Trolls - From Ancient to Modern

Posted on 09/17/2010
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Back in the day...

Trolls can be first see in Norse folklore, focused mainly in the early Scandinavian countries that the Vikings had total control over—such as Norway and Sweden. The word “troll” actually evolved over time and wasn't the first name of this type of creature. In the Scandinavian languages, the word is actually a root for just about everything mystical and magical. “Trolleri” was considered to be a type of magic that was intended to harm others and is probably the primary source for the term “troll” for these mythological creatures who were considered to be particularly malignant, especially toward humans, in stories from folklore.



Original trolls that appear in countless tales of Norse mythology seem to be descended from the Jotun. The Jotun were a race very similar to the Titans of ancient Greece. They were sworn enemies of the gods and separated from humans in remote hills, mountains, and forests only through the diligence of the Norse gods where they awaited the end of the world when they would finally battle the Norse gods on an even playing field. Trolls are very similar in their homes as the Jotun, but they seem to be the ones of that race who no longer cared about fighting the gods to determine the battle of good versus evil on Judgment Day.



The majority of stories say that trolls are mostly humanoid in form. However, some special tales indicate that trolls directly from the supernatural realm rather than the ones who constantly reside in the mundane earthly world have more than the normal number of humanoid appendages. The most common feature of these non-humanoid trolls is the possession of multiple heads—some even having up to fifteen heads. Another oddity about the supernatural trolls is that some of them are like cyclopes with one eye on the middle of their heads or even a mobile eye that a group of trolls share. This type of troll is in the minority though. The majority of trolls do reside in the human realm and are simply huge and ugly. The most famous troll of the western world from the tale of The Three Billy Goats Gruff is said to have a nose that was as long as a broom handle and eyes the size of pie pans.



Once Christianity began to be the dominant religion of the Norse people and the cultures touched by them though, trolls seem to find a new niche in life by taking out their malicious instincts on Christian humans—becoming the reason for large stones or boulders near churches as their homes where they can frequently try to wreck the church building or become the rock themselves as their attacks on churches leave them working until the dawn which instantly turns them to rock. Rather than battling the Norse gods, they love to perform evil mischief on Christians and several humans in general. The primary conflict between trolls and humans involves the territorial nature of the trolls. Even though trolls tend to live far away from human society, the roaming nature of humans and their greed for the treasures and magical objects that trolls tend to possess puts them into a position where they bump into the monsters from time to time. Occasionally trolls will steal valuables from nearby human settlements, like a princess, and provoke a meeting of the two races, but this was a bit rare.

Good or Bad


The debate over whether trolls of the old folklore are inherently good or bad has been going on for a while. The only honest answer to this question is that trolls are quite stupid. Being not even close to intelligent takes away a great deal of the fury of an evil being. How bad can something be when you can so easily trick it? Yet, even though trolls most commonly eat outrageous quantities of human food, they have no problems what-so-ever in eating human flesh if they need it or it becomes available to them. Therefore, while trolls may be too stupid to truly frighten anyone or seek out fights with humans, the fact that they will eat mortal people is enough to make anyone at least a little uncomfortable at the presence of trolls.

Modern trolls...


Trolls in modern society are a bit different than the original Norse legends. They have mutated into a different kind of supernatural creature that resembles their roots while not staying completely true to the original legends. While they remain big and ugly, their personalities vary and are seen in many assorted lights from the evil to the silly to the off-beat. Many present-day depictions of trolls are flexible as long as they physically appear to be a “troll” on the outside with a large stature and hideous looks.



The stories of the British author J.R.R. Tolkien are known throughout the entire world. He attempted to create epic folklore tales for the British people when he took his creation of “Middle Earth” and turn it into a whole separate world. Tolkien was sure to create imaginative monsters for his new world, but he also decided to build on traditional legendary creatures. Trolls were one of the monsters he chose to bring over from earthly stories. He keeps to their normal descriptions of being unintelligent, hideous, and unable to tolerate bright sunlight. Finally taking a stance on the debate, Tolkien distinguishes trolls as being inherently evil—working only for the evil leaders of Middle Earth as brute force in battles against the humans of Middle Earth and strong laborers who manually open the Black Gates of Mordor.



J.K. Rowling's world of Harry Potter has put magic back into the mainstream norm. She puts a great deal of research into her books to show that the worlds of myth and legend still exist underneath the modern human realm. Keeping this in mind, it is clear that she is going to need some folklore-originating monsters for her witches and wizards to battle against. In her first book of the adventures of Harry, she has the three main characters (Harry, Ron, and Hermione) come face to face with a fully grown mountain troll on Halloween. She keeps trolls to their traditional description of living in remote places, being big and ugly, and possessing no real intelligence as the children are able to defeat the troll by having its own club drop onto its head. Ron also mentions that a troll breaking into Hogwarts Castle has to be someone playing a prank or a joke as they are so stupid as to not know how to get past the magical barriers and protections in addition to regular fences and gates.

Role playing


Trolls have also become popular characters in role playing games like World of Warcraft. These trolls though differ greatly from traditional standards and their legendary ancestors. They tend to be very intelligent, independent, and powerful. They can learn skills and magic, perform their own quests, and use their brains in fights instead of just their physical strength—going against the mythical stereotype of being idiots. The trolls in World of Warcraft only resemble conventional trolls in their appearance which is both rather large and hideously intimidating.

Author: Brooke Windsor Copyrighted © One page article

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