In twenty-first century discourse the word troll usually conjures up the image of that person who picks a fight or disseminates hate speech online. Those trolls make people’s lives miserable and they pop up out of nowhere and blocking one is like swatting a fly only to have to turn around and swat the next fly.
“If you’ve been on the internet for any period of time, you’ve likely run into a troll at some point. An internet troll is someone who makes intentionally inflammatory, rude, or upsetting statements online to elicit strong emotional responses in people or to steer the conversation off-topic. They can come in many forms. Most trolls do this for their own amusement, but other forms of trolling are done to push a specific agenda.”
But this article is not about the internet troll who enjoys every minute of someone else’s pain. Although that would make for an important next article. This article is about the mythical folklore trolls of days gone by that continue to intrigue in literature and movies and bring back memories of the loveable dolls we all had as children.
“Trolls have a deep and murky literary history. Trolls haunt protagonists in Old Norse-Icelandic sagas. Trolls snatch gruff billygoats crossing bridges in grim fairy tales. In modern novels, trolls capture (and intend to eat) wandering dwarves and hobbits, and trolls sulk about in wizard’s dungeons, leaving a terrible stench wherever they go. Let us not forget, of course, trolls are also fluorescent-haired dolls with gems for bellybuttons.”
“The story of troll dolls began in the small town of Gjøl, Denmark, during the economic precarity that followed World War II. According to board game designer Tim Walsh’s 2005 book Timeless Toys, Thomas Dam (1915-1989) was a baker whose livelihood vanished when the local flour factory shuttered. Struggling to support his young family, Dam shoveled snow for cash while formulating a new plan for earning a living. Early in the morning, or at night when he returned, Dam would sit near the fireplace, carving bits of wood while he thought. He often carved funny creatures to entertain his children, and eventually, his wife persuaded him to try selling the figurines. Dam packed up as many as he could carry and traveled to Aalborg, the nearest city, where he planned to knock on doors. He came home empty-handed, having successfully sold them all.”
This article is about whether these mythical wonderful creatures are real. So what are mythical trolls and where did they originate?
“Troll, in early Scandinavian folklore, giant, monstrous being, sometimes possessing magic powers. Hostile to men, trolls lived in castles and haunted the surrounding districts after dark. If exposed to sunlight they burst or turned to stone. In later tales trolls often are man-sized or smaller beings similar to dwarfs and elves. They live in mountains, sometimes steal human maidens, and can transform themselves and prophesy. In the Shetland and Orkney islands, Celtic areas once settled by Scandinavians, trolls are called trows and appear as small malign creatures who dwell in mounds or near the sea.”
Trolls became the main characters of many folktales and fairytales – in particular those of “Asbjørnsen and Moe’s Norwegian folk tales from 1844”.
“Trolls were often described as strong, evil and dangerous giants. They were ugly, with large noses and eyes “the size of plates”, and often had several heads or just one eye. Gods and humans were their enemies, and they were angered by the “smell of Christian blood”. Most lived in the mountains or in a distant, cold country, but trolls living in the ocean or forest also existed.”
“Trolls featured in Nordic literature, art and music during the Romantic period in the 1800s as well as later on. The most famous are maybe those in Theodor Kittelsen’s fairytale illustrations and in Henrik Ibsen’s dramatic poem Peer Gynt from 1867.”
“Trolls further skyrocketed in popularity thanks to J.R.R. Tolkien. Much of The Lord of the Rings Tolkien based on his in-depth studies of Norse mythology.”
Norway is so enchanted with Trolls the country has a Troll themed amusement park.
“Hunderfossen Family Park, with trolls and legends as its theme, is the country’s very own fairytale adventure park. The Hunderfossen troll towers 14 metres above ground, and is one of the most photographed in the world.”
But how did it all begin? And how did the word itself originate? Perhaps those internet trolls should not be so quick to assume the title – they might have a standard to uphold.
“Trolls originated in Norse mythology and folklore and the creatures are a cornerstone of Nordic legends.”
“From the first written records pertaining to Nordic countries, the image of trolls was commonly that of a monstrous (and usually evil) being associated with magic.”
“Though the exact etymology of the word hasn’t been fully constructed, there are certain North Germanic origins considered to be probable parent words.”
Here are just a few:
Old Norse – trylla, meaning ‘to turn into a troll, to enchant’
Norwegian – trolldom, meaning ‘magic, enchantment’
Norwegian – trylle, meaning ‘to conjure’
Norwegian dialect – trosa, trysia, meaning ‘to fly off impetuously’
Danish – fortrylle, meaning ‘to enchant’
Danish – trolderi, meaning ‘magic, enchantments’
Swedish – trolleri, meaning ‘magic, enchantment’
Swedish – tryllekraft, meaning ‘magic power’
Swedish dialect – trösale, meaning ‘hobgoblin’
Nothing there that the internet trolls have a right to adopt! Perhaps we should change the terms for those humans to stalkers and leave the term troll to these wonderful mythical creatures. Be that as it may, let’s dive deeper and see what else we can learn about these folkloric beings.
“In the Middle Age-era Nordic countries, the word “troll” was used ambiguously and certainly not only to denote large, hairy, aggressive beings we the world may conduct our minds to today.”
“It was really used for any creature that was able to practice magic, especially in terms of controlling the environment, and also any creature that was, in turn, possessed or awakened by sorcery.”
“In medieval sagas, “troll” denoted everything from wild boars being controlled by sorcerers and heathen deities, to undead warriors and non-human, ogre-like soldiers. Old Norse texts also refer to the same being as a “troll” and a “berserker” in the same breath.”
There were actually two main types of trolls (and no nothing resembled the stalkers on Facebook). Although they did make terrible mischief and I suspect that is why the internet stalker is called a troll.
The first type of troll was the trogre.
“The Icelandic sagas and eddas, as well as Scandinavian folktales, featured ogre-like giants. This type of giant being was called troll in Iceland, troll and jotun (or jotul) in Norwegian folktales, trold and jœtte in Danish, and jätte in Swedish.”
“In older Norse literature, the trogres are primordial and even connected with the origins of the universe. However – they’re evil.”
“Trogres were cast in the roles of anti-heroes against the gods, and then the humans. Trogres were the perfect monsters and enemies; they would give protagonist heroes the chance to establish themselves as brave, powerful, and victorious.”
“Once Christianity was introduced to the region, trogres became enemies of the church, too. They were depicted as the embodiment of all things impure and were frequently depicted ravaging churches and attacking priests.”
“The giant trogres, in general, didn’t have much dialect or personality of their own. They weren’t shown as intelligent, rather as pure brute force serving as a monster for heroes to battle.”
“Afraid of the sunlight (and probably only that), trogres lived in dark and often dangerous places like cliffs, caves, and deep crevices. The reason they shied away from the sun was because it could petrify them into solid stone.”
The second type of troll was the troblin. We all know and love the troblin: the inspiration for the troll dolls every child since the 1960s has collected.
“In 1964, troll dolls (Danish: Gjøltrold) were created in Denmark by Thomas Dam. Originally modeled after troblins, the troll dolls were made much sweeter than their predecessors; always smiling and with colorful hair. The children’s toys achieved great success on international markets.”
“Less prevalent in sagas and eddas, a different type of Norwegian troll still appears in Scandinavian folktales. As opposed to the trogres, this type is small and robust – but equally troublesome.”
“This type of creature is often referred to as a troll in Norwegian and Swedish and a trold in Danish; but the names are on occasion used interchangeably with the giant trolls.”
“Troblins, unlike trogres, are given much more personality, dialect, interaction, and backstory. They’re social amongst each other, form relationships and families, and live in their own communities; always based far away from humans.”
“Nonetheless, as isolated as they are, their favorite activity is stirring up trouble amongst humans.”
“The tiny troblins are frequently shown causing problems on Christmas Eve. Stories have them breaking into empty human houses and throwing parties there (also destroying the home in the party process).”
“They’re also shown being noisy outside while human families try to enjoy Christmas Eve inside – and even, on occasion, being so bold as to march up to the door and demand a (hard) drink.”
“Troblins are also depicted swapping human babies for their own. One story gives an emotional, albeit in quite a twisted way, aspect to them. A troblin mother swapped her baby with a human baby. The human mother, upon opening the cradle and realizing a non-human creature was inside, took the baby troblin in but treated her cruelly. Years later, the troblin mother visited again, and asked the human mother “Why do you treat my baby so much more poorly than I treat yours?””
So with all this folklore, do trolls exist in real life? Are there sightings of a similar nature we hear about with Bigfoot?
“Trolls are real in the same way Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are real. They’re mythical creatures that are thought to have been around for centuries, but there’s no physical evidence to prove that they ever actually existed.”
Although, many in Iceland believe in the existence of these mythical beings, at least elves, if not trolls.
“Supernatural and mythological beings are a big part of ancient beliefs about Icelandic nature. Icelandic folklore is rich with stories of these creatures and has been since the beginning of time. These tales were originally passed down in oral form from one generation to the next. They were then eventually collected and published. Many Icelanders still believe in these mystical beings.”
“Iceland’s fantasy creatures fall into four categories: (1) Trolls, (2) Hidden people, (3) Elves, (4) Other mythological creatures such as monsters, serpents, wurms, chimeras, nuggles, and more.”
“The vast majority of Icelanders say yes! Most at least believe in the Elves, according to official surveys and opinion polls. Locals are ready to tell you that this is not superstition but an empirical truth. Many even claim they have seen the Elves despite their invisibility or even communicated with them. Such people are known as “Elf whisperers.””
There were alleged sightings in Finland. https://cryptidz.fandom.com/wiki/Troll
“Two Finns reportedly met a creature dubbed “the Troll” when they were skiing at Imjarvi in 1970, described to be very thin, with hooked nose and pointed ears and wearing a cone-shaped metal helmet.”
“Trolls were most famously sighted in Imjarvi, Finland, 1970, by farmer Esko Viljo and forester Aarno Heinonen when they were skiing when they encountered a strange reddish mist. The men saw a flying saucer emerge from the fog and emit a blindingly bright beam of light before they lost consciousness and awoke on the mountainside. The later recalled seeing a “troll-like being.” Both men later required medical treatment for sunburn — and doctors believed they’d been exposed to radiation. Heinonen later recalled having been in a strange room surrounded by aliens. The trolls told him that a device had been planted inside his head to facilitate future contact. The Finnish forester also reported having acquired new psychic powers, an apparent side effect of the implant.”
A group of Norwegian students filmed a documentary and captured a troll in “The Troll Hunter”. https://www.imdb.com/video/vi2670304537?playlistId=tt1740707&ref_=tt_ov_vi
“A group of Norwegian film students set out to capture real-life trolls on camera after learning their existence has been covered up for years by a government conspiracy.”
And finally for your YouTube viewing pleasure of a “huge troll chasing man in the Norwegian woods” I leave it to you my reader to decide for yourself if trolls are real.
In the meantime, the next time you come across the less than interesting internet stalker – I will no longer grace them with the title troll – send them this way, to this article, to educate them on the “real life trolls” because the legendary troll have the rich folklore in their background, rather than “some serious personal issues going on that they might not even realise”.
Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)