A Moral Dilemma in Oyvind Torseter’s “The Heartless Troll”

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Myra here.

I have been meaning to review this graphic novel during our previous reading theme when I featured Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran’s Troll Bridge, but I thought I better save it for our 2016 Best of the Best in books. It is one of the most unique, stark, and fully developed fairy-tale based graphic novel I have read in awhile.


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The Heartless Troll

Written and Illustrated by: Øyvind Torseter Translated from the Norwegian by: Kari Dickson
Published by: Enchanted Lion Books, 2016 ISBN: 1592701930 (ISBN13: 9781592701933)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

Based on the Norwegian fairy tale entitled The Troll With No Heart In His Body by Asbjørnsen and Moe, this is a story of young Prince Fred’s quest to save his older six brothers who left their kingdom to find wives – only to be turned into stones by a terrible troll as they were on their way back home with their brides.

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The story seems fairly simple enough – you have the youngest son out to prove himself to his father by saving his older brothers, as he goes on a quest, heart filled with courage. On his journey, Prince Fred comes across creatures whom he tries to help – who will (as all fairy tales go) eventually find him in the end when he is seemingly stuck for some reason or another to help him out: the proverbial adage of one good turn deserves another. Again, pretty standard as fairytales go.

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Yet despite the familiar storyline, one could already trace European resonances of stretching the deceptively simple story a bit further into uncharted territories. For one, Prince Fred reminded me a little bit of Finland’s beloved Moomin. While courageous, he struck me as fairly nondescript and just a wee-bit simple-minded without necessarily being outrightly dumb. It was kind of like leaving the fate of a kingdom in the hands of a cartoon character who looks a bit like a donkey and a moomin and does not truly inspire that much confidence. Things took a turn for the somewhat-dark when Prince Fred finally arrived at the troll’s lair where he found not the Heartless Troll but his captive Princess.

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This time, I am reminded of Jack and the Beanstalk, except that Jack was helped by the Ogre’s wife who appeared ancient and grandmother-like. In this story, we have a young, nubile Princess wrapped up in wiles, seemed pretty much adept at deception, and determined to help our intrepid, wide-eyed hero armed with nothing but his trusty knapsack and fearless heart.

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Not surprisingly, Prince Fred and the Troll’s Princess begin to carry out an unacknowledged love affair on the side, as the latter vowed to help Fred find the Troll’s heart. It is difficult to find fault with the unfaithful Princess, because she is, after all trapped in this dank and damp lair (she had books and porridge to keep her company, though); add the fact that the hulking troll whose heart is hidden outside of its body is every bit as frightening and terrible as the scratchy fonts look:

Yet as the story progresses and Prince Fred and the deceitful Princess get the upper hand as the latter tricks the Troll with sweet words and scattered flowers to find out where the Troll’s heart is, the reader begins to wonder who, in fact, is the more heartless creature here.

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What I found to be particularly compelling was the scene when Prince Fred had to decide whether to destroy the Troll’s Heart so that all the creatures whom he turned to stone (such as his brothers – which is his quest to begin with) or whom he kept captive (such as the Princess) would finally be set free.

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I think it is to Øyvind Torseter’s credit that while clearly the troll is heartless and despicable (the littered skulls and bones of failed heroes in his cave are testament to that), it still makes the reader wonder about the moral dilemma Prince Fred faced: to be merciful or to be heartless himself as he vanquished the villain by destroying its heart. One of the best graphic novels I’ve read last year – and one that I would unreservedly recommend.

1 Comment on A Moral Dilemma in Oyvind Torseter’s “The Heartless Troll”

  1. Sounds very interesting, Myra! Difficult dilemma.

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1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. A Play in Perspective in Norwegian Artist Oyvind Torseter’s “The Hole” – Gathering Books

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