Boots Who Ate a Match with the Troll

Illustration by Theodor Kittelson, Meeting the Troll

This week for Fairy Tale Friday, I’m featuring one of my favorites when I was a child. We actually had this troll story in two books, “The Stone Cheese” in Favorite Tales of Monsters and Trolls retold by George Jonsen which has awesome illustrations and “The Lumberjack and the Cheese” in Trolls compiled and illustrated by Doug Cushman. I don’t know why it was a favorite, but we actually still have both of those books, one at my mom’s and the other at my house.

In the story, an old man lives at the edge of a forest. In turn he sends his two oldest sons out to chop wood, but both brothers are frightened off by the “ugliest, meanest-looking troll anyone could imagine” who threatens to rip them to pieces. On the third day, the youngest brother goes out to chop wood, taking a piece of white cheese with him. When he is confronted by the troll, he takes out the cheese.

“I’ll squeeze you into a blob of white jelly just as easily as I squeeze the water out of this stone.” Taking the big, white cheese out of his bag he squeezed it with both hands. Juice squirted our of the cheese- right into the troll’s big eye. (“The Stone Cheese”)

The troll is intimated and, in fear for his life, chops the wood for the son and brings it back to his house. At the end of “The Stone Cheese,” the troll makes sure that the man and his sons never run out of firewood. In “The Lumberjack and the Cheese” the son is chopping trees to fulfill a debt, so in addition to having the troll take care of the wood, the son makes him give the family a cart full of gold and silver.

After some searching, I tracked the tale down. It’s apparently a Norwegian folktale, “Boots Who Ate a Match with the Troll.” The basics of the story is the same, but like so many of these fairy tales, the version I learned is slightly different from the original.

In the original, after the cheese incident and the troll chopping the wood, the troll invites the boy back to his home because it was getting dark. They agree to have porridge and the boy is told to get some water. Of course the troll’s pots are too big for the boy to handle, but the boy states that he will just bring back the spring. The troll does not want to lose his spring so he gets the water himself.

When the porridge was made, the boy challenged the troll to an eating contest, but the boy put more into his bag than into his stomach, and when it was full, he cut a hole in it. The troll said he could eat no more.

“But you shall eat,” said the youth; “I’m only half done; why don’t you do as I did, and cut a hole in your paunch? You’ll be able to eat then as much as you please.”

“But doesn’t it hurt one cruelly?” asked the Troll.

“Oh,” said the youth, “nothing to speak of.”

So the Troll did as the lad said, and then you must know very well that he lost his life; but the lad took all the silver and gold that he found in the hill-side, and went home with it, and you may fancy it went a great way to pay off the debt.

(found at SurLaLune. From East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jorgen Moe.)

I don’t know why I was surprised that this tale was cleaned up some to tell to children. I can understand, though, not wanting to tell as story where the boy convinces the troll to cut a hole in his own stomach, effectively killing him. Not a very nice ending, although a happy one for the family.

On the other hand, the boy is certainly a clever, intelligent young man. He knows he’s not the biggest or strongest but uses what’s available to him to get what he wants. He’s smart, period, and often that’s what can make the difference. Not a bad lesson.

What was your favorite fairy tale as a child?

Tif, from Tif Talks Books, is the hostess of this great feature, Fairy Tale Fridays. Head over there to see what her favorite was and to share your own thoughts. Next week, we’ll be looking at Rapunzel.

11 Comments

  1. krishna

    I have been trying to remember the name of ” Favorite Tales of Monsters and Trolls” for about seven years now. As a young child It was my favorite book because of the illustrations in it. All the little creatures and their homes built in hats, cliffs, trees and such was fascinating. But it got lost as I grew up. I had all but given up hope of finding it . When I saw the title I remembered it instantly but clicked on your article to be sure .When i saw the cover my heart did somersaults of Joy! Thank you !

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