Marja-Leena Rathje
Home ::: all about trolls

all about trolls

Illustration by Rudolf Koivu, "The troll and the shepherdess" in "Matka Satumaahan" (A Trip to the Land of Fairytales) by Raul Roine, Otava, Helsinki 1954

Sometimes I wonder if some readers think I'm silly when I write about my interest in folk legends, myths and fairy tales. I enjoy these for some light-hearted posts to intermingle with all this serious art stuff and to please my inner child, right? Well, this item in Helsingin Sanomat International makes me feel a lot more intelligent:

"Finland has received what appears to be the first doctoral dissertation on traditional forest trolls. Master of Philosophy Camilla Asplund Ingemark, 30, has researched the subject for six years. She will defend her doctoral dissertation, which is classified as a work on folklore, at the Åbo Akademi University in Turku on Friday. The study describes the world of trolls according to the beliefs in the folklore of Swedish-speaking Finns."

"This doctoral dissertation is a part of a broader magic and troll boom in literature and the visual arts. The adventures of trolls were also recounted in the novel Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi ('Before sundown you cannot') by Johanna Sinisalo. Her trolls are a species that is a cross of cats and monkeys. Sinisalo was awarded the Finlandia Prize for her work in 2000.

The troll has been seen as a humorous phenomenon or a symbol of fears.
But Tove Jansson's ultra-sympathetic Moomintroll is a different story altogether."

Facts about Trolls & Witches

Moominworld and author Tove Jansson

Not Before Sundown (Troll) by Johanna Sinisalo

And who can forget The Lord of the Rings phenomena!

Amy, another lover of fables, is sure to find all these troll tales right up her alley!


Tove Jansson is right up there with Tolstoy and Dickens in my book! I still re-read her books regularly.

Marja-Leena: I don't think liking fairytales is silly at all! Of course, I am fascinated with them. My library contains a large selection of children's books that belonged to me when I was young, or my son (who is now 22). A big chunk of those are fairy tales, especially Russian fairytale books, with luscious illustrations by Bilibin. A favorite book of my nephews featured trolls - by the French folklorist Charles Perrault. I have his Puss In Boots (in Russian language). My father gave my son a lovely Finnish book of children's stories about Laplanders and reindeer - I can't read a word of it, but the illustrations are wonderful! Have you ever read or heard of "Women Who Run With the Wolves"? The author is a physcologist, and in the book she explores the archetypes portrayed in traditional folklore, like Bluebeard and Baba Yaga. Fairy tales have been an endless source of inspiration for me - both in my writing and art work. Plus they are fun to read at any age!
Thank you for all your links to info about trolls!

Hi Jackie! Your bookshelf sounds like mine! I have a lot of Finnish fairytale books from my childhood as well as my children's! Yes, I have "Women who run with the Wolves" & love it! I see you have a website up and I had a look at it and your photos! Good job - hope you are able to make a go of it and get the same pleasure I do from mine!

I have always believed that fantasy and the worlds of the imagination are projections of what goes on in all of our minds. The stories that we tell and the elaborate characters and landscapes that we create are personifications of his inner world and that is why mythology and legends and tall tales and fables and folklore are so similar all around the world. And because I believe that what goes on in our minds is very real, I also believe that "magic" is real. The problem with the way people today see it, however, is in trying to define it in an empirical sense, which our imaginations just have no ground in. In some ways I think people in the past who actually saw the spirits and creatures of their stories as an integral part of their everyday world were better able to integrate the physical world with the realm of the their imaginations... They were one and the same, in other words. Psychologically there is a lot to be said for when your body and your mind and the environment you live in are turn on the same logic. There is no sense of being alienated from the very place that you live.

In this sense trolls and kin make more sense than atomic bombs and terrorists. And the Moomin stories are still relevant even now when I am 44. Snufkin is probably the closest fictional character to my ideal of living my life than any other character in literature that I know. Of all the books from my childhood that I've made a conscious effort to keep on my bookshelf, it is the Moomin series, which I recently bought anew.

I used to love the Narnian Chronicles by C.S. Lewis, but ever since I was old enough to realize that they were Christian allegory somehow they lost their innocence... It was as if C.S. Lewis had been sending me propaganda via subliminal messages. I was outraged at the use of Greek mythological characters for Christian messanges. I would have been a lot happier if C.S. Lewis had been honest with me.

I loved Hugh Lofting's Doctor Doolittle series (so much so that I went outside seeking animals to talk to!) And would have given anything to ride on the Luna Moth. E.B. White's "Charlotte's Web" (as well as "Trumpet of the Swan" and "Stuart Little", though not as much) I also loved. For a long time I was nuts about Greek and Norse myths. I always felt sorry for the giants of Jotunheim and could never understand why Sigfried was so justified in killing the Wyrm.

Recently I've been growing more interested in Japanese mythology, especially the folktales of the "kappa", troll-like creatures that live in the rivers and look like a cross between a frog and and coot. I also like "Tengu" the long-nosed, wild man of the forests, who jumped from tree to tree and wore huge wooden sandals. They remind me of the big skiing hemulen from "Moominland Midwinter".

Hopefully I'll get a lot of these ideas into the children's book I am writiing and illustrating right now.

Butuki, you have very eloquently expressed the underlying importance and attraction of "mythology and legends and tall tales and fables and folklore"! Even though my post was presented in a light-hearted way, I also strongly believe the world of imagination is very important in childhood to nurture creativity. When one is able to keep those stories within us as we become adults, to recognize the "child within" as some say, we have the seeds for our creativity as adult artists (and that includes writers!).

The Finnish creation epic, the Kalevala, which is a collection of myths passed on orally for generations, became the inspiration for Finland's cultural revival in the 19th century, inspiring numerous artists like Sibelius. Today, many indigenous cultures are experiencing a revival and renewed pride by going back to their ancient stories. Maybe my interest in ancient rock art is part of this need for connection to that ancient story-telling, as is your interest in Japanese mythology, Butuki!

How wonderful that you are working on a children's book - may the creative juices flow, inspired by "trolls"!

I do, I do! I love the moomins. And "troll boom" is a curiously wonderful combination of words. Thanks for the links to explore.

Irish folklore was the premise of much of William Butler Yeats' early poetry, and Yeats' himself was an avid collector of folklore and faerie tales. One excellent exposition of the folkloric background of Yeats' early poetry is my former professor Frank Kinahan's Yeats, Folklore and Occultism.

(Less well known is the fact that Yeats' father, John Butler Yeats, was a painter.)