Residence: Vail, CO
Date of Performance/Collection: April 24, 2021
Primary Language: Norwegian
Other Language(s): English
Informant: So… Trolls are what people think of when they think of Norway, I guess… But people don’t actually believe in trolls, I don’t think… It’s kind of like to make childhood exciting, I think. You know how we have these little hikes in the woods where supposedly the trolls live, and you know, they make all these little adventure trails for kids focusing around trolls. And at the cross country ski races there would be troll mascots, right? Mhm.
Interviewer: What are some characteristics of trolls?
Informant: Maybe a little rascal-like. Not mean, but mischievous… Bushy. Lots of hair… And very small… Big nose. Big ears… Bad teeth… There are big trolls… But when I think of them, I think of them as little trolls… I don’t have a strong attachment to trolls I guess, I don’t know.
Interviewer: But they are like a national symbol?
Informant: Yeah, they are… They’re in a lot of our fairy tales and stuff… I don’t know if trolls are officially a national symbol… Or if it’s something people play off of ‘cause they think it’s cool, and it draws tourists. I don’t know.
INFORMANT’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE PIECE:
Interviewer: Do you know why trolls are such a big national thing?
Informant: I don’t know where it comes from. I’ve never really… Maybe it has to do with the nature in Norway… I’d be curious to know actually.
Interviewer: So what’s up with all the troll statues everywhere?
Informant: Oh yeah… I’ve never even thought about that… I don’t know why that is… Like there’s a big one in Oppdal, but Oppdal is such like a… Rural community, you know? I’m sure that tales are even more… What do you call it….? More prevalent, there. Like I’m sure there’s even more focus on tradition, and that traditions are even stronger in a place like that where it’s so rural and everybody lives on a farm almost.
Interviewer: Were trolls as prevalent when you were growing up?
Informant: Probably. Just not in my life, you know……? Actually! Growin’ up, I had kind of like a troll-looking doll that was really cute. That my mom would like knit clothes for, you know? And I would bring him as my mascot to gymnastic competitions and stuff. And my friend had one too and we’d play with them all the time.
There is no denying that trolls are a large part of Norwegian culture. And yet, the informant does not feel much attachment to them as creatures or symbols; she does not have much information on trolls, nor has she given them much thought throughout her life. This suggests that the emphasis on trolls may indeed be primarily a tourist draw, as tourists may find more appeal in symbols than locals do. In “Early Travellers in Borneo” in Tourism in South-East Asia, Graham Saunders writes, “Travellers…today arrive with certain expectations. They carry with them an idea or image of Borneo, an image which tourist brochures have conveyed” (Saunders 271). Tourists have expectations pertaining to their destination. They are on the outside looking in, and may thus attach themselves to symbols that seemingly represent the place they are visiting; it makes a foreign place easier to understand and digest.
In his book Trolls: An Unnatural History, John Lindow writes, “For centuries…trolls were found only in the landscape of Scandinavia. They were ‘nature beings…’ Their home environment was a pre-industrial society in which people lived by farming and fishing, often on a small scale” (Lindow 9). Trolls largely originated as Scandinavian figures. They are thought to be encountered in nature, and Norway is a landscape made up of forests, fjords, mountains, rivers, and so on. Norway was also a rural place for a long time, and there are still active farming and fishing communities. Trolls may then fit the tourists’ expectations of what Norway is supposed to be like: rural and woodsy. The tourists’ expectations may in turn fuel what tourist brochures, etc. convey, as the tourist industry aims to draw more people in using the tangible symbols that seem to be working (such as trolls).
Sources cited above (Note: Also see Lindow’s book for further reading on trolls):
Lindow, John. Trolls: An Unnatural History. Reaktion Books, 2014.
Saunders, Graham. “Early Travellers in Borneo.” Tourism in South-East Asia, by Michael Hitchcock et al., Routledge, 1993.