Most often when you hear about trolls these days the reference is to those people who lurk on the internet and post comments on blogs simply to make trouble and obscure important issues. But what about those other trollls? The kind that inhabit the deep German forests of the Brothers Grimm, hiding under bridges and in caves?
Enter the 2010 Norwegian film “The Troll Hunter” an action/comedy exemplar of the increasingly exhausted “found footage” theme that began with “The Blair Witch Project”. While several critics have compared “Troll Hunter” to “Blair Witch”, it really is more reminiscient of “Cloverfield” (2008), a found footage monster film set in New York.
As far as found footage films go, “The Troll Hunter” is about as tame as they come. There is little violence (one suspects the budgetary constraints couldn’t afford much) and no profanity — or at least none that made it into the subtitles. Nor is the film interested in creating terror in viewers. Thus, the trolls are rendered in a disarmingly cartoonish format with bulbous noses and a somewhat goofy demeanor.
The film centers on some film students with cameras rolling following a strange man traveling from campsite to campsite, thinking he may be a poacher. It turns out he is indeed hunting big game, but as you guessed the creatures are trolls, not reindeer (or whatever else you might poach in Norway). The scenery in the misty fjiords is spectacular and remkarably similar to the Sea to Sky highway from Vancouver to Whistler.
The cartoonish portrayal of the trolls tips the viewer off that this film intends to have fun with folklore. At one point the troll hunter interrogates the students to make sure none of them are Christians since the trolls can smell the blood of Christians. Later when their Christian camera man is killed they recruit a Muslim woman to their troop. This prompts the question of whether the trolls can smell Muslim blood as well. The hunhter’s not sure but he assures them that they’ll find out soon enough. Indeed.
I enjoyed “The Troll Hunter” but probably would have enjoyed it more had I captured all the subtle references to Norwegian culture that apparently pervade the film. (I liked the film enough to express my misgivings at a Hollywood remake currently in the works. Let’s hope it turns out like “The Ring” rather than “Quarantine”.)
Trolls belong to that wing of science (and quasi-science and pseudo-science) known as cryptozoology, the search for and categorization of mythical, folkloric and otherwise unknown creatures. I have long had a fascination with cryptozoology (and its increasingly respectable cousin exobiology which studies the possibility of extra-terrestrial life). From where did this interest come?
Part of it traces to my upbringing. I grew up in Kelowna, BC, a city nestled on Okanagan Lake, a deep and long body of water left over from the last ice age. For centuries it has been rumored that deep within the bowels of this lake lives a long, snake-like creature (by some reports 40-60 feet long) which has been known for the last century as Ogopogo. I can remember as a child sitting in the water in the middle of the dark lake, holding the ski rope and waiting for the boat to pull me up and out of the water. In one fearful moment you feel something brush against your leg. Ogopogo? Or merely milfoil? The mind races. Then the sound of the Evinrude motor carries across the water and in moments you are up, cruising in a fine foam wake leaving the mystery behind.
Another source of fascination centered on the Purcell and Selkirk mountain ranges of south central British Columbia which were rumored to hide a population of human-like ape creatures, the fabled sasquatch. And from there my intrigue shifted to the mysterious Yeti of the Himalayas and giant seacreatures such as populated the subterranean sea of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.
What I didn’t realize at the time was the extent to which my conservative Christian upbringing was a contributing factor to my interest in cryptozoology. The interest arose naturally from my denial of biological evolution and acceptance of a young (e.g. 10,000 year old) earth. When these two factors were combined my innate interest in the margins of taxonomic description exploded.
Consider, for example, the clues of dinosaur-like creatures in the Bible. What was this creature “behemoth” mentioned in Job 40:15-24? Once my hermeneutical pump had been primed it seemed obvious that here was a description of a large, herbivorous dinosaur whose “tail hardens like a cedar” (sounds like a brontosaurus [or as it is properly known, an apatosaurus]). And what of the sea monster leviathan in Job 41? A plesiosaur, perhaps? That hypothesis seemed to work remarkably well with popular descriptions of the Loch Ness Monster. If the earth is but thousands of years old then you might expect to find all kinds of creatures the “evolutionists” had declared long extinct. In fact, I remember reading fanciful creationist speculations while in high school that there could still be isolated populations of dinosaurs living in isolated portions of the African jungle! Cryptozoology indeed!
These musings seemed to receive corroboration with the discovery of the giant and monstrously ugly coelacanth, a large deep sea fish once believed to have been extinct for millions of years but which was caught by fishermen in 1938. If the coelacanth was still out there, who knows what else might be hiding in the deep sea, murky Scottish lochs, ancient forests and frozen mountain ranges?
My cryptozoological interests have gradually withered over the years along with the young earth creationism that once helped fuel them. But this has not led to the disenchantment that you might suspect. One only need open a work of natural history to be amazed by the creatures that once roamed this earth. Incredibly enough the earth has in the past teemed with beasts every bit the fantastical equal of the denizens of Jules’ Verne’s subterranean sea. You don’t need to focus on blurry photographs, dubious testimony, and misty folklore to enchant this world.
As for trolls roaming the frozen forests of Norway, I’m not holding my breath.