John W. Pinkerton



I smell the blood of an Englishman,_

Be he alive, or be he dead_

I'll grind his bones to make my bread.

You probably recognize  the quatrain from Joseph Jabobs' 1890 rendition in his “Jack and the Beanstalk,” but various versions of it go back much further in time.  This rhyme appears  in Thomas Nashe's 1596 Haue with You to Saffron-Walen and even he said that the rhyme was old and its origin obscure.

The syllables “Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum” in ancient Gaelic translates as “behold,” “food,” “good to eat,” “sufficient,” or "Behold food, good to eat, sufficient for my hunger!" As a child this diddy was repeated to me as well as other horrors offered up as entertainment for children.

What made me think of this bit of ancient poetry was a movie about trolls, Troll Hunter.  There is a line in the movie which says that trolls can smell the blood of Christians.  Christians?  I thought it was Englishmen.  Okay, I guess giants smell English blood and trolls smell Christian blood.  Upon hearing the line, I immediately wondered how the heck  a troll could distinguish between the smell of a Christian and a non-Christian.  At least with Englishmen, there may be a genetic distinction if not a difference in odor.

The movie's setting is deep in the forest of Norway.  In case you don't know, trolls,  supernatural beings in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore who are reported to dwell in isolated areas in small family groups and are not…not helpful to humans.  Trolls are described in various ways from being just like humans to ugly and slow-witted…just like humans.  The trolls in the movie turn to stone upon encountering bright lights.  Mythology has it that they turn to stone upon encountering sunlight.

If England had trolls, I think Grendel would be described as one.  Back in Scandinavia, Thor is reported to have fought trolls.  Church bells are anathema to trolls.  I live next to a church with bell chimes, and I have yet to encounter a single troll.

Why do trolls seem to hate Christians so much (No, they aren't radical Islamists.)?  Well, according to legend, the trolls were once the deities of the Scandinavians; once they became Christians, the trolls were demoted and no longer worshiped.  Apparently this caused some hard feelings which lead the trolls to  hate Christians.  A more likely source of the idea that trolls hate Christians was the church itself which used them as boogiemen to promote Christ.

In my youth, I would have dismissed giants and trolls as myths; however, as I grow older I have begun to suspect that there is some kernel of truth to these legends.  Fiction is a product of leisure.  I somehow doubt that ancient Scandinavians had so much time on their hands that one day they decided to invent trolls from whole cloth.

By the way, there are no really funny troll jokes: I know, I've tried to find one.  The ones I've found are too corny even for me.


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