Facts and Fiction about Trolls Throughout History
These mysterious, sometimes dangerous creatures from Norse mythology and folk tales have inspired many writers, composers, and even painters.
I have collected some facts, and surely a lot of fiction, about them here. Always wanted to know more about trolls but was afraid to ask? Hopefully now some of your questions will be answered.
Here are the habits and behaviours of Scandinavian trolls (jötnar) and Norwegian trolls (huldrefolk).
The Trolls of Scandinavian Myths: Giants Called Jötnar
The jötnar (singular: jötunn) in Scandinavian myths are usually ugly, often with tusks or cyclopic eyes. They are much bigger and stronger than humans and are very dangerous and evil by disposition. The word "jötunn" is derived from the Scandinavian word for giant. A female jötunn is called gygjar.
Jötnar turn to stone when exposed to sunlight, so they typically live in caves in mountains, which they only leave after sunset. They hunt humans because trolls generally are very fond of human flesh. When they aren't hungry, they throw stones at people and destroy human villages located in the mountains.There are also subtypes of Jötnar who live in the sea or forests.
The Trolls of Norwegian Myths: Human-Like Huldrefolk
This type of troll is much smaller then jötunn troll. Huldrefolk are usually handsome and blond, but are set apart from humans by their long tails. They often go about naked, in which case the tails are easily seen. However, sometimes they hide their tails under clothing.
Females of this species, called huldras, ensnare human males through their lovely singing and beautiful appearance. Huldras then use the entranced men to do their bidding or simply keep them as mates or pets. These poor males can be held under a spell for many, many years. Upon release or escape, these males cannot remember what has happened and do not realize that time has passed.
If you are adventurous and want to hear the huldra's song, then travel to place called Myrdal, located nearby Voss in western Norway and take the Flamsbana railway. Fasten yourself by a rope to the train carriage, and somewhere on your travel down to the emerald waters of Sognefjord, you will hear the song (and maybe even see a glimpse of the huldra) calling you to come away.
The Song of the Huldra
Here you can (safely) hear to the original song of Huldra, recorded during an expedition of brave men traveling to the Kjosfossen waterfall. Not all of them managed to return—the song of the huldra is hard to resist.
Trolls and troll-like figures are present in many fantasy and fairy tales books. You surely remember the three trolls (of the jötar type) that Bilbo Baggins had trouble with in The Hobbit. Then there was the giant cave troll in the mine of Moria Frodo later struggled with in Lord of the Rings. Those trolls are stupid, ugly, and dangerous and turn into stone when exposed to sun.
On the other hand, trolls in Terry Pratchett's Discworld (like Sergeant Detritus, member of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch) are more civilized, although still not very intelligent. They can be valuable members of the society. Detritus, who has a custom-made helmet that cools his head, seems to be much more intelligent than other trolls, because in Pratchett's world, trolls' brains are made from impure silicon and work better when cooled. Another difference between the trolls in Pratchett's world and the trolls in Scandinavian mythology is that Discworld trolls are immune to sunlight.
You can also meet trolls in the Harry Potter series, in the Artemis Fowl series, in fantasy novels written by Tad Williams, and in the children's novel The Sea of Trolls.
"Peer Gynt" by Henrik Ibsen
Peer Gynt is a play by Henrik Ibsen based on Norwegian legend.
Peer is the son of a prodigal farmer who frittered his fortune away. Peer had the chance to be married to Ingrid, the daughter of the richest farmer of the land, but he wastes that opportunity as well. At Ingrid's wedding, Peer kidnaps the young bride for the night, and becomes an outlaw. He flees to the mountains, where (after a night of heavy drinking) he meets a huldra, daughter of the Mountain King. He considers turning into a troll himself to marry the Mountain King's daughter, but refuses to take an irrevocable step.
Peer remains human and builds a life for himself as a settler, when a young girl named Solveig comes to the mountains to stay with him. Peer is now so happy and confident in the future that he barely leaves the house he shares with Solveig. But while he is out to cut timber for the new house he is planning, he is overtaken by the past. The green-clad huldra comes with a young troll, whom she claims is Peer's son. Instead of facing the possibility, Peer flees.
He then has life full of adventure, fortune, and loss. He ends up being crowned emperor of the world in an institution for the insane in Cairo.
Finally, as an old man, Peer sets out to return to Norway by ship. However, on the Norwegian coast his ship sinks in a storm. At the end, Peer fights a battle for his own soul and his growing self-awareness. Finally Peer is saved through Solveig's faithful love.
Moomintrolls by Tove Jansson
Yeah, it's hard to believe, but moomins, well known from Tove Jansson's books, are a type of troll. White and round, with large snouts that make moomins resemble hippopotamuses, these creatures are in many ways the opposite of jötnar and huldrefolk: They are friendly, sweet, and carefree.
A typical moomin lives life fully and views the world with an air of wonderment. They find joys in simple pleasures, such as collecting stones and shells. A moomin has a keen spirit of adventure and is a somewhat a restless soul.
Illustrations by Theodor Kittelsen
Theodor Kittelsen, Norwegian artist and illustrator who died in 1914, is famous for his troll-related art. Kittelsen was fascinated by world of Norwegian beliefs, populated by trolls, huldra folk, and other creatures. He depicted them in Troldskab, his book of illustrations, and he also illustrated others' folk tale collections, such as those by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Engebretsen Moe.
"Among Gnomes and Trolls" Illustrated by John Bauer
John Bauer, Swedish painter and illustrator who died in 1918, is also famous for his troll art. He is mostly known for his illustrations in the Swedish folklore anthology Among Gnomes and Trolls.
Tales of Askeladden
Askeladden (which translates to "ash lad") is a central character in many Norwegian fairytales. Here is the story of Askeladden and the eating match:
A farmer with three sons planned to cut wood in a forest he owned in order to pay off his debts.
The oldest son went into the forest and encountered a troll. Frightened, the oldest son ran home.
The second son went into the forest and was chased off but the troll as well.
However, before the youngest son went into the forest, he asked his father for food. The father gave him a bit of cheese in a knapsack. When the youngest son went into the forest to cut the wood, the troll appeared just as it had for the previous brothers. When the troll threatened him, the boy pulled out the cheese. "Do you see this stone?" he asked the troll, and squeezed it until whey came out. When he threatened to deal with the troll as he had with the "stone," the troll offered to help him with the wood-cutting.
The troll suggested that the boy come home with him for a tasty meal. Then he went to build up the fire and sent the boy for water, pointing to two buckets larger than the boy. The boy realized he could not carry the huge buckets. "These buckets are too small," said the boy. "I can fetch the spring instead."
The troll, not wanted an entire spring, which would put out the fire, decided to exchange chores. "Why don't you tend the fire, while I fetch the water?" said the troll.
The troll brought the water, and proceeded to make porridge. When the porridge was finished, the boy suggested an eating match. The troll and the boy ate as much as they could. However, the boy had put his knapsack underneath his shirt, and was pouring more porridge into the bag than into his mouth. When the bag was full, he cut a hole in it and continued to eat.
The troll finally said he could eat no more. The boy, who was still going, suggested that the troll cut a hole in his stomach. He explained, "Then you can eat as much as you like. It doesn't hurt much."
The troll did so and died, and the boy took his gold and silver and paid off the family debt.
Famous Troll Names from Norse and Scandinavian Literature and Folktales
Some legends say that a fearsome troll can be killed if a Christian says his name aloud. This is why trolls generally keep their names in secret. However, we have learned the names of some famous trolls, such as:
- Grendel—Troll made famous by Beowulf.
- Dunker—Troll depicted in a folktale from Fosen.
- Ymer—The oldest creature in the Norse universe.
- Dovregubben—The troll king in Peer Gynt.
- Hrungnir—The stongest giant in Norse mythology.
- Trym—The king of giants in Jotunheimen region.
- Geirröd—A jötunn and father of giantesses Gjalp and Greip.
Jotunheimen ('Home of the Giants') National Park is located in southern Norway and recognized as one of the country's premier hiking and fishing regions. It is part of the Scandinavian Mountains, a mountain range, and the park includes the 29 highest peaks in Norway, including the very highest, Galdhøpiggen (2469 m).
The name Jotunheimen comes from Jötunheimr, which is one of the Nine Worlds and the world (home) of the giants in Norse Mythology. From there, the giants menace the humans in Midgard and the gods in Asgard, from whom they are separated by the river Ifing.
Trollstigen ('The Troll Ladder') is a mountain road in the heart of Romsdal and one of the most visited attractions in Norway. The mountains that encircle the Trollstigen road are enormous. Names like Kongen ('The King'), Dronningen ('The Queen') and Bispen ('The Bishop') echo the majesty of these giant land formations.
Trollstigen, a fine example of road engineering, took eight years to construct. It was opened July 31, 1936 by King Haakon VII. With its incline of 9 percent, this narrow road with many bends and open drops is a challenge. You must be an expert driver to travel along this road—a task almost as scary as the trolls themselves. Just watch these videos:
Trollveggen ('The Troll Wall') is part of the mountain massif Trolltindene ('Troll Peaks') in the Romsdal valley, near Molde on the Norwegian west coast. Trollveggen is the tallest vertical rock face in Europe, 1100 meters from the base to the summit. At its steepest, the summit overhangs the base by nearly fifty meters.
The Troll Wall has been a prestigious goal for climbers and BASE jumpers for decades. The wall was first scaled in 1958 along a climbing route known as Trollryggen. Since then various routes have been climbed in the Troll Wall. The routes are often named after the first ascenders. Most of the routes have been accomplished during the winter.
In 1980, a new sport appeared when the Finnish Jorma Aster made the first jump with parachute off the Troll Wall. Between 1980-86 300-400 parachuters jumped off the Troll Wall. However, since 1986, parachuting off of the Troll Wall has been prohibited by law as a result of several accidents and dangerous rescue missions.
What Do Our Readers Think of Trolls?
I polled my readers and asked them if they think trolls are cute or ugly. Over 50% of them think they are cute and cuddly.
Scared, intrigued or amused by trolls? - Did you ever meet one? Tell your story
reaper2000 on May 21, 2020:
iv seen a huldra when i went to norway
Rick Densmore on February 29, 2020:
Never met one do love to paint them. Love European history which includes Norse u know the guys who setteled in a lot of England
Dempsey on December 30, 2019:
Do you people seriously believe this shit? I feel like I'm chewing on broken glass! Dragged away in the middle of the night by trolls, But I kept checking my watch! Should've asked the guy who bought you home wtf happened, sounds like he knocked u in the head and had fun! Geezus krist some peoples kids, -_-
Mary Prall on December 18, 2019:
Sending to my brother and sister because of our Norwegian ancestors.
Zivile on November 28, 2019:
it is true they are so much fun and laughing a lot :) They are also a bit scary as they are kind of unpredictable. Love them but also respect the forest they are protecting from human beings.
Hollyanne on November 07, 2018:
yes, I met one most likely. Our family trolls are so cute, but the troll I met loved elves, stealing donuts and thought of herself as a most beautiful elf type - she was a Huldra or descendant of one most likely!
helene on October 24, 2018:
I actually gave birth to a daughter who is a real descendant of Hulda folk.
Helene Lavina on September 04, 2018:
It's quite comical now looking back through our histories to make comparisons with what I have experienced in this lifetime. Well aside from things that I've seen, think I may have seen, have certainly seen, must have seen, maybe thought I have seen, or am yet to see!! My view?? The comparisons, assimilations and assumptions I have come to in this lifetime, are from 'things' that I can see, feel, taste, smell, touch or f***, kill, or disrupt. Not an easy task for anyone's rationality. So 101 of the deities??!! I evaluate incidences and occurrences from my past and present with a scientific, analytical and practical approach. It has never ceased to amaze me how much of all our historical mythology binds in and shows truths even today!
SCARED, INTRIGUED OR AMUSED BY TROLLS? - DID YOU EVER MEET ONE?
Well now thanks to this article I'm able to see names that I may now put to claims to fames?? Haha
The three Titans?? 25March2018- Saturn's reproach!
I apologise again- NO! one eyed joe, a mountain you may think you can throw! To you now King Trym, keep tryn. ... Didn't scare me then, don't fear you now!! Never have, for it is I empowered! And your two mates, Glad they got a grip, for push me too much, and you shall lose that grin!! Gjalp Greip
There be at least another dozen, all good- Mamma's coming! Mwah! X
Kalin B on July 27, 2018:
Trolls are myth, some stores in Norway’s have friendly big Trolls by the doorway— and it’s cute
tiger on May 23, 2018:
is any of this even true?
eee on October 18, 2017:
I once saw a troll I was in the sinema seeing trolls and I saw many trolls especialy the guy sitting next to me he was surely a trol y like trolls and I like when popy sings and everyone is friends with everyone today is the birthday of I and I year 2!
Faith on July 25, 2017:
I was recently in Norway for a few weeks and I think I had some sort of experience with something not quite human ... I was staying with some friends of the family and one night I had woken up and it was the darkest it had been the whole time I was there ( the sun is up 20 hours in the summer ) it was practically dusk so I took the opportunity and went out to take pictures and ironically enough I was staying at the family's cabin at the foot of a mountain so I walked a bit up and I could've sworn I heard something/someone scurrying around on the forest floor so I followed the sound further up the mountain until I couldn't hear anything except the faint laughs of the thing I was following so I sat in the grass and leaves waiting for anything to happen it only felt like minutes that I was sitting there ... especially because I kept checking my watch for the time and it was only showing the minutes changing but something must've been interfering with my watch because soon it was far too bright for it to be still at night and as I realized this the laughing got louder and it wasn't just one voice it seemed like hundreds but before I could say something there was only silence and I think I passed out I say I think because I can't recall anything after hearing the dead silence the only memory after that is waking up being caried out of the mountain by the families son ... later that day while I was bathing I noticed little marks on my skin and it looked liked writing of some sort but since I'd put the family through so much I figured it would be best not to ask and wait until the next day but when I woke up they were gone ... I've been looking up any and all reasons for what could've done this and the trolls are a top guess but anyways that's my story
anonymous on July 15, 2013:
Yes I met one. She stole my husband and 5 weeks later he was killed by her husband. I now believe they are from the Nephilim of Biblical accounts and should be taken seriously. For those who don't believe I didn't either at one time and now my views have changed. They are demonic, don't be fooled. They exist, this is no joke.
Kim from Yonkers, NY on March 15, 2013:
added to my Nole Norse Norns lens
anonymous on March 03, 2013:
Trolls are so cute!
KobayashiFiction on February 26, 2013:
My father's side of the family is half-Swedish and I grew up poring over books about tomtem, dala horses, goblins, and trolls! I especially loved borrowing a book of illustrations by Theodore Kittelsen from the local library!
laura webuk on January 30, 2013:
Great lens! Really fascinating. Weird looking fellas aren't they?! Thanks for sharing :)
WorkSmarter101 on January 25, 2013:
Very weird and interesting lens but it's fun to learn something new everyday.
anonymous on January 10, 2013:
Im just still tryna figure out if they truly exit
longbitbeard on November 04, 2012:
This is so awesome! I feel like a kid again!! I LOVED troll books at my library.
anonymous on October 06, 2012:
melissiaoliver on September 18, 2012:
What an amazing and interesting lens!
Expat Mamasita from Thailand on August 18, 2012:
An excellent lens. I never knew there were so many kinds of troll!
Michael Shepherd from Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland on August 10, 2012:
Just last week we listened to my son tell his daughter the story of Billy Goats Gruff. That was my favourite to tell my son.
crstnblue on August 04, 2012:
Wonderful lens - fun and informative!
Amused by trolls :))
Oneshotvariety LM on April 29, 2012:
What a fun lens! I enjoyed reading it! ...Trolls are hilarious. They completely amuze me.
anonymous on March 08, 2012:
Why do trolls hate christians?
TheGreatInspirer on February 17, 2012:
GREAT Lens! I am curious to ask if you have any strong references for your work? I could really use them about now.... =)
Edutopia on February 15, 2012:
Great lens, was real fun to read and you did a good job at making it.
Iudit Gherghiteanu from Ozun on January 31, 2012:
great beautiful lens, with the ugly trolls in it.i love this lens.
DonD LM on January 17, 2012:
Troll is scary and it is s fictional monster. Anyway I love Norway, the place is awesome and so beautiful. Your lense is so interesting and keep posting more cool topics like this.
Rose Jones on January 07, 2012:
Well, I was a bit scared but then you showed us all the incredible lakes of Norway and now I feel better.
Vallygems1 on January 06, 2012:
Awesome lens thanks for sharing
jadehorseshoe on January 02, 2012:
Not scared; more intrigued.
prosepine lm on December 22, 2011:
Intrigued and a little bemused!! Great lense
Denise M Alvarado from Southwest on November 07, 2011:
Awesome lens! Blessed by a Squid Angel:)
anonymous on October 15, 2011:
hello everyone !! are Trolls real ? what's the story about them? if someone could share any real information please let me know ,i found it very interesting, just bucause i saw a movie about trolls and i like to know more, movies is call "Trollhunter" .here is my email if you like to share with me firstname.lastname@example.org,or post it here.thank you.
bbudoyono lm on September 23, 2011:
Interesting. In Indonesia we have similar folk tales about monsters who hunt human being.
anonymous on September 17, 2011:
The closest I ever came in contact with trolls is on YouTube. They're just as ugly, mean, and malicious as the old folklore tales go.
monarch13 on September 13, 2011:
Blessed on my mystical quest!
LouiseKirkpatrick from Lincolnshire, United Kingdom on August 13, 2011:
Excellent, informative lens with wonderful pictures! I'm a big fan of Scandinavian heavy Metal - especially the band "Finntroll" who sing about trolls a lot! This lens has been blessed by this Squid Angel as part of the "Back To School Bus Trip"!
Tolovaj Publishing House from Ljubljana on July 29, 2011:
Cool lens. Thank you for sharing!
anonymous on July 17, 2011:
I really enjoyed this lens. Thank you!
RiverCygnet from USA on July 12, 2011:
Great Lens, I love Moomins!
Nancy Carol Brown Hardin from Las Vegas, NV on April 30, 2011:
I thoroughly enjoyed this lens.The photos of Norway are magnificent and the troll stories are enchanting. Thanks for sharing.
RetroMom on April 27, 2011:
Trolls are gross and cool at the same time! fun lens
Elizabeth Sheppard from Bowling Green, Kentucky on April 14, 2011:
I am intrigued by trolls, but also know enough to be scared of them if they stop me and want to charge me a toll for crossing a bridge. I enjoyed this lens a lot!
mekon1971 on March 21, 2011:
I ate a troll for breakfast one morning, bugger wouldn't let go of the eggs!
orgaard lm on February 04, 2011:
I have met several collectible trolls and they are pretty well behaved. My Norwegian Grandma & her friends all had little trolls and nisse or tomte in their homes.
But my Grandma and Great Aunts told stories about meeting trolls face to face as little girls. The stories would change and the facts would differ, but always entertaining, sometimes a startle and sometimes giggling funny.
julieannbrady on December 15, 2010:
Ah, I am indeed intrigued this morning and would surely welcome the amusing by trolls ... send them my way ... Brooksville, FL if you please! Hideee-Ho Ho Ho and a very Merry Christmas to you.
Sherry Venegas from La Verne, CA on December 10, 2010:
Entertaining and interesting lens.
anonymous on December 04, 2010:
Very handsome lens. Thumbs up and Facebook liked. Lens rolled to my Goblins lens.
anonymous on November 26, 2010:
Oh, you have brought me into the land of troll! I'm originally from Minnesota and would like to introduce you to the Troll With No Heart by Lise Lunge-Larson. My sister told me about the book some time ago after going to a conference In Duluth, MN that encouraged children in elementary school to write. She had the children transfixed. I am also lensrolling to my ' Free Mythological Creatures and Coloring Pages', thank you.
Yourshowman LM on November 26, 2010:
This Lens Is Very very Cool.
I Liked It.
george185 lm on November 20, 2010:
The imagery on this lens is fantastic!
emmaklarkins on October 24, 2010:
Love this site, and love Norsk trolls! My mom is from Norway :) Ha de bra! Blessed by a Squidoo Angel.
Karen Kay from Jackson, MS on October 08, 2010:
Scared, I think. but some of these guys look kinda cute actually!
TriviaChamp on September 22, 2010:
I found this lens to be a great read. Well done!
Wanda Fitzgerald from Central Florida on September 18, 2010:
Great illustrations of trolls. Never knew they were so wrinkley. Your lens has been blessed by a squid angel.
anonymous on August 14, 2010:
I AM A TROLL. and you're right, nothing's better than man flesh. especially HOLY man flesh
anonymous on July 12, 2010:
Well, I met a troll once. He was rather ugly, not very clever and ... drunk. I met him in a pub :)