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The mythical Norwegian Trolls

Hmm ... who's that popping out of the ground?

Troll in wood at Lauvlia .
Photo: Lauvlia
Troll in wood at Lauvlia .
Photo: Lauvlia

Look out!

Someone might be watching you ...

Hunderfossen outside Lillehammer .
Photo: Ian Brodie
Hunderfossen outside Lillehammer .
Photo: Ian Brodie

... but they are just happy to see you!

Mølentrollet .
Photo: Ellen Larsen
Mølentrollet .
Photo: Ellen Larsen

Cute, ugly, or a bit scary? Trolls can be found all over Norway. Mysterious rock formations and mountains with troll-like-shapes have mesmerized people all over Norway for thousands of years. Get to know them a little bit better!

Once upon a time, these strange and dangerous creatures roamed freely in the mysterious Norwegian mountains and forests. But the trolls only went out at night, in the dark. Because there was only one thing that could scare a real troll: The sunlight.

If they didn't hide in time, the first rays of the sunlight would turn them into stone. And that is why you can still see their faces and bodies carved into the mountain sides, cliffs and stones all around the country.

A stone that looks like a troll
Troll stone at Runde.
Photo: Christine Baglo/Visitnorway.com
So, who are the trolls? They can be big and sinister, even gigantic, like a huge mountain, or they can be small and playful. Some have one head, others have three. And it is also common for many of them only to have one eye.
 
Stomping their way out of the Norwegian forest, trolls have made their impact on Norwegian folklore. Even though most people no longer believe in these mythical creatures, the stories about troll, jotner and nisser are still being told to children over and over again. Trolls are an important part of Norwegian cultural heritage, and all Norwegians can tell you what they look like and how they belong to Norwegian nature and traditions.
 
But where did it all start?
 

The story of the trolls

"We don't know exactly when or where it started, but you will find them in our narrative tradition, and you can find them in our first written sources, sagas, from the Middle Ages. But how old they are in people's imaginations, we don't know, but it's old", says Ane Ohrvik, professor of cultural history and museology at the University of Oslo.
 
She knows more than most about these mythical creatures.

With Norway's high mountains, deep fjords, large forests and dark winter nights, you can easily see a link to the supernatural. Whatever people don't understand, they need to explain in one way or another, and trolls were as good an explanation as any.

"Trolls are more of a fantasy figure than anything else, but people had a notion that nature was inhabited by different types of creatures and that people lived side by side with these creatures, which were more or less visible and more or less dangerous. Some are more imaginative and part of the fantasy, while others were more real and people maybe took some precautions against them."

No matter the type of troll, they are mostly dangerous and obscure. Despite being stupid, they are known to sometimes set clever riddles you must overcome if you ever cross paths with one.

"Skogtroll", a painting by Theodor Kittelsen
"Skogtroll" painting.
Photo: Theodor Kittelsen

Troll fairytales

The folk tales about troll are both numerous and old. One of the first written sources where we meet a troll, is in the famous book of Edda, from around 1220. But most of the bedtime songs and adventure tales all Norwegian kids get to hear and to love, were preserved thanks to an adventurous duo named Asbjørnsen and Moe. In the same manner as the Brothers Grimm, Asbjørnsen and Moe collected tales from the Norwegian countryside from 1837-1871.

The trolls play the main characters in many of these very famous tales.

The famous troll painter

In the old tales, the trolls were cast in a poor light. Most of the time they were only described using words like "big", "strong" and "ugly". Today, you can ask any Norwegian what a troll looks like, and the answers will be very similar, thanks to the Norwegian painter Theodor Kittelsen.

Kittelsen is known for his illustrations of Norwegian folklore, and his work has characterized Norwegians' notions of trolls and other mythical creatures. Kittelsen's trolls are grotesque and creepy-beautiful, inspired by northern and eastern Norway's landscape. Kittelsen's interpretation of trolls has long been seen as the standard for what Norwegian trolls "actually look like".

Kittelsen was a distinctly literary visual artist, and wrote texts both within and accompanying his artwork. You can see many of this famous troll painter's works at The National Museum in Oslo. You can also visit Kittelsens house, Lauvlia, in Numedal. It is now home to a museum offering guided tours and a large collection of Kittelsen's sketches.

What are Trolls?

Troll is a collective term for several types of human-like beings in Nordic folklore and fairy tales with roots in Norse mythology. Both appearance and characteristics vary, and trolls are usually both dangerous and stupid. Trolls include colossal jotner and giants (evil giants), or small goblins, dwarfs, and other underground mythical creatures. The trolls often live in inaccessible and untouched nature, for example in caves in the mountains, or in the forests or the sea.

Fun facts

According to the film Trollhunter from 2010: 

Trolls are mammals

They can live as long as 1,000 - 12,000 years

They are born with one head and one eye, but as they age they grow two more heads to scare away other trolls, though many still only have one eye

They eat charcoal and concrete

They only roam at night

If they are exposed to sunlight, they turn to stone or explode (if they are old)

They can only become parents once in their lifetime

If you see electric pylons in the mountain areas of Norway they are actually electric fences to keep the trolls in their designated territory – they are not used for supplying electricity

Four of Kittelsens most famous artworks
Art from Theodor Kittelsen.
Photo: Theodor Kittelsen

The legacy of Dovregubben

The most famous troll in Norway is no doubt the troll king of Dovregubben, invented by Nobel Prize winning playwright Henrik Ibsen in one of his most famous plays, Peer Gynt, which inspired composer Edvard Grieg to write the world-famous piece I Dovregubbens hall (In The Hall of the Mountain King).

Trolls on the big screen

Trolls have been depicted in popular culture numerous times, whether it's the sweet and kind trolls in the Disney film Trolls, the big and stupid trolls from Lord of the Rings, or the animated trolls in the Netflix series Trollhunters.

There are also several Norwegian troll films. The Trollhunter (2010) utilised many aspects of Norwegian folklore in terms of how the trolls behaved and used Kittelsen's drawings as inspiration for the appearance of the trolls. The film has won multiple awards, both at home and abroad.

Troll (released worldwide on Netflix in December 2022) is considered Norway's first great monster film. In the depths of Dovrefjell mountain, a troll is awakened after a 1,000-year-long slumber. The creature is destroying everything in its path and is rapidly moving towards the capital. How do you stop something you never even knew existed?

If you want to learn more about trolls, these are definitely good films to watch.

Trolls on the Internet

The trolls have also gone digital, and the bad behaviour of the trolls has even influenced modern language. Trolling has become an international expression for (you guessed it!) behaving in a rude and bad mannered way on the World Wide Web. "Troll" has also become Internet slang for a person who intentionally tries to instigate conflict or hostility in an online social community.

But don't worry. The trolls you meet in Norwegian nature have probably been petrified for hundreds of years, and the small ones in the many souvenir shops are cute and kind enough to be taken home!

However, there are a few places that you have to look out for the real trolls that still roam the forests...

A warning sign showing a troll in Romsdalen
Beware of trolls sign.
Photo: romsdalen.no

Where to find the trolls

There are many places in Norway with a connection to trolls. One of the most famous is Trollstigen, a road that twists its way up the mountain side through eleven hairpin bends. Here, you will find warning signs for trolls, be careful not to wake them up from their slumber!

Troll places can be found all over Norway, go exploring and find the trolls!

Below, you can read one of the stories passed down for generations:

Illustration by Theodor Kittelsen of the fairy tale: "Askeladden som kappåt med trollet" by Asbjørnsen og Moe
«Askeladden som kappåt med trollet».
Photo: Frederik Hendriksen

Where to find trolls

Want to go exploring for these mythical creatures? Find their most well known locations below.

Trollstigtrollet .
Photo: Trollstigen Norway
Trollstigtrollet .
Photo: Trollstigen Norway

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