how she straddles this world and the next. Of course, she may be asleep. She likes to sleep stretched out on her stove, they say her nose is so long it scratches across the ceiling. I would also warn you not to bring attention to her iron teeth, and the fact they could bite straight through your arm.


Try not to be startled by her “soul friends” either, three bodiless pairs of hands, who appear from nowhere to do her bidding. Just say thank you if they bring you tea.


You still want to meet her? Really? Okay. Well. Go stand there, in the clearing, in front of the house’s back and say the words. We’re not that far away though so… You’ll have to excuse me if I run in the opposite direction once I tell you. Just in case, you understand.  


Turn your back to the forest, your front to me.


Wandering Tales: Black Shuck

A lot of people end up here in East Anglia looking for Black Shuck. Writers, monster-hunters… Those with very little sense. I suppose we’ll see which you are soon enough. 


Which am I? I’m a roamer, I go wherever the tale takes me, and tonight, the tale is in the fens.


You’ll want to set out after dark. Old Shuck is seldom seen in the daylight, at least not without a stormy sky to smother the sun. 


The first time anyone saw Black Shuck? No one knows for sure, but he made the papers in 1127. Imagine walking home, the road lit only by a dwindling moon, and you’re approached by a dog, the size of a horse, shaggy fur bristling in the wind and blazing red eyes trained on you. You can see why Shuck made the headlines. 


His legend grew and a macabre pattern emerged, people began to drop dead one year after meeting Shuck’s gaze. No one knows if he appears as an omen to those who only have a year regardless, or if his fiery red eyes are what cause your demise. 


Some lost travellers claim Shuck has led them out of the fens, and they’ve gone on to live long lives… Personally, I think there are those who stumble across Old Shuck, and those who are called to him.


Shuck’s most famous sighting came centuries later in 1577. It was a tumultuous time in England, the Great Comet flew across the sky and East Anglia prepared for one of England’s most violent witch hunts. Was it this brutality that summoned Black Shuck?


A stormy night raged across Suffolk, thunder boomed and lightning cracked threateningly close. Black Shuck burst through the church doors of Blythburgh with such force the steeple collapsed, killing a man and boy. 20 miles away in Bungay Church, two congregation member’s necks were snapped as Shuck raced between them. 


The only sign Shuck was at the helm of this carnage? The scorch marks seared into the church doors. 


Many questioned how Shuck could materialise villages apart on the same evening. I’m a sceptic, a seven-foot dog destroying churches and acting as a omen of death is one thing, but one that lives for centuries? I believe that Shuck isn’t a name, but a title. I think Shuck is the tribe of harbinger dogs that have been roaming the East Anglian fens for centuries, their numbers slowly growing. 



Well, go on then, the sun is going down. Maybe I’ll see you around if Black Shuck doesn’t see you first.