Thor’s Day Alert #19: Trolls in Norse Myth
Happy Thor’s Day, everybody — and welcome to what’s become Troll Week here at Storm of the North blog.
[If you missed my Tuesday Althing post, you can check it out here.]
Trolls are probably the most familiar of all creatures of Scandinavian lore. Probably the most misunderstood, too. While there’s no definitive notion of what a true troll is, today I hope to at least shed some light on what they are in Norse myth.
Similar to how elves and dwarves seem to refer to the same creature, trolls are sometimes confused with giants. I prefer to think of trolls and giants as distinctly different beings.
For example, a myth about the giant Hrungnir begins with the narrator telling of Odin venturing to Giantland while Thor was away fighting trolls in the east. I take “the east” to mean a distinct realm — troll land, if you will — not a region of Midgard where trolls/giants were stirring up trouble. Perhaps a better argument would be to consider that if the storyteller did NOT mean a distinct realm, he would’ve simply said, “While Thor was away fighting trolls.” Sparsity of words is, after all, a hallmark of Norse myth — and in fact a trait of any tale born of oral tradition.
In other posts I’ve talked about natural phenomena and how they give rise to distinctive elements of Norse myth such as Bifrost (the Northern Lights) and Valkyries (ravens circling the battlefield). It’s not difficult to imagine how Norway’s numerous mile-high mountains could seem like rows of towering men; indeed, a chain containing Norway’s highest mountain is named Jotunheimen, after the Norse word for Giantland.
Small wonder then that there are so many named giants in Norse myth: Hrungnir; Thrym; Utgard; Suttung and more.
And yet I cannot think of the name of a single troll. If they were giants, I’m guessing they’d have names too.
If anyone out there knows anything different, please let me know. Until then, I’m going with this:
Trolls: bigger than humans but much smaller than giants, and able to take spirit-form
Thanks for stopping by. See ya in a week or two!