Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In The Troll Wood

Another chilly grey day, one filled with naps and baking and playing outside dressed in boots and sweaters. I have two friends who have just traveled to Sweden. One to write, the other to photograph. They don’t know each other but I’m wondering if they’ll cross paths unaware. So while thinking of them, I pulled out this collection of troll stories I found last summer (while in Ithaca with Margaux). It’s illustrated beautifully by Swedish artist John Bauer.

In the Troll Wood
English version by Oliver Jones
pictures by John Bauer

This is the description from the back: "the strange haunting world of the trolls; a world of spells and magic, of changelings, of a princess riding on an elk, of a troll inhaling with delight the smoke from a cottage chimney. Troublesome and unscrupulous trolls may often be but they are almost always afraid; of being laughed at in their ugliness and afraid most of all of greedy humans who covet their gold and silver and who, by tree felling and rock blasting wreck the forest homes that have been theirs for three thousand years."

And about John Bauer:
"John Bauer, Sweden’s most famous illustrator of legends and fairy tales, was born in 1882 and died in 1918 at the tragically early age of thirty-six. His style is characterized by the striking contrast he achieves between the frail, delicate human figures and the enormous, towering trees, sometimes so large that they disappear out of view, the gigantic boulders and the huge and clumsy, but good-humored, trolls. Often the small figures appear as if illuminated from within giving them a romantic mysticism which earned their creator immediate popularity."

He reminds me of Arthur Rackham or the Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen.

Trolls mostly stay hidden- and especially since humans came to the forest. They are difficult to see: they blend in with the background of bushes, rocks and trees, and sometimes no more than a faint stir in the air, a slight draught, tells that a wood troll has scuttled by.

Poor Princess Anna had cried and cried, too frightened to remember the spell which would free her from the trolls. But now she saw that they were just four big sillies, not likely to harm her. At once the right words came into her mind. She said them aloud- and in a flash was away, away, out of the dark and gloomy cave into the sunshine of the palace garden. And she never went alone into the forest again.

A girl sat by the lake, day-dreaming as she listened to the water rippling along its shore. The Lake Spirit slid from the waves to her feet. She sat very still, staring at him.

He told him that of course trolls were sometimes mischievous. Sometimes they quarreled and threw stones, and they had been known to steal a princess, just for the fun of it. But mostly they troubled no one. They were timid and childlike.

He shut his eyes and counted slowly. Then he opened them and there, for a flickering moment, was a fairy queen.

At midnight, without fail, the Troll King goes up Troll Hill and stands gazing at the stars. Below him the wind sighs through the tree tops in the Troll Forest. His golden crown glints in the starlight as he studies the sky. He looks like solid rock perched on solid rock. He has stood there for centuries, and he intends to stand there for many centuries more.

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