Norwegian Troll

Other blogs have trolls. Some even cultivate one or two as “pet troll of the blog.”  Alas, my blog does not have even one.  So I have had to go looking for a virtual troll.  Here it is, Theodor Kittelsen’s Troll som vasker ungen sin, “Troll washing his kid”, my pet-troll-of-the-blog.  I’ll have to think of a good trollish name for it….

For eight centuries, Norway’s troll stories were preserved as eventyr, tales told in the upper meadows of the seters, on the western islands during the annual fishing season, and in front of the fire during the long dark winters. In the 1880’s, folklorists like Sir George Desent, Peter Asbjornsen, and Theodor Kittelsen traveled the backroads of Norway recording the stories. Florence Ekstand’s Norwegian Trolls and other Tales translates some of the stories about the trolls–the haugfolk, bytting, hulder, nisse, skogstrollet, brotrollet, fossgrimen, and others, and a few reprints of some of Kittelsen’s timeless troll drawings.

Here is a bit from Kittelsen about the nøkken or water sprite:

Nøkken is terrifying. He is a hunter of human lives. When the sun sets, you would do well to watch yourself. He can lie among the big spreading water lilies that you stretch our hand out to. Barely have you touched a lily than the quagmire begins to draw you down – this is when he grabs you with his wet, slimy fingers.

Or you are sitting alone by the tarn of an evening..then memories rise to the surface, first one, then another, then crowding in, memories with the same warm hue and radiance as the rays that play between the cloud mists and the lilies. Watch yourself now! It is precisely this feeling that Nøkken plays on. The pond calls memories forth, and Nøkken lives there and lures us. He knows he can so easily trap up in that lovely rippling reflection….

Nøkken can turn himself into any imaginable object….

He turns himself into an old skiff, half drawn up on land. But it still happens that some fool comes along, sees the boat and thinks, “What an old wreck! Why, it’s half full of water. But…hmm…there lies an old tin pan…” So he begins to bail out the water. Then he pushes out into the lake and jumps in.

At first all goes well, for Nøkken likes to play his victims as a cat does a mouse. Ah, how pleasant it is to glide among the water lilies! The water lies so still and clear. See – way over there lies a little island with a birch tree on it – what fun it would be go to out to it! But halfway over the old skiff begins to leak and leak. Then it cracks and sinks lower and lower in the water. Then Nøkken casts off his disguise and draws the poor fool down into the depths.

Sometimes it happens that Nøkken turns himself into a gray horse that goes and grazes near a lake. He hopes to fool someone into getting on his back; then he plunges into the water with them.

[Image: Theodor Kittelsen, Nøkken, “The Water Sprite”]

For more Kittelsen, here is a YouTube montage.  There is also a fairly extensive collection of his drawings here, grouped by topic, so you can see for instance, the insect drawings, or the black death drawings with the black birds that were thought to bring the plague. The black death itself is personified as holding a broom and rake–the broom would kill everyone while the rake would leave some still standing. For images of two prints I have seen no where else check out this blog; the top print is “Syk kjærlighet” or Sick Love, the bottom print is “Et overfall”, The Attack. The blogger says in Norwegian, “These two pictures are incredibly charming. I bought them on loppis last autumn. They both have some water damage, but I do not think I care about it. -Do they have a little soul!”

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