I have long loved a good troll yarn. I guess it’s the ancient Viking blood in me! These massive, usually dim-witted creatures with any number of heads and toes, pop up everywhere in Norse folklore adding spice to the story and a golden opportunity for the illustrator!
Curiously enough, I’ve noticed a number of troll-festooned graphic novels emerging in the children’s lit world recently. I thought I’d alert you to them in case you share my fondness. Or not. Either way. Plus bring to light some older troll stories you might enjoy.
The Heartless Troll, written and illustrated by Øyvind Torseter, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson
published in 2015 in Norway; first English edition 2016 by Enchanted Lion Books
First up is this graphic novel retelling loosely based on an old Norwegian fairytale called The Troll With No Heart In His Body.
As with many fairy tales it all starts with a king with a bunch of sons — in this case seven — the youngest of which is treated differently than his elder brethren. Prince Fred, the youngest in this household, has to watch his olders vault off on their fine steeds, decked out in resplendent clothes, set to find beautiful brides for themselves. And oh! they promise to fetch him one, too. But of course, an evil troll waylays them and turns them to stone.
Nothing for it but for Prince Fred to set off on an epic quest to free his brothers by destroying the troll’s heart. Problem is, that troll hasn’t got his heart in his body. THAT’s how nasty a fellow he is!
Fred, with the able assistance of a beautiful princess, an elephant, octopus, saxophone and much Bravery, manages everything in the end and he and the princess live happily ever after. Phew!
Torseter’s rendition is as quirky and casual as it comes with fairy tale elements and contemporary ingredients nestling happily cheek by jowl. A great spot of fun for ages 10 and up.
You can read a more traditional telling of this tale, as well as a number of other Norwegian troll tales in this book:
The Troll with No Heart in His Body and Other Tales of Trolls, from Norway, retold by Lise Lunge-Larsen, illustrated with woodcuts by Betsy Bowen
published in 1999 by Houghton Mifflin
With an author and illustrator who share Norwegian heritage and make their homes among the exceedingly-trollish rocky landscapes of Minnesota’s North Shore (one of my favorite places on Earth), this collection of nine tales has a lovely authentic air. 96 pages long. It includes the most familiar, Three Billy Goats Gruff. Serious troll-lovers and fans of all things Nordic will enjoy this.
Hilda and the Stone Forest, written and illustrated by Luke Pearson
published in 2016 by Flying Eye Books
Luke Pearson’s Hilda stories are marvelous, and immensely popular right now. About to come in animated form to Netflix, so they say.
The first book, introducing spunky Hilda, her mom, their pet fox, Twig, and their hauntingly-beautiful, fantasy-Norwegian homeland is, appropriately, Hilda and the Troll. I’ve reviewed it here. It really helps if you read it before launching into one of the later volumes.
In this their fifth adventure, Hilda, Mom, and Twig wind up accidentally whooshed into a mysterious forest occupied by — you guessed it — trolls. So. Many. Trolls. Yikes!
Escape is of the essence, but that is much, much easier said than done.
Run, clamber, dodge, sneak, and run faster in this breathless, dangerous episode. Sheer delight for a wide age range, about 7 to adult.
There’s always an individual in every crowd, and Bera is certainly that. Although she’s a troll, she’s a quiet, modest sort, glad to mind her own business and tend her pumpkin patch on a lonely, tiny island. Her boon companion is an owl named Winslowe.
One day Bera hears a raucous, most unpleasant uproar in the cove. Investigating, she’s shocked to see that a human baby has arrived, somehow, and is being most roughly treated by the nasty mer-trolls. Risking their wrath, Bera scoops up that baby and begins an epic adventure to try to return it to wherever it came from.
Bera’s journey is plagued by quite a passel of hideous creatures. Goblins! Wolves! A wretched witch! Goons! Thankfully, she is helped along the way by hedgehog wizards, kindly mice, and Nanna the Great.
By turns, Orchard’s tale is uncanny, menacing, warm-hearted, and heroic, just as all good fantasy should be! Great story for ages 8 and up.
In the Troll Wood, pictures by John Bauer, text by Lennart Rudström; English version by Olive Jones
first published in Sweden; English version 1978 by Methuen Children’s Books Ltd.
John Bauer was a Swedish artist known for his prolific work illustrating legends and fairy tales. He died, tragically, at age 36 in a shipwreck. That was in 1918.
This collection of some of his magnificent work is sadly out of print but a peek on Amazon shows there are a few floating around for sale.
Just take a look at these paintings:
The text tells little stories inspired by the pictures. It’s quite nicely done, with bits of juicy troll lore and outlandish goings-on. In one, an “ugly old woman with long greenish hair and only one tooth” accosts a young boy, only to fade into a twisted tree stump when he calls her bluff. In another, stubborn Grandpa Troll insists on heading out to steal a cow in wintertime although the hunting hounds are out and about. His tail pays a painful price!
My children would have loved this volume when they were quite young, despite the unusual format. We devoured Norse mythology and troll tales. If you can find a copy, try it with apt listeners ages 3 and up.
A Ride on the Red Mare’s Back, written by Ursula K. Le Guin, paintings by Julie Downing
published in 1992 by Orchard Books
Finally, this picture book holds a delightful fantasy by the renowned Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s the story of a young girl whose brother is stolen by trolls!
With her father undone by despair, and her mother occupied with care of the new baby, it’s up to the girl to find and rescue her brother. She does this with the aide of her little Dalarna horse which magically comes to life in full, snorting, thundering glory!
Up the two of them venture to High House, the cavernous home of dozens and dozens of fiendish trolls where the girl has just one night to put their plan to work before the magic wears off.
She’s a brave one! And a clever one! And by day break (which if you know anything about trolls you know is a particularly momentous time) she’s snatched that brother of hers from the heart of troll land.
Paintings replete with ugly trolls, that beautiful red horse, and the cold stillness of a Norwegian winter, help bring this story to life. 48 pages. For brave 5 year olds and up.
I’ve reviewed a couple of other delightful troll stories in the past. My clear favorite is D’Aulaire’s Book of Trolls, reviewed here.
The D’Aulaire’s have also written and illustrated The Terrible Troll Bird, reviewed here.