For most of Iceland’s human occupation people lived in farming communities near the coast and the interior of the country was an uninhabited non-man’s land, only visited by humans when travelling from one place to another and during the annual sheep and horse round-ups. No wonder then that belief in elves, trolls and outlaws was ripe. Trolls were believed to kidnap both men and women for breeding purposes. They were heathens and could not tolerate the sound of church bells, so they lived in the very remotest parts of the country.
Apart from travelling and round-ups, another thing that brought people up into the wilderness of the highlands was Iceland moss, which is actually a lichen. The Icelandic name for it means mountain grass, and I will be using that name in the story. It was a valuable commodity that was gathered to be used as food and to make medicines and to make a dye for wool. It only grows above a certain height above the sea-level, and groups of people would head into the highlands and mountains to pick it and perhaps spend several days camping out. This story tells of lichen-pickers who come into contact with a troll:
Once upon a time two men who went to pick mountain grass in the highlands. They spent one night there, sleeping in a tent. One stayed awake while the other slept. The one who was awake saw the sleeper crawl out of the tent and set off towards a distant glacier. He followed the sleep-walker but could barely keep up, the man was going so fast.
Suddenly the pursuer saw that a great big troll-woman was sitting on a pinnacle of ice up ahead. She made repeated beckoning gestures with both her hands and was clearly using magic to draw the man to her. He ran straight into her arms and she picked him up and bounded off with him.
A year later a group of people from the area the man had lived in came to the same place to pick mountain grass and the man came to them, looking grave and solemn and so quiet that they could hardly get a word out of him. The people asked him who he believed in and he answered that he believed in God.
A year later the same people returned to pick mountain grass, and again he visited them. This time he looked so trollish that he frightened them. Even so, the asked him who he believed in, but he gave no answer, and stayed with them a shorter time than the previous year.
The third year running he came to see them and had by then become a full troll and was extremely mean-looking and very frightening to behold. Still, someone dared ask him who he believed in, and he answered “Trunt, Trunt, and the trolls in the mountains”. With that he walked away.
He was never seen again, and for several years afterwards the people dared not go to the area to pick mountain grass for fear of trolls.
Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.