(1616) [Norwegian troll and Danish trold, from Old Norse troll: a giant, demon]
A dwarf or giant inhabiting caves or hills. Ugly, powerful and generally dangerous humanlike creatures, but stupid and naive.
Some trolls were believed to be giants, and the biggest of them all was Dovregubben (their king in the mountain Dovre). They were shaggy and rough-haired, with trees and moss-like growth on their heads and noses, their noses were long and they would stir with it when cooking broth or porridge. Some even had two or three heads, some only had one eye in the middle of their foreheads. Their features differed from humans with four fingers and four toes and a tail ressembling that of a cow. The trolls lived to be hundreds of years old, but would die and turn into stone if the sun caught them. They might have looked frightening, but were actually often good natured and terribly naive, so sly peasants would successfully trick them. Their supernatural powers consisted among others of transforming themselves, for instance into beautiful young ladies. Many hunters and farmers were such lured into the mountains and captured, but the trolls could never hide their tails, if you only could get to see them from behind you would know if the captivating creature was a troll or just a beautiful shepardess.
The author Henrik Ibsen made them famous in his play Peer Gynt. Ibsen asked the composer Edvard Grieg to write the incidental music for this drama, and the music he wrote became one of the major works of the 1870s. In Grieg's own lifetime the "Peer Gynt" music scored a resounding international success thanks, not least, to the two orchestral suites which made the music accessible in the concert hall. The "Dovregubbens hall" (The hall of the king of the trolls) is one of the most known and famous part of this concert today.
Harold Bloom writes in The Western Canon:
"Ibsen's dramatic psychology centers upon the figure of the troll, suddenly popular again in children's dolls. The wild-haired little imps that I pass in the storefronts have, however, a rather more benign aura than Ibsen's trolls, who are authentic demons."
And H. Bloom says further on that in most humans there is a troll, and that Ibsen's play masterly shows this.
There are actually other Trolls in Norway today, known to be unusually sporty and dynamic - Ladies and Gentlemen: the Vålerenga Trolls who play American football!
Harold Bloom: The Western Canon, The Books and School of the Ages, Harcourt Brace & Co., New York, 1994