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?