At the Summer School opening yesterday, Heidi Dahlsveen told a story about trolls.
Post-modern trolls with 19th century flags and a helmet that no Viking ever wore (horns were used for drinking). Only the cell phones are missing.
The cute little figures tourists buy in souvenir shops are fakes. I hate them. They give a totally false impression of Real Norwegian Trolls.
Trolls are big and heavy like brute forces of nature. The ancient Greeks were city people – and made a sharp distinction between their well-ordered civilized city-states and the wild nature beyond their borders.
Norway was never civilized – or city-like – in the Greek sense. If you look at Norway in Google Earth, it consists mostly of forest and mountains. In Greece, trolls would have been minor deities, like Pan and nymphs and satyrs.
In Norway, the Church banished the old gods. But they refused to go completely away. When we walk in the forest in the evening, and the sounds and the light feel strange – maybe a bit spooky, we speak about a “trolsk” atmosphere.
Trolls are strange, stupid and dangerous. A famous picture by the painter Kittelsen shows a big Norwegian troll in the middle of Oslo, on Karl Johan street. He is tall as a tree and very ill at ease – like a peasant at a society ball.
Trolls are more than folklore. Norway is not a traditional civilized country, like Greece and France and Great Britain. The rich and modern and highly developed Norway used to be a poor and very thinly settled country of small peasants and fishermen just a few generations back – on the very edge of Europe.
We like trolls, but not the cute kind. Trolls are us.