As we drove around Iceland our tour guides mentioned trolls several times. Although they never really described what a troll looked like, they did tell us that they are quite large and like to eat human flesh. How large? Well, a hundred feet tall in some cases. For example, this rock formation on the Snaefellsnes peninsula was said to be formed when two trolls were fishing in their boat late at night.
Icelandic trolls come in two varieties: day trolls (who are active when the sun is up), and night trolls, who are active only after sunset. The winter nights are very, very long in Iceland so I am sure the night trolls appreciate all that darkness. According to legend, two night trolls set out in their ship to go fishing off the Snaefellsnes peninsula. They were so engrossed in their work that they didn't realize how long they had been out to sea. As the sun started to rise they raced back to shore, hoping to reach the shelter of their cave before the sun's rays hit them. Unfortunately they were not fast enough. When the sun rose the two trolls (and their boat) were turned into stone.
This rock formation does look like two people in a boat so I can understand how the legend arose. But what is also interesting is that these rocks are really, really big. That means that trolls are really, really big. Scarily big.
Elsewhere in Iceland I also heard the legend about the fishing trolls used to explain a different coastal rock formation near Vik. Perhaps being caught by the sun was a common problem for trolls who went out fishing. I have also read that the Snaefellsnes rock formation was not fishermen, but were actually two troll lovers who stayed out too late canoodling and were petrified at sunrise.
|Three trolls from The Hobbit (1977)|
|Gryla (2009) by Icelandic painter Thrandur Thoraarinnson|
|Yule Lad figurines I saw in a gift shop.|
|The path into Dimmuborgir.|
|The Yule Lads' cave.|
Next week I'm back to writing about New England, but it was interesting to visit another country and compare folklore. Although elves and trolls don't figure prominently in New England folklore, I could see similarities. Geologically New England is much older than Iceland, but we still have lots of legends explaining our strange random rock formations. Our legends usually feature the Devil, or witches, but that's to be expected given this region's history. It's good to go away, but it's also good to come back to weird creepy stuff I know and love.