Snorri often speaks of Thor’s having gone to the East to slay trolls.1 The word occurs once in the Poetic Edda, one of Fenrir’s brood is said to be in the form of a troll.2 The word included giants, but also meant beings with magic power, unearthly beings, and all kinds of monsters. The giant aspect of the troll perhaps came first, then the more demoniac. The word occurs in the Sagas in these different senses. Etnar saw a troll-karl (a giant) sitting on the cliffs and dangling his feet in the surf.3 The Grettis-saga makes Grettir say that a rock-troll attacked Skaggi, when he himself killed him; and Thorkel’s men exclaim: “Surely trolls did not take him in daylight.”4 A troll-wife came to a house by night and ate all the food stupidly left out. Then she tore and slit men asunder and threw them into the fire.5 Another troll-wife was overcome by Grettir and killed, but men said that day dawned as they wrestled, so that she burst when Grettir cut off her arm. Now she is a rock in the likeness of a woman.6 This agrees with popular traditions of giants or trolls of the mountains turned to stone when surprised by the sun or at the word of a saint. To many supernatural creatures the sun is believed in many parts of the world to be fatal. A giant slain by Grettir in a cave, as well as this troll-wife, haunted a district troubled by trolls, and was himself a troll.7

Men could be possessed by trolls, like Thorlaf, who, however, became a Christian.8 One person would devote another to the trolls with the words: “Trolls take thee and thy company!” This was a common Viking curse, and resembles Harbard’s final words to Thor: “Get hence where every fiendish


being will have you!” “Egil said to Hermund in the Bandamanna-saga: “Though it was prophesied that I should die of old age, the better would I be content if the trolls took thee first!”9 With the coming of Christianity trolls became more demoniac, representing the supernatural powers of paganism. When Olaf was introducing the Faith to Norway, trolls and other evil beings tempted his men and himself. But by his prayers they were expelled from their haunts in the mountains. On the whole Olaf Tryggvason and the later S. Olaf took the place of Thor as enemy of trolls and giants. Sometimes, however, Olaf would agree with a troll to build a church, as the gods agreed with the giant to rebuild Asgard.10

“Half-trolls” are spoken of in the Sagas. Grettir told how one of these ruled a certain valley, the giant Thorir, who made him his protégé. Halmund’s song in the Grettis-saga speaks of his fighting giants, rock-folk, and half-trolls.11

Troll-women are mentioned in the Eddas, and these are sometimes giantesses, but occasionally a troll-woman is a witch, and one of these hailed Bragi by night in a forest. The word is also used as the name of a Fylgja, like that one who met Hedin.12 This troll-woman rode a wolf bridled with snakes, but giantesses (Hyndla, Hyrokkin) also rode such steeds, and the skaldic term for a wolf was “the grey horse of the giantesses.”13

In later folk-tradition the word “troll” was applied to less evil beings, though in Iceland it still retains its older meaning, and trolls there are more monstrous than elfin, though not lacking elfin traits.14 In Norway Troldfolk or Tusser may be as large as men, and music is heard from their mountain-abodes, to which they carry off mortal maidens.15 Danish legend connects its Troldfolk, who are akin to dwarfs, with the rebel angels, who, when cast out of Heaven, fell into mounds and barrows, or into the moors (these latter the Elverfolk). The mounds contain treasure and may be seen raised on red pillars on S. John’s Eve. These trolls are small, with big heads, and



Runic monument at Hunestad, Scania, Denmark, tenth century. The figure is that of a troll-wife or giantess riding on a wolf, bridled by a snake. See p. 286.


are generally friendly to men, though old ballads tell of their stealing maidens and of the seductive power of their women over men. They can become invisible or transform themselves. They prophesy, and confer prosperity, strength, and other gifts on men. The stories told of them resemble those told elsewhere of fairies and elfins.16 They dislike the ringing of church bells and any kind of noise, and this trait has suggested a reminiscence of the trolls’ dislike of the noisy Thor and his hammer.17

The Swedish Dvarg (dwarf) is akin to the trolls or mountain-dwellers, though these are sometimes of giant form. Little trolls ride out with witches, or dance and feast under stones raised on pillars on Christmas-night, and the troll-women entice men into these when watching their dancing.18

The trows of Orkney and Shetland recall the old Norse trolls, the traditions about them being derived from Scandinavian settlers, but much influenced by Scottish fairy beliefs. They dwell in mounds, of great splendour within. They are small, clad in green, and fond of dancing by night, but, if surprised by sunrise, must remain above ground all day. On the whole, they are malicious, and are given to abducting women and children.19