For those who have ever wondered: “Why isn’t there a general interest book dedicated solely to the history of trolls, their various forms of misbehavior, and the human world’s changing perception towards them as documented through literature and art over the past 1000 years?” Well, wonder no more! Because back in 2014 John Lindow finally released a volume through Reaktion Books to end that nagging curiosity (I’m always timely in my book “reviews”). Unfortunately, Trolls: An Unnatural History just doesn’t have the mass appeal or selling potential of something like 50 Shades of Pointless and Smutty Relationship Drama, so it lurks in the periphery, outside of the normal confines of human interest where it revels in its otherness, and in that sense, exists just like a troll itself. How appropriate!
So, it’s a fun and interesting book, covering the evolution of trolls from their earliest documented instances as a source of fear and harassment and cursing among the Norse (“That Halldor guy is a piece of shit! I hope the trolls get him!”) to their more benign and fairy-tale like incarnations in more recent centuries. John Lindow makes it clear that their general otherness and tendency towards disrupting normal human conventions, whether maliciously or not, has remained constant through their evolution. And he is a professor in the Scandinavian department at UC Berkeley, so I think we can probably trust him on this (he’s got a number of other relevant Scandinavian/Norse publications to his credit, too).
I particularly enjoyed learning more about how the word “troll” is actually used among the various Scandinavian languages. I knew in Swedish that a “wizard” is a trollkarl (troll-man or magic-man), but the use of the word extends so much further beyond simply being a funny way to describe Gandalf’s profession. My favorite was that in Danish, Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew is translated to be Taming of the Troll. Who wouldn’t want to tame a troll? And why isn’t there a metal band called Troll-Tamer yet? Or maybe there is and I’m just ignorant.
The Jutulport in Våga, Norway
I also really liked the part about Jutulporten in Norway, because it was entertaining and I’d never known about it before. Troll and giant are conflated a bit here, but Jutulporten is basically a mountain gateway to the land of the trolls in Våga. There is a fun tale about how you can get a terrible crick in your neck if you watch a troll or giant walk through the portal against his wishes, and it is retold in English on the Nordigard Blessom site, a farm/bed and breakfast that takes shares its name with the main character from the tale. It’s a well known tale in Norsk-speaking countries, but less so in English-speaking countries, and was illustrated by the Norwegian artist Peter Nicolai Arbo:
Arbo’s work may be recognizable to those of you who are familiar with his more famous rendering of Odin’s Wild Hunt:
And last but not least, what would a post about trolldom be without a proper soundtrack to accompany it? Hail Fejd!