Ogres, Trolls, and Maneaters

(image property of New Line Cinema)

(image property of New Line Cinema)

Monsters, nursery bogies, and nightmare villains. We all know them. Man eaters, ogres, and trolls. I’ve already talked about orcs as a race before, but I think this is a bit different. When you really get down to it, the monsters that plague fairy tale heroes are pretty basic. They’re so basic, in fact, that you can do just about whatever you want with them. Great, huh?

All right, I’m going to start with ogres and trolls. There are two versions of trolls that I can think of off the top of my head. One is Tolkien’s version: big, stupid, rude, and will generally eat anything. Oh, and they turn to stone if the sun hits them. The second is Blizzard’s version. In World of Warcraft, trolls are basically green and purple tusked pseudo-Rastafarians who have the magical concepts of juju and voodoo in sound bites. Not only that, but their dance is based on the Brazilian martial art capoeira. Completely different right?

Okay, I’ll put WoW’s version of trolls aside, because, really, it’s such a diversion from the norm it’s not even what I’m talking about here. On that note, there’s also the movie Willow, were you have a fight with a troll, who’s not all that much larger than the nelwyn (read: non-copyrighted hobbit) character Willow, hairy, bestial, and…get this…lives under a bridge. Crazy right? Someone actually went to lore to make their trolls? Okay, I’m done ripping on Blizzard’s non-trolls, because, frankly, I actually like them.

What I want to talk about is, where do they come from? Trolls and ogres are essentially the same thing: monstrous, often stupid enough to be outwitted by children and goats, and generally want to eat you. The real key difference I see is the location of origin. Trolls are from Germanic and Scandinavian lore, although certain parts of Scotland do have the trow, which is similar, but, frankly, Scotland was influenced by the Viking invaders early on. Meanwhile, ogres are more of a Franco-British monster. Really, it’s a linguistic difference.

If you want to make ogres and trolls different from each other, go ahead, but make sure that the difference is easily recognizable. If you say, “ogres are big, stupid, and eat people, and they’re green, but trolls are big, stupid, and eat people, and their blue,” that’s not making them different. Also, blue trolls? What are you, Blizzard?

Seriously, though, the real thing I see about trolls and ogres is that they’re monsters. One thing we as humans fear isn’t necessarily dying, or even getting eaten by something, but getting eaten by something so close to human. Cannibal monsters exist in cultures around the world, whether we’re talking about vampires and werewolves, the more recent addition of modern zombies, or ogres and trolls. There’s one such cannibal monster in the forests of the American northeast, originally known to the Algonquins, called the wendigo. Originally a person who broke the strict taboo of cannibalism, the wendigo turned into a monster from the corruption of the self that came from it.

The point here is that ogres and trolls exist in all cultures, even if they aren’t called ogres and trolls. If you really want to use the name, go ahead, but remember, whether they live in castles and shape shift, like the ogre in “Puss In Boots” or live under bridges and turn to stone by the light of the sun, like traditional trolls, whatever name you choose will come with certain expectations, and unless you’re clear about why you’re breaking those expectations, people are going to wonder what the heck is wrong with you. If you go so far away from the norm that the only recognizable trait is…well…the cannibalism, you might want to consider coming up with a new name, because that’s the one that really scares us.

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One thought on “Ogres, Trolls, and Maneaters

  1. You’re right cannibalism is really scary. Its the one thing that consistently sends shivers up my spine, and the reason I haven’t seen Silence of the Lambs or read any of the books. By dehumanising the cannibals the abhorrent behaviour is distanced from the rest of humanity and means that society doesn’t have to address the underlying reasons for the behaviour.
    Also had a really cool idea for a creature the other morning. Just working out how to include the creature in my stories.

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