Many of us are familiar with trolls from films such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Troll, or even the DreamWorks animation Trolls. Where do they come from though?
Stories of Trolls probably started in Scandinavia where they were similar to giants in
many ways. One story suggests that they were the first giants who were barred from entry to Asgard, meaning they were around before humans. In old Norse tales they are usually described as being big, slow, and monstrous, although sometimes possessing magical powers. They stayed out of the light as sunlight was said to turn them to stone, or make them explode. They had a reputation for being violent and stealing people, often beautiful maidens or babies, away. They warned people to stay away from certain areas, especially remote mountain passes where anything can happen. It was also prudent to lock your door jut in case.
In more recent times they are characterised as being smaller, similar to gnomes, and elves and can be incredibly mischievous. Trolls in children’s stories often live under bridges (or in caves). They terrorise travellers demanding tolls or work in exchange for safe passage. In Orkney and Shetland, which were both under Norse control for a while, trolls are called trows. Often appearing as small malevolent creatures who live in mounds or near the sea. It is said that mere mortals cannot see them, except under certain circumstances, although you may hear them. Their homes are said to be sumptuously decorated, and they like a good party, perhaps kidnapping musicians to come and play for them. Although they are also keen on breaking into peoples houses and sitting by the fire.
There are few place names associated with trolls, often in mountainous regions. One I have been to is Trallval, Hill of the trolls, one of the mountains in the Rum Cullin. If you go up there at night – a task not to be taken on lightly – you hear the most unearthly sounds. Calls, grunts, and music from another realm altogether. You will see reflections from the eyes of creatures moving around, and if you are unlucky enough you may also hear the crunching of bones as some weary wanderer succumbs to a hungry mouth. You see the hillside has many small caves in it. The noises come from the caves and the air around as Manx Shearwater returns to their burrows undercover of darkness, their calls echoing out in the night. These amazing birds spend almost all their time at sea and on the wing, only landing to breed. It means they are awful at moving on land. This in turn meant they are easy prey for anything that happens to be around, scarily in the case of Rum it is the Red Deer that feast on the unlucky birds as they struggle back to their dens. The land here is depleted after many years of overgrazing and deforestation, so they are looking for nutrients wherever they can find them. Or perhaps there really are other things out their lurking in the dark…
The human psyche has always been good at making up stories to explain the unexplainable, or to justify events that have happened. Or maybe there really are trolls out there.