Background notes: The Troll Wife

Folk tale collections often include stories of wishes gone wrong.
Many cultures have stories about the danger of making wishes based on greed or pride.
Sometimes, though, they are about wishes gone right. Those are usually about rewards for those whose behaviour is exemplary.
“The Troll Wife” is about both of these: first, a wish that is granted but not with positive consequences and second, goodness being rewarded.
Such tales often include a challenge or test that requires kindness or an act of faith. That test is usually issued by a woman or a woman disguised or hidden by a curse or spell and it is made to a man. In cultures with royal figures such a young man is often a prince, wealthy, handsome and the troll or ugly figure turns out to be a beautiful maiden worthy of a prince.
You can make much or little of such a tale. It can be seen as a story about the need to test the true love of young men and/or a statement about the relationship of men and women in a given culture. It was not long ago that there was no birth control and folk music and folk stories are filled with sorrow and lamentations caused by young men who seduce maidens, then abandon them.
The most popular song of servant’s maids was “Early One Morning”. “Early one morning, just as the sun was rising, I heard a young maid sing in the valley below, Oh, don’t deceive me, Oh, never leave me. How could you use a poor maiden so.”
It is no wonder that tests of a young man’s faithfulness are a quite common theme. However, it is also not surprising that the emotions of love, jealousy, the desire to be beautiful, are frequent subjects.
In “The Beauty and the Beast” it is love that turns a beast into a human. It is love that rescues Ragnheiður from the curse placed upon her.
“The Troll Wife” goes beyond that to a statement about the difference in substance and appearance.
“The Troll Wife” has a lot to say about values. The values of Eva, the wife, who puts beauty above everything, wants nothing more than popularity, and seeks materialistic fulfillment from other people. The values of Ragnheiður who sees in Eva’s husband, Svein, not a man with a physical deformity but a man with many virtues. The values of Svein who is practical, hard working, kind and loyal.
Ragnheiður is a night troll. If she is touched by daylight, she will turn to stone. She has magical powers for she knows what Eva has wished and she can grant the wish. She is ethical, moral, for she makes no effort to undermine the situation between the husband and wife. She helps Eva with untangling the nets and she offers a warning to Eva about her future life and wishes her well.
Night trolls were usually considered dangerous and terrifying. But Ragnheiður is only a night troll because of a curse. She is actually, under her outward appearance, a beautiful woman. She implies that the curse was the result of jealousy brought about by her beauty. Certainly, beauty is two-edged. It can bring popularity but also jealousy and envy. Ragnheiður, from her experience, grants beauty to Eva but, based on her own experience, doubts it will bring her happiness.
Ragnheiður and Svein prosper because they love each other and work as one, expecting nothing from each other but giving much to each other.
The story also might have something to say about the power of love to transform people.

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