Troll Myths Evolve Into Modern Day Stories and Figures
‘Troll’ has taken on a meaning of its own in online culture today, but the creature’s mythological history is more than just internet pot-stirring run amok. In fact, trolls are an important fixture in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore. Like any folkloric creature, their natures and behaviors depend on what story you’re hearing, and these many representations of sometimes-monstrous, sometimes-helpful figures create an interesting, evolving portrait of the creature, a portrait that’s continuing to grow today.
Norse Troll Stories Emphasize Isolation and Misanthropy
The Norse version of trolls are a little different than any of our modern conceptions–while they’re certainly not friendly, they tend to prefer isolation over picking fights. These mythological figures typically lived in caves and mountains, largely avoiding human contact.
Associated with the jötnar, a race of giants banished from Asgard, Norse trolls have a connection with gluttony and man-eating (despite their reclusive nature). While the mythology isn’t entirely clear on whether trolls–called Þurs, or thurs–are a subsect of the jötnar or instead a negative term encompassing the creatures, they’re an intriguing figure nonetheless.
These creatures are characterized as living in small family groups, such as mother and son or father and daughter. The flexibility of the term means that sometimes Norse trolls are witches, strange, ugly, or large humans, or even magical boars. Trolls’ varied origins mean they’re up for some interpretation, giving us the foundations for everything from pink-haired dolls to the Scandinavian legends.
Scandinavian Trolls Become Bloodthirsty, Violent Creatures
The relative vagueness of Norse troll mythology means that, when you think of the folkloric creature, you’re probably thinking of the Scandinavian version. Known for being both strong and dim-witted (and having a tendency to turn into stone when exposed to the sun), these are the figures we see represented in stories like The Hobbit.
Scandinavian trolls retained their Norse ancestors’ penchant for solitude, but became more frequently connected with being bloodthirsty and violent. These trolls were dangerous figures, particularly to Christians–some legends state that trolls could smell the blood of Christians, while others have trolls destroying churches and avoiding the sounds of bells.
The trolls of folklore still have a presence in the modern day. Local stone landmarks may be said to be rocks that the creatures threw, or even the remains of trolls exposed to sunlight. Even if these stories aren’t actually believed, the history of these creatures and their role in Scandinavian culture is still part of the conversation today.
Modern Troll Stories Reinvent Classic Myths
Modern trolls are very different from their folkloric roots. Troll dolls–the neon-haired toys with jeweled belly buttons–were created by a Danish woodcutter in the fifties as a gift for his daughter. The doll caught on in their town and spread from there, popularizing a vision of trolls that is cute, fun, and approachable rather than dim-witted and dangerous.
And then we have the most common usage today–the internet troll. Interestingly, the first online use of the term comes from a Usenet forum about folklore, alt.folklore.urban. Trolling, on this forum, meant intentionally posting silly or false information to encourage new members to engage in debates that had long been settled. Today, the usage is more commonly applied to those who post inflammatory statements online, whether sincerely or insincerely, to incite arguments or harass others. Even there, the connection to the folkloric creature is still apparent–trolls are frequently called unintelligent or violent, after all.
People hearing ‘troll’ might first jump to this definition, but that doesn’t mean that the traditional one is gone entirely. In fact, the multiple ways that trolls have been characterized allow us to spin mythology in new ways. The upcoming video game Troll and I uses the basics of the Scandinavian mythology, combined with a contemporary desire to reimagine or retell stories from another perspective, to create a story of a human boy and his troll companion in 1950s Scandinavia. The changes to the troll mythology reinvigorate an ages-old creature and create a way of looking at these older stories differently (Were trolls really evil, or was there a reason for their dislike of humans?), keeping them relevant.
Mythical Figures Remain Interesting to Modern Audiences
Any mythological figure changes over time. As stories get told and retold, they take on new life, and no creature shows this more clearly than trolls. But these new stories and reimaginings don’t change the nature of the original; in fact, they can ignite curiosity and interest in the old stories and draw new people into the fold.
Though trolls have come to be more associated with dolls and internet jerks than bloodthirsty mountain-dwellers, they still occupy a space in modern media. Twists on these creatures, such as Troll and I’s making a troll a protagonist, keep these figures alive even as belief in them may dwindle.
Troll and I mixes historical troll myth stories with a modern twist. Subscribe to Maximum Games’ newsletter for the latest updates on this upcoming title!