We have all encountered trolls in childhood fairy-tales and stories; they have a deep history in folklore and mythology as well as finding a new role in modern fantasy fiction, but are they comedy characters or symbols of a darker power?
A Troll is a type of ogre found primarily in Norse and Scandinavian mythology, generally larger than humans and invariably ugly, they are always very strong, but slow and not too bright, they are often said to have magical powers and they are sometimes depicted as being man-eaters. Trolls are dwellers of isolated mountains, rocks, and caves - the most famous troll of all, from ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’ lives under a bridge - normally alone but they sometimes lived in small family groups usually consisting of either a mother and son or a father and daughter.
They always lived in dark places, either because they preferred night time or because they feared the daylight, some legends in Scandinavia tell that trolls would turn to stone if exposed to direct sunlight. There are many landmarks in Scandinavia are attributed to trolls, rock formations, natural statues and features in the landscape where trolls are said to have roamed.
These kinds of trolls were said to probably be descended from the 'Jotunn' of Norse mythology. The Jotunn were giant nature spirits and were the enemies of the gods, they kept out of the human world as much as possible. They were banished to remote hills, forests and mountains away from human settlements, where it is told they awaited the end of the world when they would have the chance to break free to do battle with the gods that shunned them.
In Iceland, trolls are seen a bit differently, they would often treat people well and return favours for favours, only becoming dangerous if cheated or harmed. Like the Scandinavian ones, Icelandic trolls lived in mountains, caves and cliffs, but they lived together in larger groups with more of a social basis, they were said to keep animals, farm their land and hunt as well as holding feasts, gatherings and celebrations. The trolls in Icelandic folklore were said to be very skilled at crafts and were seen more as a strange but valuable member of the world rather than something to be feared all the time.
The modern world thankfully has a place for these giants of old folklore. They are regular characters in role playing games, cartoons, films, computer games and science-fiction and also in fantasy fiction by authors such as J.R.R Tolkien and Terry Pratchett, Tolkien’s trolls holding a very similar, traditional description to the Norse legends, and the ones of the Discworld being more original and comical. Trolls have the ability as characters to be described as scary, evil, pathetic, funny or sweet depending on the situation; their future is looking quite secure.