The mythical Norwegian Trolls
There is something out there. Something big.
Someone might be watching you ...
... or look down!
What´s that, popping out of the ground?
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!
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.
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
The electricity pylons you sometimes see in the mountain areas of Norway are actually electric fences to keep the trolls inside their designated territory – they are not used for supplying electricity
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.
The story of the trolls
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 many held the notion that nature was inhabited by different types of creatures and that humans 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.
On June 17, 2023, what they call the world's first and only research station for the species of trolls opened in Rindal.
Home of the Trolls is not just a research station for trolls. It is also a nature-based experiential destination with activities, outdoor adventures, local food, and exotic accommodation options.
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 popular 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.
The legacy of Dovregubben
The most famous troll in Norway is no doubt the troll king of Dovregubben, invented by Norwegian 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 DreamWorks film Trolls, the big and stupid trolls from Lord of the Rings, or the animated trolls in the Netflix seriesTrollhunters.
But you need to watch the authentic Norwegian troll films to get the real deal. The Trollhunter (2010) utilized 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.
In December 2022, the Norwegian movieTroll (2022) broke world records when it was released on Netflix. During the first week, it was watched over 75.86 million hours, giving it the biggest premiere week ever for a non-English language feature film on the platform. 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?
The film takes you through many famous parts of Norway, and you can follow in the footsteps of this famous troll!
If you want to learn more about trolls, these two 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…
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:
The Boy Who Had an Eating Match with a Troll
Once upon a time, there was a farmer who had three sons. Old and frail as he was, his farm was beginning to deteriorate, as his sons were lazy, and did not bother to lift a finger. One day, however, the father commanded the boys to go out in the forest and chop some wood, for they had debt that needed to be paid off. After much ado, the boys finally agreed to cut the old man some slack.
The first one to go was the eldest son. After finally entering the deepest parts of the woods, he began chopping a bristly, old spruce. Shortly thereafter, a big, burly troll came barging in from behind the trees.
"If you're chopping in my forest, I will kill you!" the troll exclaimed. When the boy heard this, he immediately threw the ax away, and ran home again as fast as he could. Back in the house, panic-struck and quite breathless, he told his father what had happened to him. But the old man did not budge; the trolls had never scared him from chopping wood when he was young, he said.
The day after, the second son was on his way. Not long before he had found a tree and started chopping, the troll came sneaking up behind him:
"If you're chopping in my forest, I will kill you!" he shouted. The boy hardly dared to throw him a glance, before he did just like his brother; he threw his ax and ran as fast his feet could muster. When he returned home, with the tale between his legs and nothing to show for, his father got angry; never had the trolls succeeded in scaring him from chopping wood!
On the third day, the youngest son, named Askeladden, proclaimed that he wanted to give it a try.
"You?!" the two eldest blurted out, "you should do well, you who have never been outside the doorstep!" Askeladden did not bother to answer his brothers, but asked instead for some food to bring with him. Having not much to spare, his mother gave him some bread and some cheese, which he put into his knapsack before he set off.
Not long before he had found a tree and started chopping, (you guessed it) the troll sneaked up behind him:
"If you're chopping in my forest, I will kill you!" he roared. But the boy was no fool; quickly he hurried into the woods and fetched the cheese he had brought with him. Then he squeezed it, squirting whey all over the place.
"If you do not keep quiet," he shouted to the troll, “then I'll squeeze you like I squeeze the water out of this white stone!"
"Oh no, spare me," said the troll, "and I'll help you chop."On that condition, the boy agreed to spare his life, and it turned out the troll was an excellent lumberman; many trees were felled that day.
Toward the evening, the troll said: "Now you can come home with me, it's much closer than to your place."So the boy joined the troll, riding on his shoulder back to the trolls’ cave. When they arrived, the troll said that he could make up the fire, if the boy would only bother to fetch some water; but the two iron buckets were so large and heavy that he could not even manage to budge them.
So the boy said: "It is not worth bringing along these thimbles; I think I’ll rather go for the entire well."
"No, dear," said the troll, "I cannot lose my well. Make the fire, and then I will get the water."When he returned with the water, they made a huge pot of porridge. Then the boy wondered if the troll would be interested in a porridge-eating contest? "Oh yes!" answered the troll; for this one, he could easily win, he thought to himself.
And so they sat down to eat; but the boy managed to sneak to him his knapsack, and tied it to his belly. This way, he could scoop more porridge into the knapsack than he ate himself. When the basket was full, he took up his knife and ripped a gash in it. The troll watched him closely, but said nothing.
When they had eaten for quite a while, the troll put down his spoon. "I give up, I can eat no more," he said.
"But you must!" replied the boy; "I'm barely half full yet. Do as I did, and cut a hole in your stomach; then you can eat as much as you want."
"But that must be dreadfully painful?" asked the troll.
"Oh, nothing to speak of," replied the boy.
And so the troll did like the boy said, and as you might have guessed, he ended his own life right then and there. But the boy took all the silver and gold to be found in the mountain, and brought it home to his father. Now they might very well be able to pay off some of the debt.
Translation by Camilla Christensen
Stunning Troll locations
Want to go exploring for these mythical creatures? Find their most well-known locations below.
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