We have all seen supernatural trolls in movies, art, advertisement, video games, or maybe as statues, dolls and miniatures for different board games; from the trolls of famous artists such as the Norwegian Theodor Kittelsen and the Swede John Bauer, to the charming (initially Danish) trolls seen in the animated movies by Dreamwork studios, the delightful Finnish Moomin trolls by Tove Jansson, and the big clumsy trolls of Peter Jackson’s adaptions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works. Trolls have become well-known and are everywhere in popular culture. But are they the same kind of trolls that we find in older texts – in Old Norse mythology or the folk legends and folktales of the North? The trolls were supernatural beings in nature, and their natural environment was the pre-industrial fishing and farming communities of Scandinavia. Although common in folklore, descriptions of them differs from the trolls we encounter in contemporary culture. The trolls of folklore and myths could be violent and threatening, they sometimes appear as big, nasty and ugly, but most were described as ambivalent, some even as beautiful and helpful. This lecture will look closer at the history of trolls; from the meaning of the word troll, the earliest trolls in Viking Age mythological poetry, the many different types of trolls that appear in manuscripts from the Middle ages, the trolls of folk belief, folk legends and folktales that have been recorded until the early 20th century in Scandinavia, to the trolls of contemporary popular culture and the trolls that lurks on the internet.


Dr. Tommy Kuusela (PhD in History of Religions); Researcher and archivist at The Institute for Language and Folklore in Uppsala, Sweden

Recent publications (in English):

* Kuusela, Tommy. 2022. “Initiation by White Snake and the Acquisition of Supernatural Knowledge”, in The Wild Hunt for Numinous Knowledge: Perspectives on and from the Study of Pre-Christian Nordic Religions in Honour of Jens Peter Schjødt / [ed] Karen Bek-Pedersen, Sophie Bønding, Luke John Murphy, Simon Nygaard, and Morten Warmind (Religionsvidenskabeligt Tidsskrift, 74), Aarhus: Afdeling for Religionsvidenskab/Institut For Kultur og Samfund, pp. 153-169.

* Kuusela, Tommy. 2021. “The Giants and the Critics: A Brief History of Old Norse Giantology”, in Folklore and Old Norse Mythology / [ed] Frog and Joonas Ahola (Folklore Fellows’ Communications, 323). Helsinki: The Kalevala Society, pp. 471-498.

* Kuusela, Tommy. 2021. “Swedish Fairy Belief: Traffic Accidents, Folklore, and the Cold Light of Reason”, in De Natura Fidei: Rethinking Religion Across Disciplinary Boundaries. Volume II / [ed] Mathew Jibu George, New Delhi: Authorspress , 2021, pp. 256-276.

* Kuusela, Tommy. 2020. “Spirited Away by the Female Forest Spirit in Swedish Folk Belief”, in Folklore: the journal of the Folklore Society 131 (2), pp. 159-179.

* Kuusela, Tommy. 2019. “Halls, Gods, and Giants: The Enigma of Gullveig in Óðinn’s Hall”, in Myth, Materiality, and Lived Religion: In Merovingian and Viking Scandinavia / [ed] Klas Wikström af Edholm, Peter Jackson Rova, Andreas Nordberg, Olof Sundqvit, Torun Zachrisson, Stockholm: Stockholm University Press, pp. 25-53.

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