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The Trolls of Scandinavia

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Scandinavian folklore is rich in myths and stories, filled with Viking tales of the beginning of the world, of courage and bravery, of Thor and Odin and the mischievousness of Loki and of the magical celestial kingdom of Asgaard and Valhalla.

The tales are also full of giants, dwarves, elves, and assorted folk of faerie, but the most popular tales are of the rascals called the Trolls.

Trolls are described as being of any size, great or small, and of having one characteristic in common, they are very ugly, with small, beady eyes and large, bumpy noses. Their appearance is usually on the sloppy side with bits and pieces of last week's meals stuck to their stringy hair and clothes. Their ears are mostly large and floppy and dirty enough to grow rutabagas in!! They are also not too careful about brushing their snaggley teeth, which is not very obvious as they do not smile that much anyhow. (Maybe they don't brush them because their mouths are so very large.) They are also ugly and sloppy in their behavior, which is of more importance than their appearance.

In olden times, Trolls lived just about everywhere in the Scandinavian Countries. They believed that they owned the lakes, fields, forests, and bridges where they lived. This always caused a great deal of misunderstanding,as the farmers and townsfolk also believed that they owned these places.Trolls were also apt to make their homes under tree roots and in caves in the mountains. They liked dark places as the sunlight hurt their eyes, and some people even said that Trolls venturing into sunlight would be turned into stone.

The personality of most Trolls is hindered not only by their meanness and stubbornness but also in that they are slow thinking. They are apt to be noisy and quarrelsome and at dinner they untidily throw the bones over their shoulders so that their floors are always a bit cluttered.

Not all Trolls are disagreeable and mean. Some live around people and manage to get along very well. The Tomtes are often confused with Trolls as they look very similar, but the Tomtes have kinder faces. Once, every farm in Scandinavia had a Tomte. They lived in the barns, as they loved farm animals. It was the custom to leave a pan of milk, or something good to eat in the barn for the Tomte and in exchange it would watch over the farm and keep foxes from stealing the kind farmer's hens. Their favorite treat was Rommegrot, which is a sort of like porridge and sort of like pudding. Tomtes lived many hundreds of years and might be with a kind family through many generations. Some of the families who came to the United States brought their family Tomte with them, and continued in the new land to put a saucer of milk in the barn for good luck.

The Nissen is a Troll who lived on the farm and brought good luck to kind farm people. At Christmas (Yuletime), the Scandinavian families called the Troll, Jule Nissen, and would leave a bowl of Rommegrot in the barn so that Nissen would give the farm animals good health for the coming year. (This Troll taught the lesson of kindness.) Trolls are familiar to Americans in the story of the "Three Billy Goats Gruff", who encounter a Bro-Trollet or Bridge Troll, who does not want the goats to cross his bridge. (This Troll signifies covetousness.)

Northern folklore has many more kinds of Trolls, one for every unfavorable trait in the behavior of mortals. Many people will recognize a bit of themselves in the habits of these Trolls. The Fossegrimen, or Waterfall Troll lived under the waterfalls and played a violin. It was the custom for people to throw a present over the falls for the Troll and he would return the favor by visiting the person in his sleep and give him the gift of musical talent.(Signifies ambition) Tomte-Gubben, the Dancing Troll, was a pest. Like most Trolls, he never washed and his hair was in wild, tangled disarray. He would wait in the woods and when a young girl would pass by he would leap out and dance her around in circles until she was quite dizzy. He liked to be the center of attention. (Signifies vanity) Risse-Gubben, the Forest Troll, was very disagreeable. He was the one who makes a person slip on a wet log, or makes a branch break under a child who is climbing a tree, he also caused woodsmen to be careless with axes, and people to be careless with fire. (Signifies carelessness) Nokken, the Lake and Well Troll, lived in lakes, ponds, and wells. He didn't like people to fish in his lake and would annoy them by taking their bait off the hook and by scaring the fish away. He liked to pull people under water and to entice children into deep water and onto thin ice in the winter. (Signifies treachery and disobedience) Brun-Nokken only lived in wells. He was said to be a sneaky Troll with very long arms. He liked children to come close to the edge of a well and lean over far so he could grab them. The Draugen, or Sea Troll liked to make seamen take chances. (Signifies recklessness) Huldra, the Lady Troll liked to entice young men. She had a magic cap to make her appear a pretty young girl except for her long tail which she tied up under her skirt so it would not show, however her heart was still that of a Troll. If a young man would fall in love with her and marry her in church her tail would fall off and not return. (Signifies falseness and two-faced-ness) Hauge-Bokken, the Hill Troll, lived under hills in caves and liked to go about at night scaring people by following behind them and peeking in windows. (Signifies fear) Troll-Kjerring, was a Troll woman who carried her head around under her arm and liked to be around people full of hatred, and visited them in nightmares. (Signifies bigotry and hatred)

Fjell-Trollet, the Mountain Trolls were some of the biggest Trolls. They lived in mountains and caused avalanches and earthquakes by stamping their feet.They also had many heads, each uglier than the next. Tobi-tre-fot, or Tobi Wooden Leg was the meanest Troll. He would sneak up behind people and kick them with his knobby wooden leg. When they turned around he had disappeared only to kick them again when they were not watching. Tobi traveled from barn to barn, staying only long enough to cause a lot of trouble. He would cause mischief by pulling the harnesses off the wall onto the floor and he would let the animals out of the barn, and kick over the milk pail when no one was looking. He never bothered kind or generous people though. (Signifies cruelty and maliciousness) Vesle-tomten caused trouble with the farm animals by whispering in horses ears telling them to be disobedient. He would tell the hens not to lay eggs so that they would end up in the stew pot and give all the animals very bad advice. (spite, bad counsel) The Tussel, the Troll of family ills, made people worry about nothing, started fights and arguments, and liked to see people gossip. If children were bickering it was a sure sign that a Tussel was around the house. (Signifies malice and gossip) The Tusselader were tiny trolls that hid in small dirty places. They would come at night with little hammers and chisels and make a cave in a persons tooth if he was too lazy to brush his teeth. They also liked to live in snarly hair and to make bread and milk spoil. (Signifies uncleanliness and illness) Lange-Nesen, or Long Nose had a very long nose and was forever putting it where it did not belong. He had big ears and liked to pry into people's affairs and hear gossip. He also wanted to poke around and be included in everything. This was a very familiar Troll to most people. (Signifies morbid curiosity, snoopiness)

Most Troll parents were happy with their ugly baby Trolls but occasionally they would take a fancy to a mortal baby. When this happened, they would exchange their own beady-eyed baby and take the other child for their own.Sometimes mortal parents were surprised to find the behavior of their child changed greatly for the worse, and it would be a good guess that their child had been exchanged secretly for a nasty, bratty Troll child. Sometimes the Troll parents would find the stolen child to be too good natured and happy,and they would grow tired of seeing a smiling, cheerful face. They would grow lonesome for their own mean, spiteful Troll child and would return to the family to retrieve their Changling child again. Sometimes though, the stolen mortal child was just as awful as their own and lived very happily with the Troll family. When this happened, the real Troll child would grow up and marry a mortal and teach its family to be nasty, ugly, Troll-like people. No one liked these persons who looked like people but acted ugly like Trolls. (Signifies bad behavior)

To this day in Scandinavia, you see many statues and pictures of Trolls and Tomtes, so there still must be plenty of them living in the northern countries. Perhaps many early immigrants to the United States brought Trolls and Tomtes with them to the new land as Troll-like behavior and people are common in the United States. The stories of the Trolls are still told, and Trolls continue to be some of the best loved rascals in the world. I know these are true stories as they were told to me by the Larson brothers, Levi and Walfred, who were my grandfathers cousins and who actually saw Trolls when they were growing up in the woodlands of Northern Minnesota.

walfred hands


A Time for Trolls, Fairy Tales from Norway, by Asbjornsen and Moe, translated by Joan Roll-Hansen, Johan Grundt Tanum Forlag, Oslo, Norway, 1974, ISBN 82-518-0081-1

Great Swedish Fairy Tales, by various authors, translated by Holger Lundbergh, Illustrated by John Bauer (1882-1918) , Delacorte Press, 1973

Huff and Puff and the Troll Hole (The Gnomes of Pepper Tree Forest), by Don Arthur Torgersen, Childrens Press, Chicago, 1984, ISBN 0-516-03744-7

In the Days of Giants, A Book of Norse Tales, by Abbie Farwell Brown, Illustrated by E. Boyd Smith, Houghton Mifflin, 1902

Norse Gods and Giants, by Ingri and Edgar Parin DíAulaire, Doubleday,1967, ISBN 0-385-04908-0

The Nisse from Timsgaard, Retold by Virginia Allen Jensen from Vilhelm Bergsoe, Illustrated by Ib Spang Olsen, Coward,McCann & Geoghegan, Inc NY, 1972, LOCCC # 72-76690

The Search for Trollhaven, by Odd Bjerke and Meredith Motson, R.O. Beatty Press, Boise, Idaho, 1977

The Tomten and also The Tomten and the Fox, by Astrid Lindgen, Illustrated by Harald Wiberg, Putnum and Grosset NY, 1997, ISBN 0-698-11592-9

Troll, Theodor Kittleson (1857-1914) Illustrator and author, edited by Erik Borge. SFG Oslo, Norway , ISBN 82-04-06641-4

Trolls of Norway, by Arthur (Grandpa) Stavig, Ellis Robinson Publishing Company, South Dakota, 1972, ISBN 0-912488-03-4

The Scandinavian Troll, Its Life and History by Frid Ingulstad, illustrated by Svein Solem