Trolls: The Dangerous, the Terrifying, and the Commercialized? — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Tayler Boelk

Trolls: The Dangerous, the Terrifying, and the Commercialized? — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Tayler Boelk

trolls1

In most Norwegian folklore, trolls are depicted as dangerous, terrifying, and incredibly stupid. Troll tales are used to teach lessons to children. The book I have, Trolls and Their Relatives, was given to me by my great grandmother. Trolls have become increasingly commercialized. The book I received, as well as some miniature troll sculptures, were purchased in Norway in a store entirely dedicated to trolls. My grandmother said you could buy troll statues larger than her!

Trolls describes the most “common” trolls in Norway and how to outwit them. While most trolls are considered dangerous, not all want to cause harm. If a human chose to house a Nissen, and give it food on Christmas Eve, the troll would bring good luck for the livestock and crops the next year. This story was used to teach the lesson of kindness. Some other lessons from the trolls include the Nokken, who represents disobedience, the Tussel, who signifies gossip, and the Hulder, who represents temptation.

According to one of the funniest stories, trolls would sometimes steal human children and replace them with troll children, and this explains why children are not very well behaved for a few years. Eventually the trolls get sick of the human child’s good manners and take back their ill-mannered troll child. If we apply this traditional tale to Disney’s Frozen, it would appear that Christoph and Sven weren’t adopted, but rather, kidnapped!

trolls2

Frozen included a depiction of the Norwegian troll. These trolls had some traditional traits, such as becoming a part of their environment (you may recall a cute little troll exclaiming “I grew a mushroom!”), but for the most part were the nicest possible version of a troll found in Norwegian folklore. Our antagonists did not have to worry about being eaten or crushed, nor did the trolls have to worry about any Vikings coming to destroy them or turn them to stone. (In Frozen they already were stone!) Despite the inaccuracy of the trolls’ loving characteristics, as someone with Norwegian heritage I am happy that Disney made an attempt at including some of Norway’s most interesting history.

Yet another example of the commercialized troll comes from an excerpt from an Oslo magazine introducing an app for smartphones called “Trolls vs. Vikings.” The game depicts the trolls setting up defenses and battling the angry (and stupid) Viking characters who are trying to steal their gold. While some things are accurate (they share the names of traditional trolls) I would not consider this app a good historical representation of the relationship between Norwegians and trolls.

So what is the relationship between Norwegians and trolls? As I mentioned earlier, the trolls were used to symbolize a lesson or quality such as kindness or temptation. Each troll has a specific characteristic, usually but not always undesirable. If Norwegians treated certain trolls with respect and kindness, good fortune came to them, but most trolls are depicted as dangerous. Trolls representing undesirable characteristics were seen as something that needed to be defeated. Thankfully, my book teaches me how to defeat trolls, something I feel I should share with you in case you should ever come upon one!

trolls 3
Trolls are defeated many different ways, depending on the creature. For example, the Nokken can be defeated rather easily. The Nokken lives in swamps, rivers, and lakes, luring people into the water. To defeat the Nokken, one needs only to throw a needle or a cross into the water while speaking the Nokken’s name. The larger trolls that you would typically find stealing cattle or princesses take a little more effort. To defeat one of these trolls you must chop off all of its heads (this can be as many as twelve!). But for your typical troll, all you must do is keep them chasing you until the sun rises at which time they will either burst or turn into stone. Those that turn into stone become just another part of the Norwegian countryside.

trolls 4trolls 5

Photo Credits:
Eriksen, Jan Bergh. Trolls and Their Relatives. Stavanger, Norway: Dreyer Bok, 1983.
“What Are Trolls?”. Trollwatch International. http://www.trollwatch.com.au/What%are%20Trolls/pid1whataretrolls.html
wikia.com. “Trolls-FrozenWiki.” Frozen Wiki. http://frozen.wikia.com/wiki/Trolls


Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to contribute to The North Star Project Reports — HLIANG@CSS.EDU

For all of the North Star Project Reports, see https://mgjnorthstarproject.wordpress.com/

The North Star Project Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also welcome Duluth East High School, Duluth Denfeld High School, Dodge Middle School and other schools around the world to the North Star Project. The North Star Project has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2014/embracing-oa-universities-adopt-open-access-policies-for-faculty-journal-publications

The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Student interns have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star Project students and teachers.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA

(c) 2013-present The Middle Ground Journal. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.

38 Comments

Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Tayler Boelk

38 responses to “Trolls: The Dangerous, the Terrifying, and the Commercialized? — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Tayler Boelk

    • This article was very fun and interesting! I never knew there were so many different species of trolls, all with different personalities and ways of surviving. Also coming from Norwegian background it was quite exciting to see Disney represent, with slight accuracy, Norwegian culture. The origin of the tales of the trolls is intriguing to conjecture. I often imagine travelers crossing the dense and cold land creating tales of enjoyment for each other. The distinctive troll features on the mountainside would provide for wonderful mystical tales of trolls and Viking warriors. What a magical piece of history!

  1. Alayna McCawley

    This essay was a joy to read! I loved hearing reading about the Norwegian history and their folklore and found this essay to be amusingly shocking regarding their beliefs with trolls. I never knew anything about trolls previous to reading this story (other than the troll dolls my grandmother had) so it was interesting to read about trolls and the beliefs regarding them. The pictures of the trolls “trapped” in stone were great to see as well.

  2. Jonia G

    I enjoyed this article a lot. Growing up I heard a lot of these tales and it’s nice to hear (read) them again. I think that it is interesting to see pop culture references to trolls (e.g. troll dolls) and to see how society may view them in variances of positive and negative opinions. Thank you for sharing this article.

  3. If you were one of the grade school in crowd in the early 1960’s you collected and brought to school your entire troll figure collection. The girls would sit outside during recess, trade troll outfits and create troll families from the three to four different sizes of trolls in their collections. Troll figures were short squatty creatures with big round friendly eyes and huge ears. On top of their heads they sported a large tuft of brightly colored hair that had to endure endless brushing. The trolls were not menacing creatures rather I remember thinking they looked a lot like some of the old farmers who met at the feed mill on Fridays. I had no clue about the Norwegian traditions around their mystical trolls. My only knowledge was of the troll that lived under the bridge in the story of Billy Goat Gruff, Alas, I grew up the oldest of six children. My Dad worked seven days a week hauling milk for rural farmers to provide for his family. We had everything we needed; love, a warm place to sleep, good food on the table and a roof over our heads.but there was little money for passing fads, like trolls. Oh, how I longed to have a troll of my own. Finally Mom got me a green haired troll for my birthday. I was so happy. Unfortunately by then all the girls in school were tired of their trolls and had moved on to Barbie dolls. I brought my troll to school anyway, just because.

  4. Ada

    I never knew trolls were so misrepresented in the media. For as long as I can remember I always thought of them as little monsters hiding under bridges, or being the main antagonists in b class horror movies, so I really enjoyed learning about how different they are perceived in other cultures and how significant they are in their folklore.

  5. Annie

    This was fascinating! I guess I never really thought about troll folklore, or where it came from. I always thought trolls were imagined creatures made for fairytales. I had no idea they originated from Norway or their cultural significance. It’s great to learn something new!

  6. Maija Fremling

    This was an interesting read! I have never really thought about trolls or the stories behind them. As a Disney fan, I like how they put little touches of the history of Norwegian trolls. It is something most people most likely do not catch, but it makes a difference to those that do understand. I will be looking at trolls in a different light now!

  7. Megan Hennen

    Thank you for sharing the background of trolls! It was an interesting read and made me think of what other elements of folklore from around the world have been commercialized and taken out of their original context.

  8. Chelsea Bastyr

    I really enjoyed this piece of writing! I love the movie Frozen and the trolls in it! As a child my parents read me folktales all of the time and I like hearing the tale that started it all. I think it’s great that you took the time to research it and share your findings with this journal! My favorite photo of yours was the stone troll! I love it! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  9. mking12

    This essay was very interesting. I guess my perception of trolls has never really been bad. When I was little I had troll dolls that always seemed to be portrayed as a positive figure. Although I do remember that they were also portrayed badly in the book The Three Billy Goats Gruff. When the billy goats tried to pass the trolls would not allow this which was a Norwegian folk tale.

  10. Neil Vierzba

    I always enjoy reading about traditions and history of other countries. I learned more about Norway and the history of trolls in just this article then I have ever before. I loved hearing about all the folktales as well and how it relates to some of our movies now.

  11. Cali Stabe

    First off I love the movie of Frozen and it is really impressive that Disney actually used true Norwegian history, thats great! I never realized how misunderstand trolls are in the media and i never noticed how important they are in folklore. This was a really interesting read!

  12. Amy North

    I really enjoyed this essay! I went to Norway last summer, and it’s true about how much trolls are being commercialized there. I went to the top of Fløien Mountain in Bergen and there gift shop was filled with trolls – there was even an eight foot tall one you could take pictures with.

    • Tayler Boelk

      I am glad you enjoyed my article! I hope to someday visit Norway as well. During my family history project I discovered that our family owned a farm there for over 100 years that has since been turned into a public park. There are all kinds of amazing things to learn about if you have the time to listen to a few family stories!

  13. Nick Kaplan

    This was a cool article to see the authentic version of what trolls represent. I have played many video games, Skyrim as an example, that have trolls being dumb creatures that will attack you on site. Its nice to find out that they were originally a symbol of kindness and have a deeper meaning.

  14. Zach Dahlman

    This article really informed me about the trolls. The reason why I chose this was because I used to play with hose pretty troll dolls with the high colorful hair. I like how you also related it to Frozen to draw the readers attention. I enjoyed reading about the history and thoughts of the Norwegian troll.

  15. Great article, thank you for sharing. It was interesting to see the various ways that trolls have been misrepresented whether it be in stories, movies, or video games. I had never noticed or thought about the representation of trolls until frozen prior to this article, it was very insightful.

  16. Austin

    The only background on trolls I had prior to reading this article was that found in children’s stories when I was growing up. I have never personally made the connection between trolls and Norway. The fact that this part of Norwegian history is still prevalent today and being portrayed in a positive manner is great.

  17. Mickie Keuning

    Although trolls are a fantasy creature, it’s inspiring how people can take a ‘mean’ creature and teach different lessons with it.

  18. Kyle Hellmann

    It was fun reading about some of Norway’s folklore. Although it is a shame that mass media tends to derive some history from it, as with the app. I never knew that there were many types of trolls, besides the big ones from the Lord of the Rings. Nice to read an important part of history of another country

    • Reitler H

      First off, I would like to say that I really enjoyed the article. also, I know that J.R.R Tolkien pulled heavily from European cultures in his writings and was wondering if you had found connections between troll folklore and his works besides the common name?

      • Tayler Boelk

        J.R.R Tolkien presents the trolls in large groups such as “cave-trolls” and “mountain-trolls” and this would be something that would occur in traditional folklore. The trolls in different locations have different features, different motives, and different personalities even. It would be fairly common to group trolls this way based on their location.
        What is a consistent difference with J.R.R Tolkiens writing is that the trolls depicted are all considered evil or dangerous. While there were many trolls in traditional folklore depicted this way, not all were. Some were just minor nuisances or even incredibly kind and helpful.
        One thing that I am found particularly interesting from J.R.R Tolkien is the description of troll-men or half-trolls. They are described as men with black faces, red tongues, and white eyes. The only traditional Norwegian Tale (that I am familiar with) about creatures that are part troll, part human is the Hulder. A hulder is a creature who is fathered by a troll but appears to be an incredibly beautiful human girl. The only thing that makes them appear different is an easily hidden cow-tail and a troll-like temper. If the Hulder gets married in a Christian Church to a human, she will lose her cow-tail and remain a human for the rest of her life. If she does not, it is said she becomes more and more troll-like with age.
        I hope that helped answer your question!

  19. Mindy Aubin

    Nice article! I really liked how you connected your Norwegian heritage with the trolls and then with the movie Frozen. I love that movie! I never knew trolls were used to symbolize a lesson or quality, I thought that was pretty cool and interesting!

  20. Katie Hass

    I really liked this article! It’s very interesting to see how the media has warped and commercialized so many of these trolls. It also puts an interesting spin on Frozen, like you mentioned. I also didn’t know that these trolls were used to teach lessons, and I think that’s a cute way to teach children good and bad ideals.
    I know growing up we had some books that depicted trolls stealing random little things, and to be honest they always scared me when I was really little. I find the pictures of the trolls in nature to be incredibly cool too!

  21. Samantha Roettger

    Very interesting and fun article! I love the movie Frozen and love it even more now that I know that actually historical connections were made to Norwegian heritage. With every Disney movie, I try to make a historical connection because I am kind of a history nerd so to see this connection is really cool. Thanks for sharing this!

  22. Mackenzie Sherrill

    I loved how this article had a light-hearted and fun tone to it! It is interesting to me that in one culture, the troll can be seen as something scary or threatening in nature, but to a different culture, it can mean something so much different. I enjoyed the detail about how the trolls will simply remain apart of the landscape when they are “killed”.

  23. Morgan Young

    This was a fun essay to read! I watched a movie in which Norwegian teenagers find out that trolls are real, and it’s filmed in a amateur home video style. It was a very interesting film because the trolls looked very real, and the acting was pretty decent. It even had an end clip of a high standing Norwegian saying “trolls are real.” Good job!

  24. Kendra Johnson

    This article was definitely a good read and it was pretty cute when discussing the movie Frozen. I liked how you related such a judgmental picture of trolls to common and modern day things that trolls are referenced in. It definitely made me think about how important things to people in the US maybe aren’t as important to people around the world and vice versa.

  25. Rachel Studley

    This a very interesting article Tayler, folk tales are very interesting and I love that you included the connection to Frozen, I appreciate it even more that i know that Disney made an effort to include stories that pertain to the area of the world that the movie takes place.

  26. Tommy Traaholt

    I really enjoyed reading about this folk lore because i am Norwegian myself, and never really looked into my heritage. This was a very cool way to teach kids kindness and it amazes me how the word troll has been labeled so badly. I also find it interesting because a lot of folklore talks about ways to get rid of creatures and some of the times it is bringing them in sunlight and them turning into stone.

  27. Daniela Rojas

    This was a very nice article. I was thought of trolls as bad ugly small guys, and it is interesting to see how they were used to teach values to kids. Also it was nice to see how you connected it with Frozen it gave your article a better understanding.

  28. Luke Scharrer

    What an interesting read! I had no idea that Trolls were such a large part of Norwegian folklore. Also, thanks for the tips on how to win the fight if I ever cross paths with a Troll. I wonder, though, if anybody in Norway would be offended by Disney’s attempt to include this cultural reference, or if they would all be as appreciative as you are. That is a good way to look at it, though, to be glad that they did make an attempt to include this piece of culture, although it may be a bit “Disney-fied.”

  29. Jimmy Lovrien

    Interesting to read about “authentic” — I use that word lightly — and commercialized trolls. I wonder how the Norwegian tourism industry has responded to the commercialization of trolls that takes place in other countries. Have they changed some lore and traditions around trolls to meet visitors’ expectations or have they kept their trolls consistent?

  30. McKenzie Ketcher

    I really enjoy learning about something that is new or refreshing to me. Trolls are not a daily topic that I have in conversation, so learning about something so far fetched from my daily life I really enjoy. Some of my ancestors came from Norway, which is why this is also a good article for me to read as I am learning details and traditions about a country where I trace back to. In my opinion, in the United States a troll would normally be associated with more negative thoughts, so I appreciate how trolls are a sign for positivity in Norway. It helps to show how different cultures and beliefs can vary all across the world.

  31. Thomas Landgren

    I am really glad that i stumbled upon this article! As of right now i am reading the Fellowship of the Ring the first installment of the Lord of the Rings and like said in previous comments i only know trolls from fantasy books and movies. It was nice to read about the real folklore behind the troll and how important they are in some cultures. I feel though that trolls in fantasy books and movies tend to be more malicious and evil, but like you said that is only true with a select few and how many can be kind and helpful. Thank you for sharing how we can defeat certain trolls if we ever need to!

  32. Breena Alfredson

    This was such a fun article. I was wondering if you were Norwegian and that’s why your grandma shared these stories with you. You mentioned some inaccurate representation of trolls and how it didn’t really bother you, rather you were happy those stories weren’t lost. I think there is probably a fine line between representing cultural traditions and appropriating them for a profit.

  33. Isabella Restrepo-Toro

    I think this article is really interesting as it exposes something we have been talking in class lately which is the commercialization of various pieces of culture, including religion. It is really amazing how much the depiction of trolls have changed, as their evolution not only shows the adaptability of humans but also how much our representations of the world change as we become more globalized. When you mentioned the names of the Trolls I started wondering if maybe people in Norway used those names as adjectives when describing an individual which behavior imitated the one the troll represented, and it also made me wonder if they are words indeed if they are still being used or if they have disappeared as many words have in other languages. I really liked your mention of Frozen as it brings back the idea of commercialization, as they included traditional traits of trolls seen in the old tales such as becoming part of the environment, but they have been changed to be able to be sold to the audience, in this case kids, therefore giving them loving characteristics and having them not worry about Vikings eating or crushing them. You mention that trolls were used to symbolize a lesson or quality such as kindness or temptation, just like many animals are used in fables on tales of other places of the world.
    I also really enjoyed the lesson on how to defeat a troll in case I find one, which I will keep in mind as the world is full of surprises. 

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