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Trolls - The European Bigfoot




Legends of Neanderthal-style "wildmen" are common in cultures around the world. The New World Dictionary tells us that sasquatch, the North American version (and the original name for bigfoot) comes from British Columbia's Saiish Indians' word saskehavas, meaning just that--"wild men." To the average American/ a troll is likely to be regarded as less of a sasquatch like wildman than a dwarf-like fairy-tale creature. Yet into the 1800s, trolls were widely believed by Germanic countryfolk to actually exist, and far from their present-day troll-doll image in America, "the troll is both monster and giant giant," recorded German folklorist Jacob Grimm in his 1835 Teutonic Mythology. They were, more or less, the European cousin of North America's bigfoot or sasquatch--the "wildmen" of the local evergreen woods. But where did they--or beliefs in them-come from?


Troll Habitat and Troll Habits

Trolls were reputed to live in wooded regions of the Germanic countries--Germany, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and, especially, Norway. As with North America's bigfoot, this was often northern, overcast, evergreen habitat. Many place-names in these regions attest to their long-standing belief as the haunt of trolls: In Sweden a waterfall called Trollhota was believed to have been troll-haunted, while along a

Norwegian inlet called Trollsfjord there exist boulders which were once believed to have been the remains of nocturnal trolls turned to stone when caught out in the morning's sunlight. Irish folklorist Thomas Keightley remarked in 1850 that in Sweden a noble family called Troll was once believed to have taken their name from the feat of having slain a troll. In North America, by contrast, there are few place names associated with bigfoot, such as Ape Canyon/ near Mount St. Helens (and even that was

wiped out by the 1980 volcanic eruption). But place-naming white

people in North America have only recently been introduced to bigfoot legends, whereas troll-lore in Europe extends back

for over a millennium.

In the 1820s, Danish folklorist Just Mathias Thiele collected several volumes of folk-beliefs when trolls were still widely believed by countryfolk to actually exist. In describing trolls he remarked that "of personal beauty they have not much to boast, and they have immoderate,,humps on their backs and long, crooked noses." Trolls were generally nocturnal and reputed to live in caves, and like bigfoot they were associated with a repulsive odor. "They lived wild, savage lives, delighting in dirt and evil smells," remarked modern mythologist Roger Lancelyn Green in his Myths of the Norsemen. They were commonly said to eat humans/ while the posionous property of the globe flower was blamed--for one reason or another--on trolls with the folk-name troll-flower. (Even today its scientific name remains Trollius.)

In earlier times trolls were said to sometimes have multiple heads. "The sagas tell of three-headed, six-headed, and nine headed trolls," remarked Grimm, pointing to the nine-headed species called negenkopp, from which we seem to have taken the childhood insult-term "nincompoop," much as "oaf" comes from the Olf Norse for "elf" (alfr). But in 1867, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen poked fun at the multi-headed troll-folk in his play Peer Gynt by having the King of Trolls lament "Three-headed trolls are going clean out of fashion; one hardly sees even a twoheader now, and those heads but so-so ones."

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