Mae Clair’s Mythical Monday: Who’s that Trip-Trapping on My Bridge?

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! 😀

28 thoughts on “Mae Clair’s Mythical Monday: Who’s that Trip-Trapping on My Bridge?

  1. Wow! My first thought was that some missionary did a very good job of trying to scare religion into a culture who had such strong ties to folklore. As for the fantastic? I think this world needs more of it….to lighten days, to bring smiles too children. I’m more Peter Pan…why grow up all the way if you don’t have to? Somehow it seems growing up requires you to stop enjoying those fun little moments that sneak up on you in life. 🙂

    • I’m completely Peter Pan, Kitt, and hope I never grow up. Sometimes, hanging onto that whimsical philosophy is a hard balance with the practical/professional me, but I never want to let it slip away. I’m thankful that decades later the kid in me still exsits!

  2. We have a tunnel-type bridge in a park in town that stays shaded inside. Sadly, the only once upon that came to my mind upon viewing it was murder, horror and mystery. LOL I love fairy tales more. Your bridge sounds funner than mine. 😦 😆

    • Ooo, did I mention I like murder mysteries, detective fiction and thrillers? I could easily peel away the cloak of the fantastical to see the spooky underlayer beneath. But, when it comes to stone bridges and dense shadow, I’ll always go with trolls before unsolved murders (although your reply has my muse working overtime, conjuring stories and plot threads). Fun!

  3. I didn’t know about the church/church-bells/name spoken by a Christian ways to slay a troll. Interesting how many religious threads pass through folklore. What a wonderful topic, Mae!

    • I was shocked by the Christian connection too, Jessi. I knew about trolls lurking under bridges and being turned to stone by sunlight, but it was an eye-opener to learn what a devastating effect chruch bells had on them. Many times, my Mythical Monday posts are a learning experience for me too!

    • Aww, now that makes me feel awesome! Thank you so much. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one with my head in the clouds, looking through those whimsical goggles of make-believe! 🙂

  4. There is one on the Erie Canal! Troll bridge…everybody down! Troll bridge ’cause we’re coming to a town… Well, maybe I borrowed Mae’s goggles for my trip! 🙂 Diane

  5. Gee thanks for reminding me there are trolls under bridges!! LOL. Now, every bridge I see, I will be shouting, “Hey, get off my troll bridge.” 😉

    • I love it, Carrie! Those pesky trolls need a reminder – – as does everyone else, LOL. One of these days I’m going to have to take a picture of the troll bridge in my area. I often wonder if the trains that run over it blow their whistles to let the trolls know they’re passing 😉

  6. Just waving hello on this dark and dreary wet day. Hope the storms have missed you. Haven’t chatted in a while you busy with book selling (a very good thing) and me busy with NaNo (so far up to date on word count) and wanted to touch base

    • Ooo, congrats on NaNo, Sue. One of these years I’m actually going to attempt it. We had beautiful weather here today… sunny and warm, a last hurrah before a cold front moves in. Thanks for touching base. Hope all is well with you!

  7. I’d completely forgotten about that tale! I always think of trolls as those small little deformed creatures. For some reason Dora The Explorer comes to mind LOL! As always, loved learning more about them. Thanks Mae!

    • Dora, the Exlporer? LOL! Okay, that’s one for the record books, L.J. I’m glad I entertained you this Monday. 🙂

      I always think of the trolls in THE HOBBIT and the one that says “I likes mine raw” when he and his buddies are trying to decide how to serve up Bilbo and the dwarves as dinner!

    • I agree completely, Donna. If I were a lumbering, oafish and brutish-looking troll I’d want an invisibility shield in order to sneak up on someone. These guys definitely got the short end of the stick in the photogenic department, LOL!

  8. Love it, Mae! I was going to write my NaNo novel on Scandinavian myths, so I did a bit of research in that area, as well. What fun that was!

    As to the appearance of the trolls, kinda makes you wonder how they reproduced if the females were attractive and the males…not so much. LOL

    Amazing, as Kitt said, how much Christianity tried to scare people into converting. >;-( Makes you wonder if the troll myth predates Christianity and priests used it to their advantage or if they made it up in the face of stubborn paganism.

    • Oh, I have no doubt the story predates it & used it for exactly that purpose. Look how many of our holidays are both secular and religious for exactly that reason! I’ve actually considered researching a lot of those roots to see. The topic interests me. If I ever write a historical, I suspect it would be during one of those eras in a country with strong ties to paganism. In fact, Sunday only became “the seventh day” after Emperor Constantine converted after marrying his Christian wife. Prior to that Saturday was considered the Sabbath (and still is by a few religions). First, back then Christians were still being put to death & it was illegal to practice. He legalized it for obvious reasons, then declared Sunday to be sabbath because that was the day the pagans were worshipping and it made it easier for them to accept…and Christians to fit in.

      • I didn’t know that about Sunday being the Sabbath only after Constantine–interesting info!

        Take a good hard look at Christmas–huge example of Christianity “blending” to push their religion on the pagans. It always gives me a chuckle that the same people who are so devout about Christmas will turn up their noses at Halloween. NO WHERE in the Bible does it say that Jesus was born on December 25th. LOL

  9. Okay I didn’t know any of this, Mae! Gone now is the picture in my head of trolls being little almost cute curmudgeons that I might easily kick to the curb. I will definitely continue to NOT hang around under bridges. Not a problem

    I also didn’t know about any of the Christianity elements related to them. This is a fascinating, but creepy post, one I wish I had read during the day time! 😮

    • I just love the bridge abode related to trolls, Venice! The tie to Christianity was a surprise but I’m finding that many old legends and myths incorporate it in one way or another. I was also very surprised to learn that female trolls were considered highly attractive. What a mismatch that must have been with a troll gent, LOL!

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