What is the difference between an ogre and a troll? To begin with, ogres all are huge creatures, and trolls, though they are sometimes very big, are just as often very little, like dwarfs. The ogres usually live in castles; the trolls make their homes in caves, or in grassy mounds, and they live in the northern parts of the world, in Iceland, Norway and Denmark. You will not find a troll venturing south, nor will you find an ogre going very far north; for ogres and trolls never live in the same countries.
In search of The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, I recently wandered into a secluded section of the library that I’d never noticed before. This quiet corner hid a whole range of interesting tomes: there was an entire shelf devoted to the sociology of food, and I couldn’t resist picking up Absinthe: A History. My favourite discovery of the day was, as you might have guessed, A Book of Ogres and Trolls. The book features stories collected variously from Russia, Iceland, Italy, Denmark and Germany, and comes complete with grotesque illustrations by Robin Jacques.
I find it fascinating to see the same archetypes of character and plot appear and reappear in each story; these are tales which traversed across national boundaries in order to be told anew. I enjoyed, too, the distinctly fairy tale-ish language of the stories. They all share a kind of archaic speech which exists only in stories. For example, many tales feature ‘stalwart sons’, a word which originates from the 15th century. The enduring power of these stories is something to consider with awe; the tales collected in A Book of Ogres and Tales have travelled many miles and many years, yet they still have the power to captivate.