Trolls are fictional characters in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, and feature in films and games adapted from his novels. They are portrayed as monstrously large humanoids of great strength and poor intellect. In The Hobbit, like the dwarf Alviss of Norse mythology, they must be below ground before dawn or turn to stone, whereas in The Lord of the Rings they are able to face daylight.
|Created date||First Age|
|Created by fictional being||Melkor|
|Base of operations||Trollshaws, Moria, Mordor|
Commentators have noted the different uses Tolkien made of trolls, from comedy in Sam Gamgee's poem and the Cockney accents and table manners of the working-class trolls in The Hobbit, to the hellish atmosphere in Moria as the protagonists are confronted by darkness and monsters. Tolkien, a Roman Catholic, drew back from giving trolls the power of speech, as he had done in The Hobbit, as it implied to him that they had souls, so he made the trolls in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings darker and more bestial. They were supposedly bred by the Dark Lords Melkor and Sauron for their own evil purposes, helping to express Tolkien's combination of "fairy tale with epic, ... bonded with the Christian mythos".
In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins and the Dwarf company encountered three trolls on their journey to Erebor. The trolls captured the Dwarves and prepared to eat them, but the wizard Gandalf managed to distract them until dawn, when exposure to sunlight turned them into stone. They had vulgar table manners, constantly argued and fought amongst themselves, in Tolkien's narrator's words "not drawing-room fashion at all, at all", spoke with Cockney accents, and had matching English working-class names: Tom, Bert, and William. Jennifer Eastman Attebery, a scholar of English, states that the trolls in The Hobbit "signify the uncouth".
The Lord of the Rings
As the Fellowship of the Ring made their way towards Rivendell through the Trollshaws, after Frodo had been stabbed by the Nazgûl with a Morgul-knife, they came upon the three trolls that Bilbo and the dwarves had encountered many years earlier, and had seen turned to stone at daybreak. Sam Gamgee recited a comic poem, "The Stone Troll", on the supposed dangers of kicking a troll, who has a "seat" which is "harder than stone", to cheer everyone up. The poem appears also in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. In the Tolkien critic Paul H. Kocher's words, it achieves a certain "grisly slapstick".
Cave trolls attacked the Fellowship in Moria. One had dark greenish scales, black blood, and a hide so thick that when Boromir struck it in the arm his sword was notched. However, Frodo was able to impale the "toeless" foot of the same troll with the enchanted dagger Sting. The Inklings scholar Charles A. Huttar writes that the trolls' presence, alongside orcs and the Balrog, means that "Moria not only houses inert obstacles but active monsters".
Mountain trolls wielded the great battering ram Grond to shatter the gates of Minas Tirith. They fought using clubs and round shields at the Battle of the Morannon. Sauron bred mountain and cave trolls, and developed the more intelligent Olog-hai that were not vulnerable to sunlight.
Morgoth, the evil Vala, created trolls in the First Age of Middle-earth. They were strong and vicious but stupid; as in The Hobbit, they turned to stone in sunlight. During the wars of Beleriand, Gothmog (the Lord of Balrogs) had a bodyguard of trolls. During the Nírnaeth Arnoediad, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, in which Morgoth defeated the united armies of Elves, Men, and Dwarves, the great human warrior Húrin faced Gothmog's trolls to protect the retreat of the Elven king Turgon. Morgoth's order to Gothmog to capture Húrin alive allowed Húrin to kill all the trolls. Many trolls died in the War of Wrath, but some survived and joined Sauron, the greatest surviving servant of Morgoth.
In Germanic mythology, trolls are a kind of giant, along with rísar, jötnar, and þursar; the names are variously applied to large monstrous beings, sometimes as synonyms. The idea that such monsters must be below ground before dawn dates back to the Elder Edda of Norse mythology, where in the Alvíssmál, the god Thor keeps the dwarf Alviss (not a troll) talking until dawn, and sees him turn to stone.
Tom Shippey, a Tolkien scholar, writes that The Hobbit's audience in 1937 were familiar with trolls from fairy tale collections such as those of Grimm, and Asbjørnsen and Moe's Norwegian Folktales; Tolkien's use of monsters of different kinds – orcs, trolls, and a balrog in Moria – made that journey "a descent into hell".
Attebery notes that trolls came into English first through Asbjørnsen and Moe's 1841 collection of traditional Norwegian tales, Norske-Eventyr, but that this was followed by Scandinavian retellings with reimagined trolls. Trolls thus moved from being grim Norse ogres to more sympathetic modern humanoids. In her view, Tolkien's trolls are based on the ogre type, but with two "incarnations": ancient trolls, "creatures of dull and lumpish nature" in Tolkien's words, unable to speak; and the malicious giants of strength and courage bred by Sauron with "enough intelligence to present a real danger". The scholar of English Edward Risden agrees that Tolkien's later trolls appear far more dangerous than those of The Hobbit, losing, too, "the [moral] capacity to relent"; he comments that in Norse mythology, trolls are "normally female and strongly associated with magic", while in the Norse sagas the trolls were physically strong and superhuman in battle.
Christina Fawcett, a scholar of English, writes that Tolkien synthesises materials from different eras, so his writing and his creatures can take on different qualities, from playful to monstrous; his hill-trolls "while still threatening, are primarily comic and slow-witted". On the other hand, when Gandalf outwits them, these same trolls are seen as "monstrous, a warning against vice, captured forever in stone for their greed and anger." All the same, Fawcett cautions that Tolkien uses tradition selectively, transferring the more positive attributes of Norse trolls, including being rich and generous, to hobbits.
Trolls in The Hobbit
Shippey criticises Tolkien's class-based depiction of the trolls and goblins in The Hobbit, writing that the trolls were too close to labourers, just as the goblins were to munitions workers. Shippey notes, too, Tolkien's storytelling technique here, observing that making the troll's purse (which Bilbo attempts to steal) able to speak blurs the line between the ordinary and the magical.
Marjorie Burns, a scholar of English literature, writes that the trolls' tiredness with eating mutton every day matches the fantasy writer and designer William Morris's account of his travels in Iceland in the early 1870s, one of many Middle-earth features that follows Morris, including the existence of trolls: Morris mentioned visiting places called Tröllakirkja ("Trollchurch") and Tröllahals ("Trollneck"). Burns notes, too, that the adventure with the three trolls combines Bilbo's fear of being eaten with the temptation of the "fine toothsome smell" of roast mutton.
The critic Gregory Hartley notes that while in The Hobbit, Tolkien's trolls were still much like those of Norse mythology, "archetypal, stereotypical ... basking in unexamined sentience", in The Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings, "Tolkien undertook the difficult task of melding fairy tale with epic, which was in turn bonded with the Christian mythos. Characters and creatures began functioning on a multiplicity of registers." The entertainingly "light-hearted informality" of The Hobbit's Cockney-speaking trolls thus gave way to the "more bestial trolls" of the later works. Hartley comments that the redaction effort that Tolkien threw himself into for his legendarium was driven by the way he had composed The Hobbit; and that the resulting "rich, curious roles" that trolls and other beasts play in Middle-earth would not have existed without it.
Speech, sentience, and souls
Fawcett suggests that Tolkien's "roaring Troll" in The Return of the King reflects the Beowulf monster Grendel's "firey eye and terrible screaming." Noting that Tolkien compares them to beasts as they "came striding up, roaring like beasts ... bellowing", she observes that they "remain wordless warriors, like Grendel", although they are sentient, with intelligence and a single language, unlike the varied tongues of Tolkien's orcs.
Critics including Fawcett and Hartley note that by making all the beasts in The Hobbit talk, Tolkien, a devout Roman Catholic, had created a serious problem for himself: if trolls and other monsters were supposed to be sentient, they would in Christian terms have souls and be redeemable rather than wholly evil. Tolkien acknowledged this keenly-felt question: "Of course ... when you make Trolls speak [Tolkien's emphasis] you are giving them a power, which in our world (probably) connotes the possession of a 'soul'." Fawcett distinguishes the approach of Tolkien's narrator, who treats trolls as "wholly monstrous", from his "translator's notes" which take "a slightly more balanced view". She states that Tolkien adopts a similar multiplicity of viewpoints on the in-fiction creation of trolls: Frodo tells Sam that the Shadow cannot create "real new things of its own", but all the same, she writes, the "stone-bred mockery" seems very much alive. This is, Fawcett writes, in contrast to Tolkien's intelligent dragons, which are straightforwardly a created species with the power of speech, but certainly monsters; and in contrast to orcs which, as corrupted elves, do have souls. She concludes that Tolkien's linking of souls to speech "complicates these monstrous races".
Tolkien had another conceptual problem with the existence of evil creatures, as he believed that while good could create, evil could not. So he considered whether his evil creatures could have been corrupted from sentient beings, and whether they could breed, writing various and contradictory explanations of their origins. In The Two Towers, the leader of the Ents, Treebeard, remarks that trolls were "made ... in mockery of Ents", as Orcs were of Elves. Friedhelm Schneidewind, writing in the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, states the precise origin of trolls "perhaps from giant apes but possibly from Men, Orcs, or 'Spirits'" is not given by Tolkien, but like Orcs, trolls were bred by Melkor and Sauron for their own evil purposes.
Defeat of evil
Burns notes that with the destruction of Sauron, trolls, like the rest of Sauron's minions, were scattered in defeat, though some survived by hiding in the hills. In Burns's view, this makes Tolkien appear both optimistic, since evil can be defeated, and pessimistic, as that defeat is never absolute.
Trolls are replaced by "Groans" in Gene Deitch's 1967 animated short film adaptation of The Hobbit.
Rankin/Bass' animated 1977 adaptation of The Hobbit depicts Bilbo's encounter with the trolls. In this film, the trolls are presented with tan-colored skin, large bulbous noses, and tusks. As in the book, they turn to stone when exposed to sunlight. The trolls were voiced by Paul Frees, Jack DeLeon, and Don Messick.
Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated version of The Lord of the Rings follows the book faithfully in its depiction of the encounter with the troll in the Chamber, though the troll's foot has toes. Glenn Gaslin, reviewing the film on Slate, describes a clip from the film as "of ravenous trolls, [and it] does no justice to Tolkien's darker elements".
Trolls appear in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo Baggins recounts his altercation with the three stone-trolls and later on, the four hobbits and Aragorn are shown resting in the shelter of the petrified trolls. The location used was Piopio, Waitomo District, in New Zealand. In the mines of Moria, a single cave troll, animated in software, is among the attackers.
In The Return of the King, trolls fight in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, and Aragorn fights a troll in the Battle of the Morannon, a departure from the book; Jackson had at one stage intended Aragorn to fight the Dark Lord Sauron in person, but "wisely" reduced this to combat with a troll.
In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey the three stone trolls appear as in Tolkien's book. The trolls are portrayed through voice and motion capture. Bert is played by Mark Hadlow, Tom by William Kircher, and William by Peter Hambleton. In The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, trolls appear in Azog's army as shock troops. Some of the trolls have catapults mounted on their backs, while others have bladed shields and other strange weaponry, such as flails sutured to their limbs. Behind the scenes, Peter Jackson's design team added trolls to the orc army saying that they were a "natural extension of the orcs' forces".
Trolls have featured in many video games set in Middle-earth, including The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth, The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, and The Lord of the Rings: Conquest. In The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II: The Rise of the Witch-king, the Angmar faction has a troll hero named Rogash, and an Olog-hai named Brûz the Chopper is important to the plot of Middle-earth: Shadow of War.
Middle-earth trolls have appeared in tabletop role-playing games; for example, the core book for Middle-earth Role Playing, published by Iron Crown Enterprises, included rules for Normal Trolls, Olog-hai (or Black Trolls), and Half Trolls, and the publisher released an adventure module called Trolls of the Misty Mountains. Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game includes trolls, while Games Workshop produce a selection of troll miniatures.
- This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
- The Hobbit, ch. 2 "Roast Mutton"
- Fellowship of the Ring, book 1, ch. 12, "Flight to the Ford"
- The Return of the King Appendix F "Of Other Races"
- The Fellowship of the Ring, book 2, ch. 5 "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm"
- The Return of the King, book 5, ch. 4 "The Siege of Gondor"
- The Return of the King, book 5, ch. 10, "The Black Gate Opens"
- The Return of the King, Appendix A. II "The House of Eorl"
- Return of the King Appendix F, "The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age", "Of Other Races"
- The Silmarillion, ch. 20 "Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad", p. 195
- The Children of Húrin, ch. 2 "The Battle of Unnumbered Tears"
- Return of the King, Appendix F, I, "Of Other Races", "Trolls"
- Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #153, to Peter Hastings, September 1954.
- The Two Towers, book 3, ch. 4, "Treebeard"
- Hartley, Gregory (2014). "Civilized goblins and Talking Animals: How The Hobbit Created Problems of Sentience for Tolkien". In Bradford Lee Eden (ed.). The Hobbit and Tolkien's mythology : essays on revisions and influences (PDF). Part III: Themes. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-7960-3. OCLC 889426663.
- Attebery, Jennifer Eastman (1996). "The Trolls of Fiction: Ogres or Warm Fuzzies?". Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts. 7 (1 (25)): 61–74. JSTOR 43308256.
The comedy is conveyed chiefly through the trolls' lower class British dialect and their clumsy handling of little Bilbo
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