But something you might not realise is that trolls originate in Norse mythology.
That’s right. Like so many other things trending at the moment, like Scandi fashion and furniture, the Nordic countries also get to claim everyone’s favourite mythical being!
In fact, trolls have been a part of their legends and folklore as far back as the Prose Edda (an Old Norse text from the 13th century) and likely even before then, when stories were simply passed along via word of mouth. Norwegian trolls and Icelandic trolls are particularly well-known, with many of the region’s famous troll stories coming from their rich mythological heritage.
Check out our guide below for a look at the authentic trolls of Scandinavian history, mythology and folklore. If you ever come across one on your travels, at least you’ll know what you’re looking at!
What are trolls?
They’re mythical creatures that have appeared in stories for hundreds of years.
The earliest mention of trolls in history is a bit confusing and seems to refer to a diverse group of supernatural beings. What we do know from ancient records of Old Norse mythology is that there was a race of giants called ‘Jötunn’ and trolls were considered one of them.
Over time, troll folklore developed beyond the Jötunn and they became more distinct, evolving into the modern troll persona that we know and love today.
As for the word ‘troll’ and where it comes from – it is very similar to Scandinavian words for magic, like ‘trolleri’ and ‘trylleri’ and the North Germanic word ‘trolldom’ that means witchcraft.
But there’s no definitive answer on whether the words are actually connected at all. You’ll find that many academics have conflicting theories on it, so it’s hard to say for sure.
So if you ever meet a troll, be sure to ask!
FAQs – what troll mythology tells us about these mysterious creatures
Keeping in mind, there are countless stories of trolls and they’re all wildly different. So we’ve just put together a profile of the most traditional troll based on some of the more common depictions.
1. What do Scandinavian trolls look like?
There are two distinctly different troll types, based on their shape and size:
Some trolls are huge and look a bit like giants (e.g. the troll in Harry Potter) and are often depicted as living in mountains or forests.
Other Scandinavian trolls are short and stubby, but often rounder in shape (e.g. a bit like the trolls in Frozen) and they’re usually more likely to live underground or in caves.
While the happy trolls of children’s movies are usually cute in their own way, the Scandinavian trolls of legend are often quite a bit scarier:
They’re often described as ugly, powerfully strong, with huge noses and sharp teeth. If they have any hair, it’s often shaggy and unkempt. Some stories even have trolls with multiple heads and tails.
Be wary though, because some trolls were said to have the magical ability to shape-shift!
2. Where do trolls live?
Caves, mountains and forests, often in dark and dank places. In their origins they’re very connected to nature, so they’re always out in the wilderness somewhere. They’re also considered rather reclusive, so they often live alone or in small family groups.
3. What do trolls eat?
More often than not, humans! There are lots of tales where naughty children are their main delight, which is very convenient for the parents using the stories as a cautionary tale, don’t you think?
Back in the day, it was also widely believed that trolls could smell the blood of Christians.
4. Are Scandinavian trolls always the bad guy?
Usually, yes. Whether they’re kidnapping maidens, eating children, or simply causing mischief, trolls from folklore are usually up to no good. However, there are always exceptions and there are some who say certain trolls can be helpful to humans, but even then, they usually expect a reward.
5. How do you escape a troll?
The consensus is that while trolls are dangerous, they aren’t terribly clever. Therefore, you could outwit them or keep them at bay until sunrise when it is believed they would turn to stone.
6. Why do trolls turn to stone when touched by sunlight?
It really depends who you ask. Some say it’s just the magic of the ancients and others say trolls were born of stone so could be returned to stone.
Plus, the climate of the Nordic region has possibly come into play here – it could be that in Scandinavia’s harsh winters, people would revere the sun and see it as a protective force.
Trolls in Norway: The country that gave the world ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’
Trolls are considered particularly special in Norway. In fact, the popular fairytale of ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’ is actually Norwegian in origin – so beware if you’re ever crossing any bridges in your Norwegian travels.
Norwegian trolls are said to live out in the country’s beautiful wilderness, away from the hustle and bustle of its towns and cities. One such place is Trollfjorden – this stunning wonder of nature is full of mountains and caves that would make very good homes for trolls indeed.
And in case you’re wondering whether Norwegians are true believers when it comes to trolls. Well it would depend who you ask!
But what we do know for sure, is that troll mythology and folklore is still a huge part of their culture. They’re proud of their mischievous little nature-dwellers, which is why you’ll see troll souvenirs and books sold in many of their tourist shops, and troll statues in their towns.
Trolls in Iceland: where belief in troll folklore still runs strong
The magic of Nordic folklore and mythology still runs strong in Iceland, where many people still believe in the existence of mythical beings.
According to their version of troll folklore, trolls are mainly mountain-dwelling creatures that get around in the night. If sunlight touches them, they turn to stone.
In fact, you can see the remains of the unfortunate Icelandic trolls who stayed out past their bedtime, off the shore of Reynisfjara beach. Jutting out of the ocean you’ll see a dramatic formation of rocks known as ‘Reynisdrangar’ that are said to be the frozen remains of three trolls.
As for Iceland’s most famous trolls, it’d probably have to be Grýla, a female troll with a penchant for kidnapping and eating children! Or at least that’s what parents would tell their naughty children. Grýla’s thirteen troll sons, the ‘Yule Lads’ as they are called, are also renowned in Iceland.
In the 13 days before Christmas, these troll lads would either leave gifts or rotting potatoes for children while they slept, depending on how well behaved that child had been.
Where do the myths of trolls come from?
Some authors and scholars have toyed with the idea of a possible link between Neanderthals and trolls. For example, could it be possible that the stories of Scandinavian trolls actually came about by the long-ago memories of these ancient people?
Perhaps. While this theory hasn’t been proven, it’s thought-provoking and the argument has merit.
There are certainly many overlapping characteristics shared by the creatures of folklore and the Neanderthals — they both lived in caves, were reclusive, would have been considered odd and unattractive in appearance, and lacked human intelligence.
Whether this is true or not, there’s no doubting that troll mythology has dominated the Nordic countries over the centuries.
What were local legends passed down through the generations eventually caught the eye of two authors called Asbjørnsen and Moe. They travelled around Norway, gathering tales of Norwegian trolls and other local stories, and published a book called Norwegian Folktales (Norske Folkeeventyr).
This collection of folklore was a huge hit in Norway and eventually went global, sharing Norway’s beloved troll stories with children all over the world.
Seriously though… are Scandinavian trolls real?
If you don’t believe the troll mythology, then perhaps you’ll have to visit Norway or Iceland to discover the truth for yourself. Not a bad excuse for a visit to some of the world’s most stunning wilderness, eh?
Happy troll hunting on your travels!
Scandification. Discovering Scandinavia.
Scandification explores and celebrates the magic of Scandinavia. Stay tuned and we’ll bring the essence of Scandinavia to you.