The Troll, the slow titan of Norse countries

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We have always been fascinated by Norse mythology. Among steaming breaths and frozen mountains like sleeping lazy giants, slowly breathing cold clouds, through ancestral forests, we found some of the oldest and most creative stories that abound in significance today.  

The agile creatures with their slow-motion walk fascinates us by their mere existence. Fortunately, the  respect for them gave them a special nobility, despite their asymmetries and hideous contours, of their power written so  much in the Norwegian culture, especially when they have a reputation as creators of fjords, mountains and exquisite landscapes ofnorthern provinces. Yes, that’s right, we’re talking about Trolls.

Ever since the Vikings, in the Scandinavian culture especially, a giant like the Greek Titan gave birth to its own legend. Crafted by magic and obscure mystic, the troll is far from being a sympathized creature. No, the troll reached quickly and safely from a social misfit to an enemy of the communities.  Exiled in the world’s forgotten realms, in nature, only because of the gods who hoped in doomsday and equal confrontations, these declared enemies withdrew from the fight between Good and Evil.

 Unexpected is that sometimes, the trolls from the stories interact peacefully with people, and are even smart enough to build things and houses of stone and metal, giving the fact that they live in caves and grottoes of stone. Some early legends say that trolls were mere giants who lived in castles by night and by dawn they turned into stone, but folklore states that could represent dwarfs as well.

An explanation oftheir presence in theNordic folklore seems to be that trolls represent the remains of the so claimed ancestors of Scandinavia until the advent of Christianity in 10-11 centuries. Since then, these impressive creatures and so versatile in their appearance began to be seen as very old evil creatures. For example, under the laws of those centuries, it became illegal to try to wake supernatural spirits that dominate the hills and mountains, referred to as the trolls. Then is the first time when the term “troll” appears as something negative and pagan.

Troll_portrait

Troll_portrait

Trolls descended from Jotun race similar to Greek Titans and caught human form. But the old stories and the Northern folklore says otherwise about the appearance of these giants: like the fact that they live in lands far away from the human eye, suspended somewhere in the supernatural, that they have more than one head- up to 15, some trolls would be Cyclops with one eye in the middle of the head, that they’re scared by Thor’s lightning light. But most of them are described as ugly, really ugly and gigantic. A famous troll is described in the Norwegian fairy tale “TheThree BillyGoatsGruff “:

“Once upon a time there were three billy goats, who were to go up to the hillside to make themselves fat, and the name of all three was “Gruff.”

On the way up was a bridge over a cascading stream 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 hillside 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 hillside 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 then 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 cascade, and after that he went up to the hillside. There the billy goats got so fat they were scarcely 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.”

But what about trolls behavior? Here it gets interesting.

Before Christianity, trolls had the reputation of ignorant creatures forgotten by the Gods but now they started to be evil. This is due to the fact that people said that trolls were destroying churches, throwing stones with their immeasurable body or transforming themselves into rocks in their fight with people.The truth is that they were not very intelligent, but they were strong. The conflicts were more than often started by people. Looking for treasures and wealth, they conquered nature and went into a pursuit ofmagical objects  in wildlands – hence the occasional encounters with the Nordic creatures.  It happens rarely that trolls steal princesses.

Troll_portrait

Troll_portrait

Dilemma: good or bad?

The truth is that trolls are somewhere on the border, because they have the most important excuse: they are downright stupid. The only fucked up thing over this simple equation is that although they are omnivores, in the middle of a fight they can become cannibals – hence the fear of them. Other than this, they are too stupid to scare or frighten people.
They say that trolls had power of regeneration and, being an element of fire, you could kill them with fire. Their power to turn into stone links with the ability to eat anything because their gastric juice was so strong, that it could annihilate everything,  their vomit could wound any prey.

 

In modernism,  however, things are slightly different. And so are trolls.

Leaving aside the meanings of the word in everyday speech – troll meaning a person who could intentionally say malicious remarks towards others – in folklore we still find them all big and ugly, but creatures of evil, or simply mystics. To the great Tolkien, trolls are creatures of earth, dedicated to it, utterly hideous, even goofy, but they don’t tolerate bright light and are 100% evil. Specifically, trolls are the evil masters of the Middle Earth, the brute force of the army against the people, and strong workers that can open the black gates of Mordor, being 3 feet tall.

At Rowling, however, in the first book, Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione confront one, a mountain troll, on Halloween. This troll is incredibly stupid, that the people of Hogwarts ask themselves if its appearance is a joke given the fact that it could not simply pass the castle’s magical barriers.

In WoW, World ofWorcraft, trolls appear completely changed: intelligent,  strong, independent, fast learners and even magical ones, who have their own missions and so, behold,  the brain! For the first time, they move from the status of idiots to something else.

Another Norwegian story tells about Esbern,  who loved a  girl whose father will not let her marry quickly, but only after he could build a church. Esbern bargains with a troll for it. The young must find out the name of the troll, before it finishes building the church otherwise the troll will remain with the girl and his soul. Esbern failed,  but at the girl’s prayers and a little bit of luck of hearing the troll’s wife calling her children by their father’s name, manages to complete the challenge. Hence the symbolism ofprayer as a weapon against evil creatures in northern stories, and also the raising of those majestic churches – the trolls are often fooled to build such buildings.

Trolls were separated in different races in Trollhunter, a movie by Andre Øvredal,  like Ringlefinch, Tosseladd, Jotun, The Harding, Dovregrubben, The Mountain Kings etc. For example, Tosseladd was schizophrenic, very weak, with three to nine heads (one main, the rest being protrusions), which over time attracted more women and developed their physical strength. Raglefant from the Raglefinch species,was the most grotesque troll with hundreds of teeth, or Jotun, who lived on the highest mountains, called “The home of the Giants”. The director wanted to explain each race individually and to come with an explanation for the fantastic natural scenery in northern reality. Petrification, for example, is a normal process for these creatures who could not convert vitamin D to calcium. The movie is based on the descriptions of trolls from the mythological descriptions and the creations of the most famous Norwegian artists such as Theodor Kittelsen and Christian Skredsvig that could describe trolls depending on where they lived – with rocky protrusions, and other vegetation.

Now their modern exile is the fact that they are not respected by fear, once the Christianity took over and reduced their strength. It’s sad because trolls just wanted to exist, to be just like animals in a communion with nature, away from civilization, but the human greed totally transformed them.

Troll is the new zombie

A special quality that trolls have developed in modern popular culture is taking the role of Norwegian zombies. They become the supernatural creatures in the northern horror-movies. Americans have zombies, the disgusting, narrow minded monsters, but in armies, trolls appear mainly in Norwegian cinema. Children in these realms of fairy grew up with their stories, especially through books filled with detailed illustrations and luscious imagination, since 1800. The stories intended to frighten and to teach children the traditional code of good manners, and to raise reluctance among those who dared to cross the mountains of Northern Norway, a very large and dangerous area, filled with snow and ice. In addition, they served as explanation for nature’s forms, mountains, rocks, breathtaking Fjords and natural aspects that could not be explained rationally.

However, with today’s consumerism, trolls have become a tourist attraction. Besides the fact that they are born from dust and return to dust as the superb Norwegian landscape, they now come in the form of happy dolls, even childish ones, in high demand, quite different from those of folklore.

Illustrations: Iuly Vasile

Sources:

www.paranormalhaze.com, www.mythcreatures.co.uk, Trolls, culture and development, Joyce McCoffrey (www.ccb.ils.illinois.edu)

 

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