Saturday, 10 September 2011

The folklore of trolls

Note: cross-posted from Midnight Folklore




Troll-fever is set to grip Hollywood as Harry Potter director Chris Columbus announced that he intends to remake The Troll Hunter, an independent Norwegian film that recently hit theatres in the UK.

The film is a mockumentary that follows a group of film students who set out to film real-life trolls in the wild. Blood and gore ensues as they run foul of these 50ft beasts and have to fight for their lives.

It sounds all kinds of hilarious and I'm glad we're seeing some folklore on the big screen. Check out the trailer:



It's theorised that the modern term 'troll' is descended from Jotun, a race famed in Norse mythology for being the enemy of the gods.  In these stories the original Jotun was Ymir, who lived in the Ginnungagap, which was a chaotic void. From Ymir's body came other Jotnar who then went on to create a race of frost giants. Odin, Vili and Ve eventually slew Ymir, whose blood drowned all but two of the giants, a husband and wife, who went on to repopulate their species.

Scandinavian folklore evolved the troll from the giants of old Norwegian texts to the more recognisable creatures we know today. It's unclear where the overlap began between the jotnar and trolls, but mythologist Lotte Motz theorised that there were originally four kinds of giants: jotun, troll, risi and purs, and this is where we can see the split in species. Motz's reasoning for this is because these are the four words that referenced to the jotnar in historical texts. She attributes different characteristics to each of these 'species', however her theory has been criticised due to a lack of textual evidence.





It can be agreed, though, that later texts portray trolls as supernatural beings with immense strength and hideous features who often made their homes in the hills and mountains of Scandinavia. Some were said to have multiple heads, no doubt a reference to Ymir's original six-headed son, and would turn to stone if exposed to sunlight.

During the Christianization of Scandinavia, priests would tell tales of trolls who fled when they heard the sounds of church bells and their hatred for Christian blood. The latter is likely where we get the giant's "Fe, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of a Christian.' Telling tales like this was a common tactic in conversion, which led to the integration of ideas into folklore.






Trolls are now immortalised across the Scandinavian landscape as rock formation, where they are meant to have been turned to stone by the sun. Some examples of such formations include Reynisdrangar and Trold-Tindterne (Troll Peaks).