Tag Archives: Scandinavian trolls

The Fjøsnisse


My informant for this piece is an American of Scandinavian descent. He lived in Norway for a time during high school and learned the language while he was there. He also still keeps in contact with his host family from his time living there, and his son recently spent a year abroad there as well. His family participates in this tradition every year and has neighbors do it for them when they leave town for the holidays.


The legends and myths of trolls are very strong in Norway. They’re supposed to be tiny little tricksters, like gremlins. They live in barns–specifically red barns–so you’ll see a lot of red barns in Norway and Sweden because they bring good luck.

Main Piece:

“On Christmas Eve you’re supposed to leave out what’s called ‘rømme grøt’ which is a porridge made with butter, cinnamon, and sometimes brown sugar. So on Christmas Eve the Fjøsnisse is supposed to come and eat it. If he eats it that means he’s happy with the rømme grøt you brought him, and he’ll bring you good luck–protect your livestock and barn for the year. But if he isn’t satisfied, he’ll cause mischief in your life for the whole next year!”


While this tradition is based around a belief in trolls, it also follows the principles of homeopathic magic. In leaving a bowl of porridge out for the Fjøsnisse, one is using the foods their farm produces in order to protect the sanctity of the farm itself. By using a part to protect the whole, believers in the Fjøsnisse practice homeopathic magic.



Informant: So… There’s these two cute little, I would almost call them little trolls. And they’re called Karius and Baktus. One has black hair, one has red hair. And they live in this little boy’s mouth… So it’s about a boy called Jens… And, it’s um… And he loooves white bread and sugar and syrup… And so… These two little trolls are kind of the, uh, the bacteria living in his mouth I guess… Or whatever is causing him to have cavities… And so the story shows them building houses and balconies and almost little towns in this boy’s mouth… And how they don’t like the toothbrush, and every time the toothbrush comes they hide ‘cause they’re scared of the toothbrush. And every time this little boy eats sugar food they get so excited and cheer him on and say yes they want sugar and syrup and white bread… Whereas if he eats, like, healthy food, they’re very upset and sad… But you know, they hammer, and do construction in this boy’s mouth to build all their houses and that hurts Jens, the little boy… And so, the story goes… He finally ends up at the dentist, and the dentist fills all his cavities. So now that the dentist has filled all the cavities, they don’t have anywhere to live… And now when the toothbrush come next time, they don’t have anywhere to hide anymore and so they’re flushed out. And so… Jens is obviously happy, but Karius and Baktus, the two little trolls, are not so happy anymore. 


Informant: It’s kind of sad actually… It’s kind of funny now that I’m talking about it, how the good is actually sad you know what I mean? 

Interviewer: So… Who tells this story? Why is it told? Where did you learn it? 

Informant: Well “Karius og Baktus” is one of the more popular stories for kids. Like almost every child has heard their parents tell it. And they have theater performances now. It’s also filmed. So, I mean, you can pretty much see any version of it… And it’s used to teach kids to eat healthy. Because in Norway we don’t eat a lot of sugar, except for on the weekends or special occasions… And we never eat white bread really… Everyone in Norway loves to bake and bakes their own bread which is like… Multigrain or whole wheat. Um… It’s just all very healthy. So parents use the story to teach kids to eat healthy so the trolls don’t, uh, build houses in their mouth and hammer and start building. Because obviously cavities hurt, you know?


“Karius og Baktus” exemplifies the pedagogical and cautionary nature of tales. Norwegians have, for many years, used this story to influence their children’s eating habits, warning against the damaging effects of too much sugar. The informant was told the tale as a child, and went on to pass it onto me, her child. Children’s minds are very impressionable, which is perhaps why children are so frequently the audience of tales. The tales are entertaining––thus retaining childrens’ attention––but are also vessels for important lessons. It is likely that tales make the lesson easier to grasp and to summarize. “Karius og Baktus,” for example, highlights each phase of developing and fixing a cavity. Rather than explain to a child time and again that sugar causes cavities and cavities hurt, a parent needs only to mention “Karius og Baktus” and the child will understand immediately what is meant. It is much easier for a child to grasp the severity of cavity-induced pain if they have something to compare it to and visualize (ex. having little trolls hammering away at your teeth). It is also likely that the entertainment factor of tales is, at least in part, what helps the lessons “stick”––what ensures they are retained. The informant remembers this tale to this day. As do I, and I surely will always associate cavities with “Karius og Baktus.” 


Book version:

Egner, Thorbjørn, et al. Karius and Baktus. Skandisk Publications, 1994.

Trolls in Scandinavian Folklore

Background information:

My dad, Anders, has been working in the realm of business since he was in his early twenties. He started working in Sweden at a tech company and then moved on to work at Hewlett-Packard when we moved to Silicon Valley in Palo Alto. Aside from his very serious and demanding job, he absolutely loves trolls and what they represent in Scandinavian culture. I grew up having numerous trolls around the house, as he loved to decorate the house with tiny statues and décor.


Main piece:

When discussing my dad’s love for trolls, I asked him where he developed this high regard for trolls. He said that his grandmother, who lived in a country-town in Småland, Sweden, always told him that they were safe and doing well in life because the trolls around them always had their eyes open for danger and would therefore protect them from bad things that could happen. He added onto this, saying that he had a fantastic fantasy and creative mind growing up, and felt that these trolls that his grandmother had talked to him about were like his imaginary friends and were friendly spirits who just wanted everything to go well in the world and protect those living on their land. Therefore, my dad has really enjoyed collecting little statues of trolls throughout his life because he feels that he wants to pay a tribute to everything that the trolls do to make our daily lives better and also has these trolls around the house to protect our house from danger and to boost the positive energy in the house.


Personal thoughts:

Because I have grown up with my dad, I learned from a young age that trolls were very friendly creatures and were there to simply spread positivity and help. Thus, I never understood why some people regarded trolls as being evil or scary, but rather saw trolls as doing what they could to make the world a better place and felt relieved to have the support of the trolls when life took wrong turns. I thought it was funny how the movie, Frozen, included trolls because the film is set to be in Scandinavia and also showed the trolls to be helpful beings who were very knowledgeable about nature and cures, just as I have imagined them as well. I was therefore glad that a movie that has been shown all around the world was able to show trolls as being positive influences in the world instead of showing them as being evil or violent, as some often regard them.


For a version of how trolls are portrayed in the movie, Frozen, see the information about trolls listed on the Disney Wikia page:


“Trolls (Frozen).” Disney Wiki, disney.wikia.com/wiki/Trolls_(Frozen).