Three Billy Goats Gruff

“Three Billy Goats Gruff” is a traditional Norwegian fairy tale, but for me it’s one of those troll stories I loved when I was a kid. A couple of months ago, the Fairy Tale Friday focus was a childhood favorite and I talked about “The Stone Cheese” from Favorite Tales of Monsters and Trolls retold by George Jonsen, illustrated by John O’Brien. The spectacular illustrations on this post are from that book. One of the other stories it features is “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.”

The story, as first recorded by Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe is simple. Three goats want to go across a bridge to a hillside where there’s a field of sweet grass. The problem is that under the bridge is a troll “with eyes as big as saucers, and a nose as long as a poker.” The smallest goat goes across first and when threatened by the troll tells the troll to wait, his larger brother is coming across soon and will make a much better meal. The middle goat does the same. When the third and largest goat comes across, the troll states he is going to eat the goat. The third billy goat Gruff is not frightened and warns the goat that he has weapons of this own.

And then he flew at the troll, and poked his eyes out with his horns, and crushed him to bits, body and bones and tossed him out into the cascade, and after that he went up to the hillside. There the billy goats got so fat they were scarcely able to walk home again.

Of course, the version we read as kids was not quite as violent. In it, the largest billy goat Gruff simply pushes the troll off the bridge.

Once again, the troll is not real bright. While in a way, the two smaller, younger goats outwit the troll, who in his greediness for the large meal they promise let them go, in the end it is pure strength and size that win. The troll is simply no match for the largest of the billy goats Gruff. The biggest and strongest are not usually the winners in fairy tales. Often, it’s the youngest, smartest or kindest that comes out the hero, or heroine as the case may be.

Tif, from Tif Talks Books, is the hostess of this great feature, Fairy Tale Fridays. Head over there to see what she has to say today and to share your own thoughts. Next week, we’ll be looking at “The Philosopher’s Stone” by Hans Christian Andersen.

9 Comments

  1. Tif

    I really need to check out this book from the library!! I keep meaning to see if they have it, but then forget! This is another one that I have not really heard the alternate versions. I read a few different ones this time around and was rather shocked and amused at the endings! I definitely like the one I grew up with better!

  2. In the version I read as a child (the old Ladybird books) there was no doubt about the fact that the troll was killed by the biggest billy goat Gruff.

    My book certainly uses that as a fact and the brothers Gruff find that it causes them no end of trouble as their adventures continue, because trolls have families too. It is only because there is confusion about whether the bridge keeper was killed by goats or men that they have any luck at all.

    I have enjoyed looking at the various alternative versions of this story, but the Norwegian one remains the most satisfying and colourful, with as you say the references to little rhymes and last but in no way least the way that it finishes: “Snip, snap snout, this tale’s told out” If it was used in more stories it would be even more hackneyed than “and they all lived happily ever after” but in splendid isolation it has a magic all of its own.

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