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Trolls in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, unlike the monstrous trolls of folklore and J. R. R. Tolkien, have been subverted into a moderately civilised race. Trolls on the Discworld are, essentially, living, mobile rocks. Trolls have grown to overcome those vicious stereotypes of yore and have lived very prosperous lives in heavily populated cities with (relatively) little killing, and they have held jobs as diverse as police officer and concert promoter. They have also held jobs as "bridgekeepers," collecting tolls from those that cross their bridges. It is relatively harmless, although farmers in the company of billy goats have to pay a hefty toll.
Unlike the flesh and blood Troll of Scandinavian folklore that turn to stone only when exposed to daylight, Disc trolls are stone all the time, but become dormant and sluggish during daylight. Trolls are made of "metamorphorical rock" (a play on metamorphic rock and metaphorical), which means that trolls take on some of the appearance and characteristics of certain stones and minerals, after which they are usually named. The most extreme example of this is the pitiful troll Brick in the novel Thud!, Ankh-Morpork born and bred, who took on the appearance of the man-made bricks of his city home. Some trolls are made of sedimentary rock and trolls who have taken the forms of more solid minerals are sometimes prejudiced against their sedimentary kin. On very rare occasions, a troll made of diamond is born. These trolls are vastly more intelligent than most trolls, as their reflective bodies allow them to ward off heat and regulate their internal temperature. A diamond troll is the indisputable king of the trolls, whether it wants to be or not.
The common troll is nocturnal. Their natural tendency to spend daylight hours dormant led to the stories of them turning to stone when hit by the sun. Though apparently unintelligent, this is due to heat negatively affecting the conductivity of their silicon brains, which operate in a similar fashion to computer circuits (in essence a trollish form of hyperthermia). In the coldness of the high mountain areas that they usually call home, they can, in certain respects, be quite clever. When sufficiently deep-frozen, they can perform exceptional mathematical feats, possibly involving quantum computing. Oddly, the silicon-based trolls are capable of freezing to death if exposed to sufficiently cold temperatures, although the book Men At Arms makes it clear that such temperatures are far lower than fleshly creatures, such as dwarfs, could survive.
Rock and stone is also the natural diet of trolls, and they have diamond teeth to enable this. Quartz is held to be unhealthy, as it "clogs the arteries", and ammonites are also avoided as a sign of the rock having gone stale. Trolls frequently use the word coprolite where a human would refer to fresher fecal matter; this may have a physiological analogue. They may gain some nutrition from the mineral content of carbon-based animals but not much, and occasionally cite this as the reason trolls did not (or at least do not) eat people (they never did actually eat people; they always spat out the bits).
Trolls often drink molten minerals for recreation. Due to the heat affecting their brains, this has the much same effect on them as alcohol does on humans. Electrolyte solutions have a similar effect, presumably more directly. One such drink is the Electrick Floorbanger (a reference to the Harvey Wallbanger drink), which is made by dropping copper and silver coins into vinegar, forming a crude battery. Troll "beer" is ammonium sulfide dissolved in alcohol.
"Slab" (a street name for ammonium chloride mixed with radium) has a similar effect to electrolyte drinks, but much more severely. It eventually melts the troll's brain. The clean version generally makes a troll sit in a corner to watch the colours, but variants exist with more disturbing effects ("disturbing" for either the troll, anyone nearby, or both).
Trolls are theoretically immortal, but as they get older they get bigger and slower and tend to be more inclined to sit and think. They call this "getting philosophy". Eventually they just stop moving altogether, gradually "decomposing" or eroding into an oddly shaped heap of minerals with a tiny living spark in the center. Many of the Discworld's mountains are actually very old trolls.
Their scientific or species name (in Latatian) is Stultus Saxum (i.e. "Dumb Rock").
Troll society is based on rocks and hitting people. They have numerous gods, all of whom bless their worshippers by hitting them on the head with a rock. Trolls believe in a heaven located underground, possibly because of a philosophizing troll's tendency to become part of the landscape. Troll courtships generally consist in the male troll hitting the female troll on the head with a suitably attractive rock followed after that by a candle lit dinner for two with a human as main course (although it is no longer considered polite to eat humans). Some female trolls, through contact with other races, have taken a more feminist approach to courting and now hit the males that they have chosen. In Nanny Ogg's Cookbook, it is also revealed that the sight of troll women wearing clothes excites male trolls. She says there is a club in Ankh-Morpork where the troll dancers end up wearing seven layers of heavy blankets.
Troll society consists of numerous tribes, with frequent fights between them (although to trolls, this would be a spirited argument). They can only be united by a Diamond King.
Trolls tend to be named after rocks, minerals and geological features, such as Detritus, Flint, and Mica, to name a few. Female trolls tend to be named for precious stones, such as "Jade" or "Ruby."
One of the more sophisticated aspects of Trollish culture is their traditional view of time. As the past, where we have been, can be 'seen', whereas the future, where we are going, cannot be seen, they logically conclude we are going through time facing backwards. Also, since they are a nocturnal race, the trollish equivalent of the "Dawn of Time" is the "Sunset of Time."
Some troll tribes play a game called aargrooha, which is rather much like soccer. The game involves kicking a human head around on a field with obsidian boots until one side scores a goal or the head bursts, although civilized trolls claim to never play this game anymore (they can't make the boots).
Other known games include a boardgame somewhat similar to chess, in which players set pieces on a board and wait for them to move of their own accord, and a game consisting of throwing rocks in the air and betting on whether or not they will come down. Troll games as a whole are stated to be closely bound up with troll religion and sometimes rather difficult to understand. There is also the Troll/dwarf game of Thud.
Trolls normally express themselves in a very physical way, and according to Samuel Vimes, trollish is "basically body language, and they like to shout". However, they do have a spoken language, although the extent to which it is used commonly among the different tribes is unknown. Troll characters appearing in the novels thus far generally appear to speak the same language as local humans as well. "Street troll" is a term used to refer to the slang version of Morporkian spoken by city trolls. Known trollish words include:
- Aagragaah - "Forebodings", "lit'rally der time when you see dem little pebbles an' you jus' know there's gonna be a great big landslide on toppa you and it already too late to run" in Detritus' translation. Presumed to stem from the sound you'll make when you see the rocks rushing towards you.
- Aaoograha hoa - "She who must be avoided" in Nanny Ogg's translation. A name for Granny Weatherwax.
- Aargrooha - The name of a sport, see Troll Culture above.
- Aaroograhaa - The precise moment at which dog droppings turn white, according to Detritus in Discworld Noir
- Gahanka - The troll war beat, made by pounding clubs against the ground in unison, and gradually speeding up. In Thud! it is said that within 10 minutes of hearing the Gahanka, you're dead
- Ggroohauga - "Music made from rocks". Percussion music achieved by means of rocks of different sizes, shapes and mineral compositions being banged together or hit with hammers. Not to be confused with Music with Rocks In.
- Ghuhg - A profanity. Exact translation unknown. Presumably a verb.
- Goohuloog - Translation unknown, used in Detritus' "troll oath" in Men at Arms: "I will do what I told - otherwise I get my goohuloog head kicked in". From the context it is probably a profanity of sorts.
- Groophar - In Monstrous Regiment, Jade defines "groophar" (in the context of "groophar stupidity") as "when, right, a daddy troll an' a mummy troll --" before getting cut off
- Horug - An offensive term for dwarfs
- Luglarr - "Big Hammer". An extremely potent type of troll beer.
- Oograh - All types of vegetation, which is superfluous given the usual troll diet.
- Taka Taka - the trollish war club.
- Wukwuk - a Slab cigarette. Also a body part that such a cigarette resembles.
Literacy and Numeracy
Many non-trolls stereotypically assume that trolls are either illiterate/innumerate or barely not. This, like many stereotypes, is untrue.
Trolls may have the oldest written language on the Disc. Samples of troll pictograms engraved on basalt slabs have been found in rock layers dating back 500,000 years. A sample translation of these ancient pictograms, found in Thud!, reveals a very isolating grammatic structure.
- Him who mountain crush him no
- Him who sun him stop him no
- Him who hammer him break him no
- Him who fire him fear him no
- Him who raise him head above him heart
- Him diamond
Trolls have a numeral system of their own, based on powers of 4. The base numerals are one (1), two (2), three (3), many (4) and lots (16), which can be combined to form higher numbers. When combined, each numeral's value is added to those of the others. Higher-valued numerals take priority over lower-valued ones, so that 4 is written "many" and not "two-two" or "three-one" and 20 is written "lots many" rather than "many many many many many". If there are no ones, twos or threes, the number is written with spaces between the numerals; if any exist a hyphen replaces the space between every numeral. With only the revealed numerals the system rapidly becomes unwieldy in higher numbers (for example, one hundred twenty-six in English becomes lots-lots-lots-lots-lots-lots-lots-many-many-many-two in trollish numerals, assuming that they do not have numerals higher than lots), but this may not bother the trolls.
Some trolls, particularly musicians, prefer to count "one, two, many, lots", although how they continue from there is unknown, even to some of them. For example, Jade in Monstrous Regiment says she "ran outa numbers" at that point.
In Men at Arms, Detritus was able to count in a purely binary system after some teaching by Cuddy the dwarf ("A sixteen, an eight, a four and a one"), possibly a joke relating to their silicon brains, and invented higher forms of mathematics while locked in a cold-storage warehouse, although this hasn't been observed on any other occasion; Detritus is able to be somewhat smarter than the average troll even under normal circumstances since he wears a cooling hat / helmet created for him by Cuddy. (It is interesting to note that under the same circumstances, Chrysophrase, who is implied to be one of the smartest trolls on the Disc, still spoke poorly. Samuel Vimes theorizes that Chrysophrase did this solely to try to keep him off guard, although it may be that Detritus is more temperature-sensitive; even less intelligent when warm, even more intelligent than normal when cold.)
Trolls and other cultures
Troll society is unsophisticated, but some trolls in urban areas such as Ankh-Morpork manage to direct their tendency towards violence in more civilised directions. Many trolls have joined the City Watch, beginning with Sergeant Detritus. Others have found a niche in the opposing profession; there is a troll organised crime family called the Breccia, led by the "Ton" Chrysoprase.
Trolls and dwarfs have an ongoing feud, ostensibly stemming from one being a race of living rocks, and the other being a race of miners. But really, this feud goes on because it is a tradition strongly ground into the cultures of both races. Representatives of both races have, however, been known to get along very well, especially in the case of Detritus and Cuddy, but this is rare. In the novel Thud! it is revealed that Koom Valley, the famous troll/dwarf battle, was actually an attempt to sign a peace treaty between dwarfs and trolls and in this novel the tensions grow weaker.
Other kinds of troll
Discworld yeti are a kind of troll that dwell in the high Ramtops. They are noted for having thick, white, insulating rock-based fur, and large feet, which are considered an aphrodisiac in the Agatean Empire. At least some tribes are unaware that attempting to eat humans is considered inappropriate these days. Yeti have a hunting technique of lying still in the snow until their prey is near them, then pouncing.
The most surprising thing about yeti is their ability to manipulate time. A yeti can "save" its life up to a certain point and, at the point of death, can return to that point, with the knowledge of what was going to kill it (a clear reference to video games—Terry Pratchett is known to be a gamer). According to the History Monks, the entire species has been rendered extinct three times.
One species considered a relative of trolls are gargoyles. Gargoyles are either urban trolls who formed a symbiosis with guttering, or pieces of stonemasonry initially brought to life by accident, or perhaps by the standing magical field of the Unseen University. They are mainly filter-feeders, but also consider pigeons to be a particular delicacy, partially out of spite for the birds. Many are employed by the Ankh-Morpork Watch, and more recently by the Grand Trunk Semaphore Company (the clacks), due to their ability to stay in one place watching for long periods of time. They have no concept of money, and are paid in pigeons. A gargoyle's personal identity is closely tied into its normal location; one example answered to the name of "Cornice-Overlooking-Broadway". Most gargoyles are unable to close their mouths, and consequently have some trouble pronouncing many human phonemes (consonants in particular). Apart from this, they are quite capable of understanding and speaking Morporkian.
Another relative to the troll is the Gnoll, which resemble a humanoid with a compost heap strapped to their back, and seem too organic to really be a kind of troll. It has been suggested that they have the same relationship to soil as trolls have to rock, though nobody seems to want to do an in-depth study. They are scavengers of anything that doesn't struggle, although there are rumours. Nobody has really closely enquired into what it is they scavenge. Many of the gnolls in Ankh-Morpork work for Harry King, collecting rubbish for recycling, although they have to be watched to ensure they don't eat it.
It isn't known why Gnolls hoard rubbish. One possible reason is that collectors of carefully sorted kinds of faeces are held in high renown among the gnoll community. Another is simply that they are saving it for later.
Sea Trolls are made of water, have a tendency to suffer from fish and chronic tides, (as related in The Colour of Magic) and are notoriously long-lived, even by trollish standards. A sea troll named Tethis was encountered by Rincewind in The Colour of Magic. Tethis' body was made up of animated water, as opposed to the more normal rock, and his height and body shape changed with the tides. He was a Lengthman for Krull, which meant that he patrolled the vast nets the citizens of that continent arranges around the rim of the Disc (the 'Circumfence'), to trap debris from falling off the edge of the Disc. Tethis himself however claims to have come from another world altogether, named Bathys, and to have passed through space in a frozen state after falling off the edge. Tethis and other 'sea trolls' like him have never appeared in any of the other books, possibly suggesting that there is no similar race native to the Discworld.
While Tethis was in the Potent Voyager along with Twoflower at the end of The Colour of Magic, he is not in the ship in the sequel, The Light Fantastic, and no mention is made of him or his fate. It is possible that the universal reshift at the beginning of that book returned him home.
See Discworld gods
According to The Discworld Companion, there exist, in addition to humanoid trolls, troll dogs, troll horses and troll ducks (although the ducks tend to sink). However, none of these have been seen in the novels thus far.
Brick is a young Gutter troll in the novel Thud!. He is described as being emaciated by troll standards, having a texture and pattern to his hide that makes him resemble a brick wall (due to being made of "metamorphorical rock," and having been born in Ankh-Morpork). To make himself look tougher he wears a belt of rubber skulls, although the effect is somewhat spoiled by the skull with a red nose. He is so down and out that even his lichen is fake. Samuel Vimes, upon seeing him, classifies him as the loser's loser. Brick regularly used troll drugs scrounged from the few gutter trolls who didn't always throw things at him when they saw him, and was generally considered to have sunk somewhat lower than the gutter.
Brick becomes involved in the Discworld mythos when he falls through a basement floor into a dwarf tunnel, whereupon he witnesses a Dwarf beating another dwarf in the head with a Troll club. He takes part in a street "fight" where he strikes Commander Vimes, breaking his ribs; before Brick can hit Vimes again, he is attacked by A.E. Pessimal (whom Brick mistakes for a gnome), and Detritus takes him into custody. Upon his release he searches out Mr. Shine. Brick later is brought back to the Watch by the same. Eventually, Sergeant Detritus of the City Watch takes in Brick and seems to unofficially adopt him. Detritus was convinced of Brick's potential after Brick was found still conscious, and, what's more, still walking after having a few mugs of a potent troll beverage, the name of which translates to Big Hammer.
Brick appears to have been made a watchman at the end of Thud!, as he and Lance-Constable Sally are on guard at the cave of the kings. Later, in an inner monologue, he says that Detritus tells him he can aspire to be a 'lance-constable' one day, a rank that makes much money and comes with a shiny badge.
He was mentioned in the novel Snuff by Lady Sybil and she mentions Sgt. Detritus did in fact adopt him.
Chrysoprase is the local godfather (or "Ton") of the Breccia troll organised crime family and owns the troll hotel known as the Gritz and the Cavern nightclub. He is more obviously at home in Ankh-Morpork than most trolls; his features are deliberately polished smooth and he wears a suit rather than the usual loincloth and lichen. Vimes dryly notes the troll's ability to emulate human behavior makes him even more insidious. His understanding of civilized behaviour is that violence is barbaric, but paying other people to do it is business. He also wears diamond jewellery, apparently made from the teeth of trolls who moved against him (an allusion to Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby, who wears "ivory" cufflinks made from human molars). He considers himself a fine example of a troll achieving great success in a foreign culture and is the head of the Silicon Anti-Defamation League, which seeks to raise the issue of discrimination against trolls by humans and dwarfs in Ankh-Morpork. He is first mentioned in Wyrd Sisters (as "Chrystoprase"), and appears in Soul Music and Thud!. The Light Fantastic briefly features a troll called Krysoprase, who was confirmed to be the same character in The Discworld Companion (it was attributed to the fact that trolls are terrible spellers).
Detritus began as a hired thug and later a "splatter" at the Mended Drum. In Moving Pictures, he was used by C.M.O.T. Dibbler as hired muscle in his takeover of Century of the Fruitbat Pictures. While in Holy Wood, Detritus met and fell in love with another troll, called Ruby, who insisted that he get a better job than hitting people for money. Detritus' relationship with Ruby has been mentioned infrequently since; in Thud! they are described as 'happily married-but-childless.' Over the course of that novel, Detritus takes the severely drug-dependent young troll, named Brick, under his wing, the implication being that Detritus and Ruby want children.
As a result of Ruby's insisting he improve himself, he joined the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, and made friends with the dwarf, Cuddy, in Men at Arms. When Corporal Carrot formed the Ankh-Morpork City Militia, Detritus was promoted to Acting-Constable and it was during this time that he discovered his natural leadership abilities, as he was able to 'recruit' a large number of able-bodied men and trolls into the Militia and eventually into the reformed City Watch. When we next see Detritus in Feet of Clay, he has already made Sergeant, and by Night Watch he was heading up the Watch's training academy. He accompanied Samuel Vimes to Überwald for the negotiations in Bonk, in The Fifth Elephant, and was temporarily appointed 'cultural attache' by Vimes.
While Detritus does not have much imagination and was originally not highly regarded even by other trolls, he has become fairly intelligent by troll standards, especially since the end of Men At Arms when Cuddy made a clockwork cooling helmet which reduces the effect heat has on the conductivity of Detritus' silicon brain. Before having the helmet Detritus was considered one of the stupidest trolls on the Disc, which is saying something due to average troll intelligence. The helmet stopped working completely in the desert heat of Jingo, but has been repaired by the time of The Truth. Like all trolls, he becomes extremely intelligent as the temperature drops, once almost developing a grand unified theory of everything in several hours when locked in a 'Pork Futures' warehouse. This is unfortunately a nearly fatal experience, as the ideal temperature of operation for troll brains is also very close to the optimum point of troll death.
In contradiction to his species preference, his weapon of choice is not a club, but rather a converted siege-crossbow. Originally, this fired a blunt-but-enormous metal bolt, but after further modifications he made it to shoot a large bundle of wooden bolts at once and renamed the bow as the 'Piecemaker'(c.f. Colt Single Action Army, also known as the Peacemaker). Due to the various forces they are under, the bolts, once fired, quickly become an expanding cloud of high-speed burning wooden shrapnel, resembling less a crossbow and more a blunderbuss. The first time it was fired, it removed several archery targets, the bunker wall behind them, and a flock of seagulls directly above Detritus. Samuel Vimes appreciates its intimidation factor, but otherwise discourages its use except under extreme circumstances. As Vimes himself put it after a single shot from Piecemaker ripped a castle's gates to shreds, "Ye, Gods, Detritus. That's not a weapon. That's a national emergency." Vimes also once had to 'remind' Detritus that "When Mr safety catch is not on, Mr Crossbow is not your friend."
Mr. Shine is the current Diamond King of trolls. His crystalline structure allows him to maintain a cool internal body temperature, making him far more intelligent than the average troll. When travelling, he must conceal himself in a cloak because his appearance is blinding to most eyes, as well to increase his own safety by concealing his valuable body. He was instrumental in preventing a dwarf-troll conflict in Thud!.