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Trolls in Real-World Mythology

Trolls first originated from the imaginations of Nordic storytellers. They are the Nordic equivalents of fearsome giants, and are quite similar to the ogres of England. Tales tell us that these creatures roam the Scandinavian wilderness, living in underground mounds, caves, and within hills.

Where the word troll comes from is debatable among scholars, but the closest word is “trollteri” which in old Swedish means “a kind of magic intended to do harm.” It may also have roots in other North Germanic terms such as “trolldom” which means “witchcraft” or “trolla,” meaning “to perform magic tricks”.

In the oldest folk tales, trolls are large and brutish, reflecting the traits from their ancestors the Norse giants. They have beast-like features such as tusks. Male trolls are also very dumb, while females are quite smart. Males are very strong, have big noses, and long arms. But female trolls are frequently described as pretty.

These same tales do not really depict trolls as pure evil creatures, but only that they react in a bi-polar manner to the way people treated them. They could be amazingly kind and playful when treated nicely, near sadistic and cruel if treated badly. They often used magic as a means when interacting with humans. Trolls are known for their thievery stealing food or causing food to spoil. They also abducted people and used them as slaves. In Scandinavian fairy tales, trolls turn to stone if caught in sunlight.

Most of the modern concepts of trolls come from J.R.R. Tolkien’s world of Middle-earth. Tolkien’s trolls are large, standing 12 feet tall mostly mirroring the Nordic descriptions in folk tales in look and manner. They are Morgoth’s mockery of Ents and are divided into subtypes, such as hill-trolls, mountain-trolls, cave-troll, stone-trolls. And like in the Scandinavian tales, they turn to stone in sunlight. Though later in the Middle-earth’s timeline, the Olog-hai came into being, a mysterious type of troll that could resist being turned into rock during daylight.

By: Anne Trent

Trll_William_Heinesen1.jpg Trll_William_Heinesen2.jpg
Paintings: Willam Heinesen

Picture: Bergur F. Mikladal

The Trolls on Mykines and Trøllanes (the Troll's cape)

As the story says, the trolls are coming and occupy human houses every year on the twelfth night. North of Núgvunes in Borgardal in Mykines stood a small house for shepherds to rest in. A night a shepherd comes to the house. He discovers to his fright that the house is filled with trolls dancing and partying, "Trum, trum, tralalai, it’s cold in the mountains for the trolls, but much better inside the house by the hill, trum, trum, tralalai dance close to the door."

The man was terrified and hurried away, so the trolls did not notice him.

But much worse was in Trøllanes on Kalsoy. Here come the trolls overweening from far and near to the village on the twelfth night. There was so much commotion that the village people had to flee to the neighbouring village of Mikladalur. Once there was an old woman, she had not the strength to escape, so she hid under a table in the living room. In the middle of the troll dance, she was so scared that she howling shouted, "Jesus show me mercy." When the trolls heard the name Jesus, they were so scared that they ran from the village while they screamed and shouted "Gyðja destroyed the dance." Ever since they have not dared to disturb this village and spend the night in Trøllanes.

By: V.U. Hammershaimb: ”Færøsk Anthologi I”, 1891

Painting: Hugo Simberg