Friday, July 14, 2006

Scandinavian Trolls

"[An]..explanation for the troll myth, is that the trolls represent the remains of the forefather-cult which was ubiquitous in Scandinavia until the introduction of Christianity in the 10th and 11th centuries. In this cult the forefathers were worshipped in sacred groves, by altars or by gravemounds. One of the customs associated with this practice was to sit on top of a gravemound at night, possibly in order to make contact with the deceased.

With the introduction of Christianity however, the religious elite sought to demonize the pagan cult, and declared the forefathers as evil. For instance, according to Magnus Håkonsen's laws from 1276 it is illegal to attempt to wake the "mound-dwellers". It is in these laws that the word troll appears for the first time, denoting something heathen and generally unfavourable."

While the exact origin(s) of trolls in Scandinavian folklore might be complex and somewhat contentious, Mme Balzamo1 suggests that the illustrative forms we have all encountered probably had their precursors in the 16th century sociocartographic works of Olaus Magnus.

Magnus was responsible for the famous 1539 Scandinavian map, 'Carta Marina' [5Mb complete work or sectioned jpeg images] and released the massive 'Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus' in 1555, which purported to outline the history of the Nordic peoples. Both included illustrations of monsters and mythical creatures.

It may be coincidental but 'Carta Marina' was 'lost' for 3 centuries, only to be rediscovered in 1882, around the time when troll illustrations began to appear in popular literature.

Romantic fairytale illustrators Theodor Severin Kittelsen (i, ii, iii) John Bauer (i, ii, iii) and Elsa Beskow (i, ii, iii) are regarded as the leading artists of the polymorphic troll figure from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The genre would later be adapted by Tove Jansson for her internationally successful Moomin characters (i, ii, iii).


Aeron said...

Hey, thanks for guiding me towards Kittelsen, his illustrations are amazing.

Marius said...

Thank you for the theories on the origin of the troll myth, which was news to me even though I'm Norwegian and grew up with troll stories illustrated by Kittelsen etc...

Karla said...

Ooh, you have found some of my favorite Kittelsen trolls... the dreaded Water Troll and the frightful Four-Headed Troll! I dare not speculate as to the formative effect they have had on my character.

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