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215 × 138 × 12 mm
144 pages
22 illustrations
01 Aug 2015

Trolls An Unnatural History John Lindow

Trolls are everywhere. They lurk on the internet; they fill the pages of popular fantasy literature; they are hunted in Norwegian film. They are the homeless in California; they are comforting or threatening characters in children's books; they are amusing dolls. Although trolls are ubiquitous today, for centuries they were confined to the landscape of Scandinavia. They were beings in nature, and their environment was a pre-industrial world in which people lived by farming and fishing on a small scale.

This book, now available in paperback, is a history of trolls from their first appearances in folk tales – some people reported actual encounters with trolls, and others found such encounters plausible even if they were not sure – and follows a natural transition from folklore to trolls in other domains of popular culture. Indeed, trolls would not be interesting had they not made this jump, first to illustrations in the Nordic book market, then on to Scandinavian literature and drama, and far beyond. Since then they have never gone away, and in their various guises they continue to appeal to the imagination around the world.

From the Vikings to the Moomins, the Brothers Grimm and the Three Billy Goats Gruff, this book explores the panoply of trolls and their history and their continuing presence today.

‘in this clever little book, [Lindow] traces the history of trolls from their earliest appearances in Old Norse literature through the more familiar creatures of folk tale and fairy tale and right up to the latest manifestation of the malign Other, the internet pest . . . Lindow writes with wit and warmth, but this is also a learned and sometimes unsettling study which brings to light some unexpected facets of the troll phenomenon more generally.’ — TLS

‘Blessedly, Trolls: An Unnatural History is many things trolls are not. It is handsome, well proportioned, and not of monstrous size it is full of knowledge, yet unintimidating. The curious person could be advised to seek out Trolls for enjoyment and edification: no special preparation is required . . . It is written in Lindows characteristic style: lucid, economical, gently wry. Every sentence is informative, dense without being convoluted. The casual reader will move through the prose easily and learn a very great deal, but the more attentive one will learn three times as much . . . an enjoyable, rich tour’ — Scandinavian Studies

‘[an] excellent overview of the history of trolls . . . Trolls: An Unnatural History weighs in at only 144 pages, but never feels too brief. Lindow takes a long view of his subject matter . . . To follow a thread throughout 1,000 years of history, in several different countries, is not an easy task. In the hands of someone less knowledgeable and less skilled in presenting their arguments, a book can end up as a mess. Here, Lindow avoids all those traps, instead giving us a coherent, insightful and informed exploration of a fascinating subject that deserves a wider audience.’ — Fortean Times

‘a fascinating read . . . you likely wont find another source for such an in-depth look at trolls, internet comment sections notwithstanding.’ — Spectrum Culture

‘Trolls have long lacked the kind of attention awarded to their more glamorous cousins the elves, and this witty and informative book comes as a welcome treat . . . Charming, unsettling and informative, packed with fascinating details and anecdotes, this little book is a delight to read, and an indispensable introduction for anyone interested in what trolls are, what they meant to our ancestors and what they mean today.’ — Gramarye Journal

Trolls: An Unnatural History is a quick read (around 150 pages), clearly presented and pleasantly written by an authority on Scandinavian folklore. With its reliable text and enjoyable illustrations, it should be welcomed especially by readers with an interest in Scandinavia, folk narrative, and/or popular culture.’ — Journal of Folklore Research

‘Engaging, insightful, and learned, John Lindows Trolls: An Unnatural History examines Scandinavias most famous supernatural beings, and the roles they have played, in Nordic folk and elite traditions from the Viking Age to today. With the erudition and wit we have come to expect of his scholarship, Professor Lindow takes the reader on a journey into the complex processes that inform literature and lore and modern commercial culture. Experienced or novice trollologist, you are sure to find this an excellent and richly rewarding read.’ — Stephen A. Mitchell, Harvard University

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John Lindow is Professor of Scandinavian at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs (2002).

1. The Earliest Trolls
2. Medieval Trolls
3. Folklore Trolls
4. Fairy-tale Trolls and Trolls Illustrated
5. Trolls in Literature
6. Trolls, Children, Marketing, and Whimsy
Sources and Further Reading
Acknowledgements and Photo Acknowledgements