Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Three Billy Goats Gruff

As you might instantly guess, this is a new Mari Ness post at tor.com. I always love her posts about fairy tales, so, let’s check it out:

The tale reads very well out loud if you have a proper grownup willing to do different voices for all of the goats and the troll, and a proper grownup willing to make the proper clip clop noises as the goats go over the bridge. (Yes, that’s crucial. Those noises are written into the tale!) If you don’t have a proper grownup—well, it’s still a pretty good story, really. It helps, too, that absolutely everyone, goats and the troll, has the same, immediately sympathetic motivation: they’re hungry. It’s something all three- and four-year-olds immediately understand.

I suspect this is why the story has become so popular as a picture book. After four pages of results, I stopped looking, but can confirm that Amazon currently offers multiple versions from multiple authors and illustrators. True, a few are cartoons, and a few are from the viewpoint of the very hungry troll, but the rest appear to tell retell the story in a straightforward manner—letting creativity go wild with the illustrations.

My own sympathy tends to lie with the many recent authors who have chosen to tell us the troll’s point of view. After all, even in the original tale, in some ways the troll is the most ethical character—in that he isn’t offering up his fellow trolls as fatter, tenderer foods for goats. And in many ways the most sympathetic one: not only does he die at the end of the story, making him the true victim here, but he never gets to eat anything.

Oh, are their modern authors who take the troll’s pov? I didn’t know that.

What do you think of this initial assertion — that the troll is the most sympathetic character? I don’t think I buy that. For me the troll is the monster and the goats are perfectly justified in tricking him. Of course Ness may be a writing with her tongue over toward her cheek here. She adds:

Fortunately, the goats do offer us another moral lesson—that eating a lot and getting fat is the best way to celebrate conquering a troll—something I feel we can all agree with.

Since this is Mari Ness, there is a good deal of historical context and discussion in this post. Click through and read the whole thing if you have a minute.

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1 Comment Three Billy Goats Gruff

  1. Mary Catelli

    I’m supposed to sympathize with a cannibal because he doesn’t actually manage to kill and eat intelligent beings?

    yes, there are tales that sympathize with the troll. How ugly.

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