If you’re like me, you probably remember the Norwegian folktale, THE THREE BILLY GOATS GRUFF. The story was probably my first exposure to trolls, who are usually described in folklore as hideous and evil. What other horrific creature would want to make a noonday snack of a spry and whimsical billy goat for trip-trapping over its bridge?
A far cry from the cuddly troll dolls of the 1970s (remember those?), these large brutish creatures are depicted as hulking, often deformed, slow and ruthless. To prevail over a troll, wait for the sun to rise and turn it to stone. Or you might try luring it into a church where the touch of Christianity will have the same effect. Some are even turned to stone by the mere sound of church bells. A lesser-known way to overcome a troll is to speak its name. This, however, only works if the name is spoken by a Christian. Any magical being knows power and dominion can be achieved through the knowledge of a creature’s true name. Trolls are no exception.
Common abodes included cliffs, mountainsides, and even burial mounds. Many trolls are believed to have regenerative abilities which probably explains why they live such long lives. They appear to be most popular in Scandinavian myth where they are often described as giants with tusks and a single eye. Gifted shifters, they can assume the guise of animals or objects in their natural surroundings such as logs. They also have the ability to make themselves invisible. This particular talent came in handy when raiding farms and villages for cattle or other goods. Occasionally, they would even take human slaves. The easiest way to ward off a troll was to convert to Christianity, though church bells, a cross, or even proclamations of faith would do the trick. Lightning and steel were also elements that would send a troll fleeing. Males were considered lumbering and dim-witted with females (trollkonor) described as clever and attractive. Yeah, guys, chicks ruled even then!
There is an old railroad bridge not far from where I live. Composed of weathered stone, it arcs across a narrow road, and is dense with layers of shadow underneath even in the brightest sunshine. Every time I pass it, I’m reminded of the THE THREE BILLY GOATS GRUFF. I often find myself giving directions that way . . . “Take the first left after the troll bridge.”
“Troll bridge?” others will ask as if I’m speaking gibberish. It’s then I realize not everyone sees mundane objects through the same fantastical goggles I do. That bridge has been standing since my childhood, and many decades before. Yeah we have smart phones, iPads, HD TV and Windows 8, but no one will ever convince me there isn’t room for once-upon-a-time.
Here’s hoping the next time you go trip-trapping over a bridge you find a friendly troll underneath!