Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Troll tales November 23, 2012

Norway native Steinar Karlsen carved this troll at the 25th annual 2002 Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival in Moorhead.

EVER SINCE I WAS a little girl, trolls have held a special fascination for me.

That curiosity and, yes, even a tinge of fear, relate to the storybook, The Three Billy Goats Gruff. In that Norwegian folk tale, three different-sized goats attempt to cross a bridge under which lurks a hungry troll. The smallest goat tricks the troll into waiting for the middle-sized goat which tricks the troll into waiting for the biggest goat which then bucks the troll into the river.

Can you understand how this might both frighten and empower?

This bridge, near Hammond in southeastern Minnesota, is similar in style to the Minnesota River “troll bridge” of my youth. The “troll bridge” along Minnesota Highway 19 near Morton was replaced by a more modern bridge. But the old one, last I traveled that section of roadway, still stands nearby. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, 2010.)

I always thought of this goat-trolling troll whenever my father steered the family car across the Minnesota River bridge near Morton on our annual trip to “the Cities” to visit relatives. My anxiety level rose ever so slightly as the car curved down Minnesota Highway 19 toward the bridge.

In the back seat, my four siblings and I (the youngest sat up front) and grandpa, packed shoulder to shoulder, curled our fingers into clenched fists, prepared to take on that troll—by pounding with determined ferocity on the interior roof of the car.

My other childhood troll encounter occurred when I turned nine and celebrated my one and only birthday party ever with classmates. One friend gifted me with a wild, pink-haired troll which stood a mere inch or so tall. She, the troll, not the friend, was also a piece of jewelry with a pin attached.

I treasured that troll, still do, because trolls were popular then and I had none. Suddenly, I was just like my classmates; I owned a troll, albeit a teeny one.

A side shot of the two trolls carved by Steinar Karlsen and displayed at the Hjemkomst Center. Since 1990, this artist has created 400-plus life-sized human sculptures and hundreds of animals, birds and sea life.

Imagine how thrilled I was decades later when my girls were preschool and early elementary ages and trolls were back in vogue. I bought them doll-sized trolls to cuddle and families of mini trolls. The bright-haired ogres lined the window in their toy room, their mops of hair bleaching in the morning sun.

Trolls evoke such a mix of memories for me. How about you?

BONUS PHOTOS, just because I have no other category into which to slot these two Hjemkomst Center images, but wanted to share them:

A beautiful and historic mosaic graces a wall in the entry to the Hjemkomst Center.

Next to that troll bench carved by Steinar Karlsen are these flags hung from the balcony railing overlooking an atrium. I couldn’t find any info as to the reason these specific flags are there.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


19 Responses to “Troll tales”

  1. kellycat2552 Says:

    Love it. I used to teach about the Billy goats and troll. Wish I had your ideas in those days

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I have no idea where my siblings and I came up with that idea of knocking on roof of the car. If anything, it helped break up the long trip to the Cities.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    I love the troll stories!! I am not a troll fan—they always kind of creeped me out but I had one of those same little ones that was also a pin for awhile!!! Who knows where it went but I do remember it!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      My mini pink-haired troll is tucked away in a cardboard box somewhere in the dark recesses of a closet.

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    Nope, lost me on this one!! There are many fairy tales that brought me to frightened tears as a very young child. These stories were from a couple of French fairy tale books that were read at bedtime (of all times!!!!). Have never cared for trolls and look where we ended up living…..the heart of Norwegian country!!!!! Having said all that, the wood carvings are amazing and I have learned to appreciate that aspect of the heritage!!!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Some of those fairy and folktales can be frightening. I remember the Christmas my mother-in-law gave our girls a book, Ali Babar and the Thieves or something like that. I started reading it to myself and someone was chopping someone to pieces with knives. I’m like, did she not read this book before gifting it? Clearly not. My girls never did see that book from their grandma. She meant well…

  4. Vicki Williamson Says:

    Audrey, The green troll bridge near Hammond was replaced after that flood in 2010. Another casualty. They are demolishing homes now in Hammond and Zumbro Falls. I still enjoy stopping by and reading your stories, photos and perspectives!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, no, I love that bridge near Hammond. Was it damaged during the flood? And what’s with the homes in Hammond and Zumbro Falls being demolished now? Perhaps time for me to check in with Katie.

      • Yes, The Green Bridge, as my husband, a Hammond native called it, is now topless! It must’ve gotten damaged during the flood, there were quite a few homes that had to be rebuilt in that area, too. The homes that are being demolished now were in different buyout programs. Mine was over 50% damaged, (64%) so it was one of two I believe in the town of Hammond, with that program, I don’t know how the lesser damaged properties were dealt with, but, yes, the landscapes and lives of the people are changing. We don’t know how we will feel when our former home is torn down. It will be sad, the house was built in 1881, to think of all the lives it touched, we’ll never know. My mother-in-law, the town’s oldest resident, tried to stand her ground and revamped her flood-damaged home, returned and thrived there until this last Sept. when she was taken ill and then passed away Oct. 30th. I guess all I can really say is, it’s been a real roller coaster ride for the last 2+ years!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        First, my sympathies at the loss of your mother-in-law. She must have been a remarkable woman to stand her ground. But not so good that she had to go through this ordeal. Were you able to salvage anything from your 1881 home? I remember the photos and it looked like such a lovely place.

        This recovery process seems so slow with some of these changes only just happening now two years after the devastating flood in Hammond and Zumbrota. I really do need to get back for a visit in the spring.

        I took that photo of the green bridge when we were in Hammond shortly after the flood. So sad that it’s changed. I love that bridge style; so few left.

        Thanks for the info and updates from the Hammond area.

  5. Sartenada Says:

    Wow. I love carved art! It is very popular in Finland and I was surprised to see it in Your blog. Bonus surprise was the last photo with the flag of Finland.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Glad to have brought you this art from the U.S. We have two nationally (probably internationally) known woodcarvers living and working right here in Faribault: Ivan Whillock and Marv Kaisersatt.

  6. Yes, we did get to salvage a few different things from our home. Later we realized that more could have been saved, but we weren’t thinking logically when we were cleaning up. My daughter had even stowed stuff away and surprised me with it later when we moved to our new house!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      How sweet of your daughter. And I expect none of us would think logically if we were in the middle of being relocated due to a flood.

  7. Those are so great! We always played the 3 Billy Goat’s Gruff whenever we crossed a bridge at the State Park out on Orcas Island. Dad would run ahead and crouch under the bridge (or as close as he could get) and we’d get there and hear this deep voice asking, “Who’s that crossing my bridge?” Such fun. 🙂

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