Little, bad and ugly
St. Peter, Minn. Christmas is a magical time for many people - memories are more vivid, imaginations expand and even the surliest grumps get a little less grouchy. It's a special season for Bea Martinson. But part of her holiday joy comes from a ...
St. Peter, Minn.
Christmas is a magical time for many people - memories are more vivid, imaginations expand and even the surliest grumps get a little less grouchy.
It's a special season for Bea Martinson. But part of her holiday joy comes from a world that has no room for a jolly old elf or sugar plum fairies.
The wintry scene she sets up in her St. Peter living room every November is a home for those treacherous trolls from Scandinavian folklore. The trolls with Norwegian characteristics are her favorites. The more vulgar looking they are, the better.
"They're homely, mean and ugly," Martinson explained in a whisper, like she was concerned one of them might hear her. Trolls aren't the smartest creatures scurrying through the earth's nooks and crannies, but that doesn't mean you want to risk irritating them.
"Those are the ones I like best," she added, pointing to a group with crooked noses and stubby tails. "I love the awful ones. Why? I don't know. Maybe it's a rebellion against my peaceful life."
There are the cuter trolls with little red hats mingling around the obscure houses and shadowy backgrounds Martinson has created with the gnarled branches of rotted trees. They're more Swedish in origin, evolving from the imaginations of people living thousands of years ago in the mostly flat lands and rolling hills of Sweden.
Norway's rugged mountains probably led to the legends of deformed and cantankerous trolls there because that's what people saw in the shadows at night, Martinson said. In fact, there is a Norwegian legend she has heard that says trolls turn to rock if they're caught in the daylight, and that's how Norway's mountains were formed.
She also grew up hearing stories from her Norwegian parents about trolls that would steal human babies and replace them with their own ugly offspring. A parent would know a troll had raided a crib if the infant inside suddenly had a tail.
"I think these stories have been part of Norway forever, as long as people have been walking in the woods," she said. "If things went wrong, you had to blame someone. So they blamed those evil things."
Swedish legends say children should leave milk and rice pudding for the "hidden people" every Christmas. Martinson hasn't heard any similar Norwegian tales.
"I don't think the Norwegian ones even have the sense to know it's Christmas," she said.
Martinson's troll-Christmas connection came after her friends started collecting holiday scenes to display in their living rooms. She already had a set of trolls and asked her son, Steve Martinson, to make a house for them. Now there's several scraggly houses, which have been made from rotted tree branches, pieces of drift wood, hardened mushrooms and other items from a troll's natural habitat. They've become regular Christmas gifts from her son.
Steve, an architect by trade, has plenty of background to use when he's building those houses. He's heard the troll legends, too. Some he learned when he was in junior high school and living in Norway while his father, the late professor Floyd Martinson, was on sabbatical from Gustavus Adolphus College.
Troll houses should be organic and natural looking, Steve said. When an old branch catches his attention, he looks for possible locations for doors, windows and chimneys. Other items, such as pine cone seeds or sticks, are added to make each house unique.
"Trolls you see now are more cutesy," he said, explaining the look he has chosen for the handmade houses. "But Norwegians used to tell kids, 'Don't go too far from the farm, or a troll will take you away.' They were rugged."
Books on trolls from Norway, Sweden and even Iceland have been added to Bea Martinson's collection over the years. She's used them and items from her holiday display to give presentations to kids.
Trolls aren't the only thing that spark Martinson's creativity, either, her good friend, Sandy Brew, said. She gets excited and animated about a lot of things, which makes her a "neat friend because she's so alive."
"She likes Norwegian trolls because that's part of her heritage," Brew added. "I think she thinks they're fun, even though they're not so nice."