Trolls of Norway—Facts and Fiction
Facts and Fiction about Trolls Throughout History
These mystical, 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).
Different Species of Troll
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 some 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 in Literature
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
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.
Trolls in Geography
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.