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Distributed for Reaktion Books


An Unnatural History

Distributed for Reaktion Books


An Unnatural History

Trolls lurk under bridges waiting to eat children, threaten hobbits in Middle-Earth, and invade the dungeons of Hogwarts. Often they are depicted as stupid, slow, and ugly creatures, but they also appear as comforting characters in some children’s stories or as plastic dolls with bright, fuzzy hair. Today, the name of this fantastic being from Scandinavia has found a wider reach: it is the word for the homeless in California and slang for the antagonizing and sometimes cruel people on the Internet. But how did trolls go from folktales to the World Wide Web?
To explain why trolls still hold our interest, John Lindow goes back to their first appearances in Scandinavian folklore, where they were beings in nature living beside a preindustrial society of small-scale farming and fishing. He explores reports of actual encounters with trolls—meetings others found plausible in spite of their better judgment—and follows trolls’ natural transition from folktales to other domains in popular culture. Trolls, Lindow argues, would not continue to appeal to our imaginations today if they had not made the jump to illustrations in Nordic books and Scandinavian literature and drama. From the Moomins to Brothers Grimm and Three Billy Goats Gruff to cartoons, fantasy novels, and social media, Lindow considers the panoply of trolls that surround us and their sometimes troubling connotations in the contemporary world.
Taking readers into Norwegian music and film and even Yahoo Finance chat rooms, Trolls is a fun and fascinating book about these strange creatures.

160 pages | 29 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2014

Folklore and Mythology

History: General History

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“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

“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

“You likely won’t find another source for such an in-depth look at trolls, internet comment sections notwithstanding.”

Spectrum Culture

“clever little book. . . . 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.”

Times Literary Supplement

Table of Contents


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


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