Have you ever wondered about Norwegian myths and our fascination with trolls?
Let’s start with the obvious.
What are trolls?
Trolls are actually a collective name for many different humanoid creatures. They can be traced all the way back to Norse mythology.
Their looks and attributes vary from source to source but they are usually depicted as stupid and dangerous.
Trolls usually live in areas far away from humans, such as in the forest, in caves, in the mountains and in lakes hence their names forest troll, cave troll, mountain troll and lake troll.
Trolls could live in cold and faraway lands. They could have one head or more and they lived in conflict with both gods of Norse mythology (i.e what the Scandinavians believed in before Christianity) and humans.
With the advent of Christianity later on, trolls got known to hate Christians. In fact, there is a famous troll quote saying “I smell the blood of Christian men”, so if you are Christian planning a hiking trip to Norway, you better prepare yourself ;)
The role of trolls in Norwegian culture
If you have ever been to a Norwegian gift shop, you might have seen these creatures standing in neatly lines. Norway’s fascination with trolls is somewhat weird.
I mean, there are statues of them at many different places; places and facilities named “Troll”; the only car Norway ever produced was named Troll, and there even is a full-length movie called “The Troll Hunter”, which has become known internationally.
*Spoiler alert: When the cameraman in the movie dies because he’s Christian, the crew searches for a replacement and hires a Muslim filmmaker though it’s unknown whether she survives or not.*
Norwegian Folk Tales
But where does this fascination come from?
The answer is actually really simple. Norwegian folk tales have featured stories about trolls for a very long time so these have become a part of Norwegian heritage.
Trolls have a connection with Norse Mythology and in the 1830s, two guys named Asbjornsen and Moe (the Norwegian version of the German Grimm Brothers) travelled all around Southern Norway to gather folk tales, and a large part of those were about trolls.
The tales that they wrote down became famous and are still known by Norwegian children today.
One famous folk tale (at least among Norwegians) is the tale of Ashlad, a figure who through cunning and outsmarting his opponents, gets the rewards in the end.
Ashlad ends up in an eating contest with a troll and in the story, he outsmarts the troll by wearing a backpack on his chest, and then cutting it open to make room for more food. The troll wanted to do the same, except that he cut his stomach open and died.
Trolls in popular culture
Have you ever heard the song “In the Mountain King’s Hall”?
If not, then you should definitely listen to it below. It is a famous song from a Norwegian theatre play known as Peer Gynt by the famous writer Henrik Ibsen.
It’s a long play and I’m not going to tell all about it but there is a scene in the play where Peer Gynt hallucinates that he meets the daughter of the Mountain King (aka the king of the trolls).
The Mountain King wants Peer Gynt to become a troll if he wants to be with his daughter and for that asks Peer to cut in his eyes so that he can’t see right from wrong.
Peer refuses to do that and the Mountain King gets angry, accusing Peer of leaving his unborn child (though Peer hasn’t touched the king’s daughter). Peer runs away and almost gets killed when he wakes up.
Other creatures of Norwegian folklore
Other creatures that we Norwegians believed in were called Nokken and Huldra.
Nokken was a dangerous and evil creature that had ties with demons and the underworld. It lived by the lake, sometimes disguised as a wooden log, and drowned those who came too close.
It would sing or make sounds to attract people and it could go on land and disguise itself as a handsome male or a beautiful woman, in order to attract the opposite sex.
It was also said that Nokken played the harp and the violin and was a master of both.
This superstition served two purposes. Firstly, it was to teach children to stay away from the water and secondly, it helped as an explanation when people drowned.
Huldra was a supernatural female creature, with thick golden hair and a cow’s tail. When people travelled along the road, they would sometimes come across a woman and wanted to approach her. As soon as they saw they tail though, they knew it was Huldra and they knew to stay away from her.
There are a lot more myths and stories in Norway but these are the most famous ones.
Don’t forget, if you are in the woods or in the mountain and hear the phrase “I smell the blood of Christian men”, run for your life!
So, do you believe in trolls? Are there any myths and folk tales where you live?
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Simon has lived his entire life in Norway and has grown up between the Norwegian/Swedish and the Sámi way of life. He currently lives in Tromso working in a kindergarden, helping with the blog and exploring the North with Vanessa.