Myth, Legend or Fantasy

By Joy Brown
Ms. Buchholz
May 17, 1999

There was nothing.

Myth and legend united by the mystical land Trollebotn. The land was icy and dark; covered in huge sheets of ice, a land made for giants. The trolls beginning.

Intending to discover the beginning of the grotesque, human eating troll, I began searching thru Norwegian folklore. My search took me to places I had not intended to go.

The trolls existence dates back to the Viking belief in the creation of man, through the generations the legend of the trolls became entwined with the Norwegian folklore.

Each culture has similar yet different beliefs of how the world came to be. According to the Norse settlers the monstrous giants were the first creatures to come to life among the icebergs. Ymir was the first giant, from him the earth and man came to be. From the sweat of Ymir the giants were created. However the gods and the giants were mortal enemies, and since Ymir's sweat continued to create giants, the gods Odin, Vili and Ve killed Ymir.

As folklore is recorded "The body of the giant became Midgaard, where also Manheim, the residence of humanity was created. His flesh became the Earth, his bones the mountains, his tooth the rocks and stones. His skull was carried by four dwarfs and formed the heavens." (Kuleuven)

Ymir's death caused a flood in which all the giants were drowned in his blood; all but Bergelmir and his wife. They escaped to the place known as Jotun-heim. They became the parents of all the giants and the nemesis of the gods. (Towries)

The eyebrows of Ymir were made into a wall to protect Midgaard from attacks from the giants. The dwarfs were formed from the maggots coming from the rotting body of Ymir. The dwarfs were allowed to live underground. (Kuleuvan)

Man was created when the gods found a piece of ash and elm drifting along the beach. Odin breathed into them a living soul, Vili caused them to have understanding and emotions. Senses and form were Ve's gift to the humans. Manheim was their home and they were named Ask and Embla from the trees from which they were created.

Towrie explains, "To the early Norse, the giants were personifications of the towering mountain peaks surrounding their little settlements. These giants were huge, uncouth creatures that turned to cold hard stone when the rays of the sun struck them. For this reason they were unable to move about the countryside except under the protection of night or a blanket of fog.

The New Standard Encyclopedia backs up this belief "Trolls early in Scandinavian folklore were huge giants but later were dwarfs inhabiting caves and hills." (New Standard Encyclopedia).

The folklore of the giants has been used to explain many natural features of the land: Stane o Quoybune and Yetnasteen which are giant standing stones.

Formations and mounds such as the Cubbie Roo are believed to be remains of collapsed bridges that were built by the giants. (Towries).

In older Norwegian tales giants are barely distinguishable from the trolls, both were cursed to turn to stone if struck by sunlight. The trolls and giants both had a habit of spiriting away young girls - especially princesses. One such story is "Peeriefool and the Princess" which is very similar to the story "Rumplestiltskin."(Towrie).

Orkney has always been a place of mystery and superstition and as the Norse settlers began settling in Orkney their beliefs and tales began to intertwine with the Orkney folklore.

The Norse giants or trolls shrunk in size to accommodate the soft rolling hills and they began to co-exist with the hill-folk, hogbooms and the fairies. Over time with this transformation Norway's gigantic, monstrous trolls became known as trows.

As Towrie states, "When the Norse settlers arrived, they were exposed to a multitude of tales dealing with mischievous, sometimes malicious, child-stealing "spirits" living in the hills. Norse settlers referred to them as "trolls" in the sense that "troll" is an old Norse word for "spirit." So the term "trow" is actually nothing more than another word for "fairy." (Towrie).

It was believed that trolls thought their offspring to be so hideous that they would switch their babies with unattended human babies. These babies were called "changelings." Signs of a "changeling" baby were excessive crying, won't speak, dark or ugly, won't grow, misshapen, over-eats, any sudden changes, etc. (Trimble)

The parents could eventually get their child back by mistreating the "changeling" or getting it to reveal its name.

Over time the trolls have come in many shapes and sizes. The first were hideously ugly, some having only one eye in the middle of their forehead. Some were said to have more than one head, they were very strong, but extremely stupid.

The trolls seem to stir the imagination, often being found in stories passed down from generation to generation. Trolls definitely inspired Rien Poortoliet and Huygen, in their book "Secret of the Gnomes" in which the gnome explains and gives many examples how to trap a troll. The book also gives you a view of the trolls life, they are born kicking and only the meanest troll will remain alive. As the troll grows up they only understand one thing. "Whether a flower, mushroom, or a brood of eggs is concerned - no matter what - the troll rushes at it with one thought on his mind. "Squash it! Squash it!" (Huygen)

Trolls have also inspired many composers. Edvard Grieg composed a piece of music consisting of a large "Bam!" symbolizing the trolls exploding in the early morning sun. "Trolls also play a part in Henrick Ibsen's play "Peer Gynt," the music "Douregubbenshall" ("In the hall of the mountain king") is probably the most famous piece of music from Ibsen's play." (

As you take your stroll on a moonlit night. Take care. For along that secluded bridge in the twilight hours you may realize you are no longer alone. If you hear the scuffling of the branches and leaves beneath you, is it your imagination? Hmmmmm. . . if not you could be a feast for a troll.

Works Cited

New Standard Encyclopedia. "Fairies." Standard Educational Corporation. Chicago. VOL. 6 (Pg. F-11).

Huygen, Wil. "Secrets of the Gnomes." Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, New York. 1982