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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mythological Humanoids - #32 Trolls and #33 Gnomes

As mentioned in the last post, trolls have some overlap with goblins: nocturnal habits, inhuman strength, bestiality and hairiness, hunger and the desire to eat humans, and the tendency to turn to stone in sunlight (Tolkein made this trait exclusive to trolls, but folklore is less precise). For this post, I'll focus on the differences between goblins and trolls (and gnomes.)

Trolls have a Scandinavian origin. There are many different names in different Scandinavian countries: trold (also another name for dwarves), hill people, thurs, trows (Iceland, Shetland, Faroe Islands), orges (England), giants and Jotunn (originally troll was a derogatory name for a Jotunn). The word troll may have meant “someone who behaves violently.” This would fit with the modern slang for internet trolls. In Swedish law trolleri is magic intended to do harm. These websites has more information if you're interested: Dwarfs or Trolls and Mythology Wiki

The physical descriptions of trolls vary [would you expect me to say anything else?] from being much larger than humans to being rather small [rat size?], but generally they are hump backed, with long and/or big crooked noses. Some describe them as being hollow in the back. There is frequent mention of tail, described as being like a cow's, a fox's or a goat's. This overlaps with Japanese fox fairies, Roman fauns and Greek satyrs, the last two are sometimes described as having tail like goats or donkeys [which look remarkably like cow tails to me.] Some say they wear grey jackets and red pointed caps. [Sounds like gnomes, see below.]

They almost always live underground, or under bridges, and have treasure or are rich. Some describe them as having houses of gold, silver and crystal that lift up from under the hills, much like Celtic fairies. Despite their wealth they are notorious for plundering pantries and stealing [maybe that is how they got so rich.] They even steal woman and children, another overlap with Celtic fairies.

But other than these minor inconveniences they can make good neighbors, freely lending and borrowing,
marrying, having kids, baking, brewing farming, rolling down hills and laughing. Though they could rarely be described as friendly.

They living in small family units usually of father and daughter or mother and son [can you say Grendel and his mother?] Though sometimes they live in societies with kings, but this is usually in the ballads. [Your guess is as good as mine as to whether ballad writers were just romanticizing them or not.]

Magical powers were often attributed to them: invisibility [usually a power of their red caps], shape shifting, foreseeing the future, conferring prosperity or denying it, bestowing bodily strength. Clearly they were dangerous foes. Fortunately they were frightening off easily by lightening and church bells, since they disliked loud noises [go figure.]

These little people also wore grey coats and red caps, lived underground, guarded treasure and were called dwarves by the Germans. Though they were always small, never bigger than humans. But there the overlap ends.

The word gnome first appears in print in the 16th century in the writings of an alchemist named Paraclesus. He said it was a synonym for pygmies, and alleged that these were both earth elementals.

The names for these humanoids are multitudinous:

Greeks – chelybes, telchines, dactyls
Bulgaria and Albania – dudje
Hungrary, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovia – mano
Iceland – foddenskkmaend
Finland – Ton Hi
Brittany – nains
Holland – kabouter
Switzerland and Luxenberg – kleinmanneken translated as “little men”
Western Russia – domoroi djedoes
Belgium - skritek [sounds like Shrek]
Denmark and Norway – nisse
Romanticists – goblin, the antithesis of elves and fairies
also called kobolds, brownies, leprechauns and heinzelmainchen

Some describe them as domestic spirits, but in modern fantasy they have become cunning inventors, often enslaved. Though J.K. Rowling makes them garden pests that look like potatoes and are nigh impossible to kill.
But no discussion of gnomes would be complete without mentioning Wil Huygen's books, Gnomes (ISBN 10-0810998467) and The Secret Book of Gnomes (ISBN 10-0810916142.)Dwarfs or Trolls Despite the fact that folklore has the red caps redyed in blood whenever necessary, he has cemented the grey clothes and red cap look for them, though he gives the females green caps. He gives them fair skin, rosy cheeks and beards. In his books gnomes are also enemies of trolls. He claims there are many breeds of gnomes based on the location of their homes : forest, garden, dune, house farm and Siberia, this breed being larger and nastier and freely associating with trolls. Here's a website that has more information if you're interested Gnomes

Writing advice of the week : Make sure your writing is clear on your page and in your mind. Both help you write more simply better communicate with the reader. That was what my mission statement was attempting to do.

Picture of the Week:

It reminds me of the red cap that both gnomes and sometimes trolls are said to wear that my give the ability of invisibility.


Is it better to identify how mythological creatures differ from or overlap with one another in the legends, or even both?

1 comment:

Firabella rose said...

I think it's good to have both because then you have more information to choose from. though it is more interesting to see where they overlap because then there is the possibility of it all coming from one source. And if it all came from a singular source then we have a powerful creature that is still undiscovered and likely to remain that way..