Archive for Thursday, October 30, 2008

In Norway, they troll for profit

October 30, 2008

In the next couple of days, we’ll see a variety of ghosts, goblins, witches, ghouls and monsters prowling the streets as part of the annual Halloween festivities. However, I doubt that we’ll see many trolls among those seeking treats.

If you are like me, a troll is merely a small figure with huge ears, big eyes and unruly hair. In general, they appear to be a comedic sort of monster rather than anything dangerous. I suspect what most of us know about trolls is that one of them lost a fight to Billy Goat Gruff. Trolls, in our culture, are no way near being in the same class as witches.

Yet, I learned when on a trip last year to Scandinavia that trolls are far more scary than we in the United States believe. In fact, trolls are probably the “haunt of choice” in Norway. They exist in Sweden and Denmark, however, the fjords in Norway are where most trolls seem to live.

Let me add that the Norwegians don’t really believe in the existence of trolls, however, they use them as a tourist attraction. Everywhere you look, there are troll figures for sale. At a park high above Bergen, there is a excellent walking trail with dozens of carved wooden trolls. There is even a bridge with a troll hiding nearby and Billy Goat Gruff.

It seems that trolls come in two classes. There are the huge trolls hiding out in the hills adjacent to the fjords. These are, apparently, the dangerous ones. The always carry a huge club and are, in general, a mean lot.

On the other hand, there are the smaller trolls who are regarded as a nuisance. They can hide things, vandalize property but they aren’t normally vicious, so the story goes. They could be characterized as pests and something like the “kitchen ghosts” or poltergeists of European and American mythology.

Now, female trolls can be the most dangerous. While we were told that most trolls are ugly, the females can change shapes and be beautiful. On a trip up a mountain, our train stopped by a beautiful waterfall. As we exited the cars with cameras in hand to shoot the natural beauty of the falls, suddenly there was haunting music and the ruins of a house near the falls. A beautiful blond woman seemed to materialize from the mist and was dancing and beckoning onlookers to follow her. Quickly she disappeared only to reappear in another area near the falls.

I asked the guide about what we were seeing and his answer was “trolls.” He explained that the beautiful female troll was trying to entice people to follow her. When they did, she would quickly change to her normal form, an ugly old hag, and make the followers her slaves forever. Since trolls live forever, there was no chance for the unfortunate follower to ever return to freedom.

Actually, it was a good show and utilized two women and caves to provide the illusion of appearing out of the mist. However, the trolls didn’t get a single follower from the train. It was, however, a surprising and entertaining show.

Actually, trolls are part of Viking mythology. One source I read said that the legend may have its origin in roving bands of thieves who would jump out of the woods and attack unsuspecting travelers. Since they were probably big men who were unkempt, the idea of the huge troll was born. Fear of dark also plays a part in the legend. It seems that some trolls hate daylight and turn into stone if the sun touches them.

Early fairy tales fed the myths. Another source I found said that the trolls were probably used to put fear into children. They didn’t want to wander too far from home for fear that a troll would attack and capture them.

Trolls never reached the status of fearsome monster in the United States. One tongue-in-cheek answer I heard was that Eric the Red didn’t have any trolls on board his ship when he discovered the New World.

It is easy to see how the legend grew in a time when the world was a very cruel place and an uneducated population had little trouble in creating monsters as a way of explaining what was happening.

Now, the Norwegians have turned the monsters into a tourist attraction. They sell troll curios and make a profit from the once-scary figures.

This is Halloween weekend and a time when there will be a variety of activities and events.

Please be especially cautious on Friday night when the streets will be teeming with a variety of scary apparitions seeking treats. Remember kids in costumes don’t always think and dart across the streets. Let’s make sure that the little ghosts and goblins get home safely with sacks filled with goodies.

Have a happy and safe Halloween.


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