What can you say about trolls…

Ik the Troll King

My first exposure to trolls was in the days of my youth while playing far too many hours of Dungeons and Dragons.  The troll, in my mind, at that time was one that stood taller then a man, very thin and frail in appearance but very strong.  They attack when they are hungry and will eat any kind of meat, including human.  They also tend to regenerate and the only way of dispatching them was through the use of fire.  Nowadays the idea of the troll is a little different, but let’s start with the historical and traditional Scandinavian and Norse troll.

Norse mythology is the first place that we can find the mention of the troll.  In  Skáldskaparmál, here is a passage describing the encounter of a troll woman with the hero Bragi.  In this passge the troll woman describes herself.

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?

At this point, it is unknown if the term troll applied to someone that was outside the law, or society or if the term applied to a monster.  At some point in the furthering ot he Norse pantheon, the term troll became more and more closely related to a monster.  Certainly by the time the Scandinavian people became a widespread culture, the term troll was being used to apply to monsters and the troll found himself into everything from their mythology to the folk lore to children’s stories.  It is from the Scandinavians that we get out best picture of what a troll came to be:  strong, dim-witted, slow and of course as man eaters.  That being said. it has been argued that the troll may just be a Scandinavian term for any general magical creature, such as a faerie and the like in Western Europe’s folklore traditions.

In more modern times, the troll has been turned a green or gray color, roaming either alone or in small groups, it is obvious that the troll does have a society and their own culture.  In popular culture, the troll has made many appearances:

  • World of Warcraft – In this popular MMORPG, the troll is a playable character.  You can be the long-armed, green to blue skinned creature that is fond of the axe as a weapon for melee and ranged combat.  The trolls have a very tribal-style society and they though they are perfectly at home in the cities of the game, they are most at home when hunting through the forest and especially when preying on the members of the Alliance.
  • The Hobbit – In the Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, the first adventure that Bilbo goes on is to save his friends from the clutches of Tom, Bert and Bill – three trolls.  Realizing that he cannot beat them physically, he talks to them until sunrise, at which point, being good trolls from Middle-Earth, they turn to stone.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – A cave troll is set lose in the school in the hopes of giving the antagonist a chance to get at the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone if you are across the pond).  The troll ends up in the bathroom, where it corners Hermoine.  Ron and Harry rush to her defense and witha little magic and of course, sticking the wand up the nose of the great beast, they are able to disable the troll.
  • Billy Goats Gruff – This is one of my favorites.  As the Billy Goats attempt to cross the bridge to get at the greener grass on the other side, they find that they are cross the bridge of a great troll that eats anything that crosses his bridge.

As you can see, the troll is rampant in our societies both old and new.  From folklore to modern literature, the troll is seen all around the world and in every situation, even as a digital version of its self in video games.