Posts Tagged ‘trolls’

The Trials and Tribulations of Domesticating Wild Finnish Trolls

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

When I get back home with a fresh pile of books, euphoric about my coming meeting with Martes—now so soon, so soon—the first thing that happens is I step on a troll turd. Anyone who would complain about miserable homecomings—the kids have been making taffy and not cleaned up, their husband’s flat on the sofa, drunk out of his mind—well, none of them has to step on troll shit in their own hallway. Naturally, the shit’s been neatly pushed under the doormat so my weight squashes it out on to both the underside of the mat and parquet.

So, this post is not exactly about Vikings, but a novel that seriously engages the reader with the practicalities of toilet-training a wild, Finnish troll somehow still seems very relevant to the thematic nature of this sorry little website. And so here we are. The book in question is Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi (in English: alternatively Not Before Sundown, or Troll: A Love Story, depending on where you live) by Johanna Sinisalo. And damn, is it weird.

The book takes place in Tampere and the premise is basically that the main character, Angel, gets home after drinking one night only to find some teenage thugs kicking an abandoned baby troll outside his building, so he chases them off and takes the troll in and starts to raise it as though he had rescued a stray dog or cat. In fact, the book presents trolls as an endangered species related to cats: Felipithecus Trollius, within the Felipithecidae i.e. Cat-Ape family, which was a brilliant touch. The reader then follows along as Angel struggles to house-train his new troll and becomes increasingly neurotic and paranoid in his interactions with veterinarians, past boyfriends, and abused women as he slowly devolves into a less-than-highly functional member of society. It’s a totally bizarre but fun ride for anyone who is interested in something as unique as this, but it will probably never make its way on to the U.S. bestseller lists, and that fact itself can be interpreted both as a sign of its originality and its quality.

And since some really bad life decisions led you to this website in the first place, why not continue on that downward trajectory and check out some earlier posts that also deal with trolls while you’re here? Exactly. But they’re below anyway:

Gateways to Trolldom

The Great Norwegian Trolldomizer

The Great Norwegian Trolldomizer

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Trolls are inspirational creatures. This is pretty much an established fact, at least among 19th century/very early 20th century Scandinavian artists. I’ve long known about the trolls and tomtar illustrated by the Swede John Bauer, who I hailed in the distant past for his more Norse-myth related work, but I had been embarrassingly ignorant of Theodor Kittelsen’s extensive contributions to the canon of visualized trollery till I read John Lindow’s Trolls: An Unnatural History. The sad thing is, I’ve long been familiar with some of Kittelsen’s work, but I failed to put it all together. The forest troll depicted above is probably the most recognizable culprit, but Kittelsen did so much more. Like this disturbed/disturbing sea troll:

Or this troll marauding down Oslo’s main street with Henrik Ibsen being pompous and oblivious in the lower right corner:

Or these trolls marching to war for Norway (I think; I’m not actually totally sure what’s going on here):

Or these trolls on their way to the fairy-tale Soria Moria Castle:

The trolls go on and on and there is a much more extensive collection of them over at Monster Brain’s website for those who feel the lure of Kittelsen’s trolldom. There’s also a whole exhibit dedicated to Kittelsen’s art over at The Cobalt Works and Mines in Åmot, Norway (because viewing classic trollish art at an early industrial underground mining may not be an obvious idea, but it is an ingenious one).

But that’s not all! Kittelsen also illustrated cool Norse related scenery, too. Like this Viking ship flying/crashing through some evergreen trees(?):

And this image of a sea monster, probably Jörmundgandr:

And then there is this, his grand tribute to Norwegian folk traditions involving the playing of the lur. Metalheads will recognize this one because of its association with Varg Vikernes and Burzum’s Filosofem album, which has unfortunately given the artwork a bit of a negative association. But of course that is not Kittelsen’s fault; he was long dead before Vikernes was even born, let alone murdering people and committing arson.

Gateways to Trolldom

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

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!

June Downbeat: Some Dark, Wintry Ice[land]

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Ahhh, June, that wonderful month when the weather warms up (maybe), the sun stays out late (when it’s not overcast), and vacation seasons tend to officially start (if you can get the time off and/or afford to go anywhere). But let’s not be so optimistic here. Winter is only a short half a year away. In three weeks the days will be getting shorter, again. We will hurl headlong towards the bleak darkness of December and its vicious little gnomes, who as the descendents of two abominable ogres, will terrorize your yule-tide merry-making by breaking and entering into your house to eat all of your yogurt, steal your sausages, slam all of your doors loudly in the middle of the night, and spread germ-ridden saliva over all of your dishes and kitchen utensils.

But the stout of heart won’t let these trolls get them down, because there is beauty in winter, especially in Iceland, where they maintain a keen appreciation of their Norse heritage, as exemplified by Jón Gunnar Árnason’s work Sólfar dramatically situated along Reykjavik’s waterfront (above) or Alexander Stirling Calder’s Leif Eriksson memorial statue in front of Hallgrímskirkja (below).