Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Hobbit – Roast Mutton

Running late in the morning, Bilbo joins the dwarves and they end up in sacks, captured by trolls.

While that is an accurate summary of the chapter, I want to dig into the encounter with the trolls as that dominates the chapter. Cold and hungry, the dwarves send Bilbo to check out the fire in the woods. As it turns out, the fire belonged to three trolls – Bert, Tom, and William, who are sick of mutton, and would like a different type of meat on their patter. Tolkien describes the trolls as “Three large persons sitting round a very large fire of beech-logs.” To be honest, this description is rather blasé. This begs the question of, when one thinks of a troll, what image pops into mind? I suppose it depends a bit on what mythology one looks at.

A snippet from Wikipedia:

A troll is a fearsome member of a race of creatures from Norse mythology. Originally more or less the Nordic equivalents of giants, although often smaller in size, the different depictions have come to range from the fiendish giants – similar to the ogres of England (also called Trolls at times, see Troller's Gill) – to a devious, more human-like folk of the wilderness, living underground in hills, caves or mounds. In the Faroe islands, Orkney and Shetland tales, trolls are called trows, adopted from the Norse language when these islands were settled by Vikings.

Nordic literature, art and music from the romantic era and onwards has adapted trolls in various manners – often in the form of an aboriginal race, endowed with oversized ears and noses. From here, as well as from Scandinavian fairy tales such as Three Billy Goats Gruff, trolls have achieved international recognition, and in modern fantasy literature and role-playing games, trolls are featured to the extent of being stock characters.

Again from Wikipedia, the Tolkien troll:

In J. R. R. Tolkien's world of Middle-earth, Trolls are very large humanoids of great strength and poor intellect. While in Norse mythology, the Troll was a magical creature with special skills, and are so accepted to this day in Scandinavia, in Tolkien's writings they are portrayed as evil, stupid, with crude habits, although still intelligent enough to communicate with a known language.

In The Hobbit they speak with very thick Cockney accents. They turn to stone when exposed to sunlight and they enjoy eating meat (such as mutton, hobbits and Dwarves) and drinking beer. While threatening, the trolls in The Hobbit serve as a comic element. They even have normal names: Tom, Bert and William (Bill) Huggins (the only one with a given surname).

The fallen Vala and first Dark Lord, Morgoth, created the first Trolls before the First Age. They were strong and vicious, but stupid creatures. The major weakness of at least some Trolls was that they turned to stone in sunlight. Nobody knows how he managed to breed them, though it is stated by Treebeard of the Ents that Trolls were "made in mockery of" them, as Orcs were of Elves, though not necessarily from Entish stock. However, they are likely a corrupted form of some other race of Middle-earth, as neither Morgoth nor Sauron have access to the Secret Fire, and cannot therefore create things; only corrupt that which already exists. There is reference that sunlight will return them to the stone from which they were made in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

I cannot help but notice the differences between the trolls from The Hobbit and from The Lord of the Rings. The trolls from The Lord of the Rings are terrifying creatures that are instruments of war, while in The Hobbit they come across a bit differently. Now part of this is due to the difference in the tone of the stories. The Hobbit is a much lighter tale, when compared to The Lord of the Rings, and there are parts in The Hobbit that make it feel a bit disconnected from the larger work. The narrator’s voice in The Hobbit gives it a story book feel, and insulates the reader from the grimmer nature of the larger work.

As stated in the above quote from Wikipedia, the trolls in The Hobbit, while fierce and dangerous in their own right, come across as a bit comical. Upon reading the description from The Hobbit, I have a mental picture of a hillbilly like giant, not entirely unlike the giant from Jack in the Beanstalk. Even their names, Tom, Bert and William come across as rather plain, and uninspiring. I am not struck with notion that these trolls are the elite of Dark Lord’s army. Gandalf easily tricks them into staying up all night until the dawn turns them to stone, and he does not come across as sounding concerned that there was going to be an unfavorably outcome. Clearly he was concerned when he heard that there were trolls in the area, and he hustled back to check on Bilbo and the dwarves, but I get the feeling that once he saw what was going on, he easily took control of the situation. Once again, Gandalf steps into the role of the supernatural aid, coming to the rescue in the nick of time, providing aid to an otherwise hopeless situation.

With trolls defeated, Gandalf leads the group to the trolls hideout, and they find a number of strange weapons. In the next chapter, Elrond will identify them as elvish blades that date back to Gondolin, which I found to be a nice tie into the larger story that is Middle Earth.

Monstrous Discussions – The Troll

To go back to the discussion on the trolls for a moment more. The D&D troll is a green rubbery creature that has powers of regeneration, and it harkens back to an earlier time in literature. The D&D troll feels a bit like a solitary creature that does not naturally interact well with other humanoids. The D&D troll just does not feel like the Tolkien troll, which has always left me scratching my head. There is a part of me that really likes the idea of the Tolkien trolls which is a beast of war that fights along side the orcs. The orc is a great humanoid opponent for low to mid class characters. However, sometimes one needs to step it up a notch and provide a similar yet different experience in an encounter. This is where the Tolkien troll would fit in well. Now, one can argue that the ogre fits into this category, and I would be inclined to agree. However, there is something about the Tolkien troll that I just like.

In the animated Hobbit, one of the trolls had tusks, and I rather liked that look. I do want my trolls to look rather bestial, and not just like large humanoids. In Peter Jackson’s film version, the trolls looked like monstrous humanoids, with the emphasis on monstrous. I my own mind, I picture them as something in between. Upon further consideration, I just like the tusks.

Since the troll’s first appearance in the monster manuals, there have been a number of sub type trolls created, which allow for plenty of diversity, and I suspect that everyone has their favorite type of troll. There are also a number of different kinds of trolls in Tolkien’s work. Perhaps my favorite type from Tolkien is the Olog-hai.

Olog-hai from Wikipedia:

Olog-hai were "strong, agile, fierce, and cunning" trolls created by Sauron, not unlike the Uruk-hai, and were able to withstand sunlight while under the sway of Sauron's will. They seldom spoke and were said to know no language other than the Black Speech, in which Olog-hai means "troll-folk" (singular Olog "troll"). Because of their cunning, they were thought by some to be giant Orcs, rather than trolls.

I know there have been a number of different types of half orcs created in D&D that captures the essence of the Olog-hai, with the half orc/half ogre being the closest to this. With that said, I think need to sneak a couple of these trolls into my next campaign. These would be perfect in a mega-dungeon that features a large number of orcs.


Anonymous said...

I have always preferred the Tolkien-inspired trolls over the D&D troll, which just doesn't sit right. If you take Lord Dunsany's Noles and D&D's Gnolls, you can interchange them (although EGG disagreed with me on this topic on ENWorld before).

I rather like the bumpkinish troll, fallen from its dark grace with disconnection from Melkor, now relegated to being a thickheaded relic.

Mr Baron said...

I know what you mean.