I’ve always had a soft spot for trolls. They’re probably the first mythical creature I remember hearing about. My dad read me a story about three goats crossing a bridge and a troll who accosted them.
I remember the story going something like this:
There were three goats.
They were brothers.
One day, the youngest of the goats, we’ll call him Jeff, said, “This grass tastes like a car.”
“It is a car,” said Joe, the middle goat.
The oldest goat, Jimmy, never mentioned it before, but he had suspected for some time that they’d been eating cars. While Jimmy was very big and very strong, he wasn’t regarded as terribly bright, so he’d kept his suspicions to himself.
After the goats talked it over, they came to the conclusion they were living in a parking lot, which isn’t a great place for goats to live.
The goats set off on a long journey to find place with proper grass and no cars at all.
I think they went to Mexico.
That doesn’t sound quite right… Panama?
They went to Panama.
The climate in Panama didn’t agree with Jeff, and he complained “This grass is too hot!”
The journey continued, until the goats found their way to Canada.
The climate in Canada didn’t agree with Joe, and he complained, “This grass is too cold.”
Luckily, a trio of bears overheard their distress and gave them directions to a place where the grass was just right.
On their journey, the goats encountered a bridge. Having managed to travel from Panama to Canada without ever having seen a bridge, they didn’t know what it was.
They had to assume it was dangerous.
After some discussion, they decided to send Jeff across first. He was the youngest, so they’d known him the least amount of time and would miss him the least if tragedy were to befall him.
Jeff hesitantly began crossing the bridge when a terrible voice called out, “Who is that, clop-clop-clopping across my bridge?”
“Jeff,” said Jeff.
A massive troll climbed from under the bridge to loom over Jeff. “Hello, Jeff,” the troll said. “This is my bridge, so you’ll have to pay me to cross it.”
“Oh no!” exclaimed Jeff. “I forgot my wallet. Can my brother pay you? He’s good for it.” Jeff waved at Joe back on the bank, but Joe didn’t wave back because goats can’t wave.
“Fine,” the troll said, letting Jeff pass.
Joe began crossing the bridge next.
“Listen here,” the troll said as Joe approached him. “Your brother forgot his wallet, but he told me you’d be good for it, so I’m going to need you to pay both your toll and your brother’s toll.”
“I forgot my wallet as well,” Joe said, “But my big brother Jimmy will take care of everything.”
The troll nodded and let Joe by as well.
Finally, it was Jimmy’s turn to cross the bridge.
The troll, of course, stopped Jimmy and said, “Listen, mate, I don’t want to be a stickler or nothing, but neither of your brothers had the fare to cross the bridge. I’d let you guys cross the bridge for free if it were up to me, but the missus is always getting on me to take initiative, and if I come home without the crossing tolls I’ll be sleeping on the couch again, right? Tell me you haven’t forgot your wallet.”
Jimmy reached for his wallet, then remembered he was a goat. “I forgot my pants!” he exclaimed.
Then Jimmy panicked and head-butted the troll, sending him over the railing of the bridge and into the river, where he presumably drowned.
(I should note here that the troll didn’t actually drown. He washed up downriver with amnesia and started a new life. He’s now very happy and running a used car dealership.)
The goats decided to give up on seeking grass, took over the bridge, and extorted outrageous crossing fees from travelers, which they used to buy caviar.
I was very young, so I may not have recalled every detail correctly.
When I encountered this story again when I was older, though, I was surprised to find a major deviation from my remembered version: The troll didn’t want money, he wanted to eat the goats!
“You wouldn’t want to eat me,” said the goat. “Eat my brother, for he is much fatter than I!”
Either my father had read me a watered down version of the story in which the murder of entrepreneurs was perfectly acceptable but the eating of goats wasn’t, or somewhere along the way the similarity of the words Troll and Toll had caused me to mis-remember the story and forever think of trolls as essentially harmless unless you can’t pay for your bridge crossing.
The way we remember things when we are young has a way of seeping into our thoughts as adults, even when we know better. As I prepare for the publication of my first novel, Mr. Smith Isn’t Afraid of the Dark, and begin working on the first novel of my new series, Jack Gryphon’s Cabinet of Curiosities, I’ve found myself exploring the idea of a world which is essentially the same as ours, but has a supernatural undercurrent.
In such a world, where the general populace isn’t aware of the ghosts, goblins, and witches, but where ghosts, goblins, and witches still need to pay the rent, my linking of trolls with tolls resurfaced. I like the idea of trolls as toll-takers.
I imagine that most trolls working in the modern world are working on toll bridges (bridges being a traditional venue), but there are some trolls who are progressive and chose to work toll roads and subway ticket booths as well.
Say it five times fast.
Isn’t that fun?