Troll (mythology)

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Troll turns into a mountain

A troll is an unpredictable mythical creature from Norse mythology who embodies the forces of nature. Especially in Sweden and Denmark, the fairy tales mixed the idea of dwarfs and other forest , water or mountain spirits , sometimes also with that of humane fairies and elves . So "troll" became a general expression for every kind of more or less human-shaped mythical creature , similar to the fairies of the Anglo-Celtic tradition. Christianity demonized the trolls, whose existence was assumed in popular belief until the 19th century, but which one did not wish to meet.

The troll is depicted as a sometimes very large, sometimes dwarfish, ugly, fur-covered humanoid with a big nose and only four fingers on each hand.


The origin of the word goes back to the fusion of the synonymous Swedish word troll with the older, Low High German word troll ; the latter referred to a rough, hulking fellow. The origin is not clear, probably the relation to the verb troll , attested since Middle High German times , which is related to the English to troll (to walk around, to roll), as well as to the old Norwegian word trǫll ( Nine- Norwegian: trylle , " hexen ", " magic ”,“ tricking ”, Danish: trylle ,“ conjuring ”), which probably goes back to an old Germanic word.


Troll in front of the Norwegian pavilion at the Expo 2000 in Hanover
Troll, drawn by Theodor Kittelsen

According to Norse mythology, the giants and trolls live in Utgard , while the people of Midgard and the sir live in Asgard . In Heimskringla the saga of Olaf the Saint tells how Arnljot Gelline fights with a troll woman who ambushes and kills traders sleeping in a mountain hut at night. According to legend, the mythical trolls occasionally helped with their enormous powers in the construction of churches such as the Cathedral of Trondheim and thus helped to legitimize their locations, but after Christianization and especially after the Reformation around 1600 they were ousted from mythology and survived (as in Iceland) only in folklore and in folk tales mostly in dwarf form.

Trolls appear in 21 of the Norwegian folk tales , published by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe from 1841 onwards.

As wood-carved dolls, trolls are now part of the handicrafts and tourist appearance of Norway . They are popular there as souvenirs. These wooden figures are humped, square and designed with a long nose. In a humorous allusion to Norway's wealth from the oil and gas deposits in the North Sea , they are occasionally designed as an oil sheik variant. A Norwegian oil field in the North Sea was named Troll A .

In addition to the mountainous region of Trollheimen , a mountain road near Åndalsnes in southern Norway was named after them: Trollstigen , in German troll ladder .


Trolls, albeit of both sexes, also play a major role in Swedish folklore. Souvenirs that are supposed to represent trolls are made from all conceivable materials: pine cones, wood, stones, twigs, wool, etc. They usually have a large nose, more reminiscent of a potato. The Swedish trolls are not necessarily harmful, but rather mysterious and unreliable. According to legend, they live in the forest. In particular, the myth has survived that the trolls would steal small children and place their own child in the human cot instead of the human child ( changeling ). But there is also the story of Mr. Mannelig , which tells of a mountain troll who wants to marry a knight. Furthermore, like fairies or witches, they are used to explain otherwise inexplicable phenomena (the trolls did that). The Scandinavians like to build the small, nimble and helpful Trolls miniature houses in their front gardens, which are amazingly similar to their own houses. Even miniature churches for trolls are set up in the front gardens.

A dolmen near Hagestad in Skåne in southern Sweden is called Trollasten , or Trollstein.


Iceland was settled from Norway. So it is not surprising that Icelandic folklore and literature also know the trolls. The bizarre volcanic landscape of Iceland is particularly good when it is foggy to make rock formations appear as monsters and troll people. There are many stories and myths about the trolls, and it is not uncommon for particularly striking parts of the landscape to be named after trolls (e.g. the rock bastion Skessuhorn on the Skarðsheiði mountain in West Iceland).


Similar to Norway and Sweden, in Denmark the troll is a popular figure in the souvenir sector, in children's books and in the front yard. The term Trold can also be found in geographical names such as the Troldborg Ring near Vejle . Artistically, the troll was also taken up in several works by the Danish sculptor Niels Hansen Jacobsen .


Legends of trolls have also been passed down on the Faroe Islands , such as the legend of Risin and Kellingin .

Literary processing

Olav the Saint turns trolls to stone.” 15th century wall painting on a legend about the Norwegian king (reigned 1015–1028) in the church of Dingtuna, Västmanland , Sweden
"Parade of the Trolls" by Artuš Scheiner

In Swedish literature, the trolls have become immortal and also world-famous through the illustrations by John Bauer for the fairy tales in the series Bland tomtar och troll . A selection of the fairy tales in German has been published under the title Trolle, Wichtel, Königskinder .

Henrik Ibsen mentions the troll in his drama Peer Gynt . Also Knut Hamsun , Trygve Gulbranssen , Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson , Selma Lagerlof and many other poets, writers and storytellers were inspired by the shape of the troll. Other examples of trolls in the literature are

Also worth mentioning are the Troll Minigoll trilogy by Henning Boëtius and the Handbooks of Supernatural, Volume 1 (in the original The Goblin Companion ) by Brian Froud and Terry Jones , in which various types of trolls are listed.

  • Bernhard Hennen's trolls, which appear in his fairy series and are described there as 3 to 4 paces high, stone-colored, man- and elf-eating humanoids.

Bridge trolls , which appear in some German fairy tales and legends, got their name from their guarding of bridges or fords. Whoever wants to cross the river has to pay duty to the troll or serve him with a favor.

In the novels of the disc world of Terry Pratchett troll are one on silicon -based species, mainly high lives in the mountains.

In his novel The Trolls, Christoph Hardebusch writes a complete story about these fantasy creatures, which he continues in the Battle of the Trolls and Wrath of the Trolls . Here the trolls are presented in a comparatively intelligent way and their behavior is almost human.

In his novel “Sture and the German Heart”, Erich Köhler chooses the troll for the main character Sture, who is thus able to travel through the centuries and experience adventures that Köhler places in a political-historical context.


Troll traffic signs at Trollstigen
  • The in Germany on 29 October 2010 in the Norwegian cinemas and 1 September 2011 DVD released mockumentary Troll Hunter told in the style of a fictional documentary the story of three student filmmakers. During her filmic research, the alleged bear wilder Hans turns out to be a troll hunter , portrayed by the Norwegian comedian Otto Jespersen. He has been given the task of the government to hunt down trolls who leave their territory and therefore pose a threat to the people. Armed with UV lamps, the light of which turns the trolls to stone, the troll hunter sets out to find out the cause of the increased number of trolls, while the government agencies try to cover it up. The film was made under the direction of André Øvredal with a small budget of estimated 19,900,000 NOK (approx. 2,500,000 EUR). Various trolls can be seen, the appearance of which is strongly based on the mythological templates.
  • In the 2018 Swedish-Danish fantasy drama Border , a border guard discovers that she and her lover are trolls. In the film, trolls are a species that has almost been exterminated by humans, with an intimate relationship with nature and a very special sexuality.


Trolls appear in numerous variants in many cultural products that relate more or less to the Germanic-Nordic culture. Since they are often residents of various fantasy worlds such as Discworld or Middle-earth, they also appear in the processing of these worlds in films or computer games.


  • Elisabeth Hartmann: The trolls in the legends and fairy tales of the Scandinavian peoples. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart / Berlin 1936.
  • Werner Schäfke : Dwarves, Trolls, Ogres, and Giants. In Albrecht Classen (Ed.): Handbook of medieval culture. Fundamental aspects and conditions of the European middle ages. Volume 1, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2015, pp. 347–383.
  • Rudolf Simek : Trolls. Your story from Nordic mythology to the Internet , Böhlau, Vienna, Cologne 2018, ISBN 978-3-412-50743-5 .

Web links

Commons : Trolls  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Troll  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Evgen Tarantul: Elves, dwarfs and giants: investigation into the world of ideas of Germanic peoples in the Middle Ages. European University Papers, Series I, Volume 1791, pp. 184f, Peter Lang, Frankfurt a. M. 2000, ISBN 3-631-37607-3 .
  2. ^ Bibliographical Institute (Mannheim). Dudenredaktion .: Duden, the dictionary of origin: Etymology of the German language . 5., rework. Edition Dudenverlag, Mannheim 2014, ISBN 978-3-411-04075-9 , p. 870 .
  3. Snorre Lasson: Norges Kongesagaer. Volume 1, LibriArte, 1995, ISBN 82-445-0068-9 , p. 357.
  4. Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, Jørgen Moe: Norske folkeeventyr samlet av Asbjørnsen and Moe. 2 volumes, LibriArte, 1995, ISBN 82-445-0040-9 .
  5. Box office / business for Trolljegeren (2010). IMDb , accessed February 8, 2011 .
  6. Thomas Barth: Border: A film about trolls, pederasts and love games in the fairytale forest. In: Telepolis. heise online, April 12, 2019, accessed on April 21, 2019 .