Three Billy Goats Gruff

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The White House 2003 Christmas decoration using "Three Billy Goats Gruff" as the theme.

"Three Billy Goats Gruff" (Norwegian: De tre bukkene Bruse) is a Norwegian fairy tale.[1] The fairy tale was collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe in their Norske Folkeeventyr, first published between 1841 and 1844.[2] It has an "eat-me-when-I'm-fatter" plot (Aarne-Thompson type 122E).


The story introduces three male goats, sometimes identified as a youngster, father and grandfather, but more often described as brothers. In other adaptations, there is a baby or child goat, mama goat and papa goat. In any case, there is almost no grass left for them to eat near where they live, so they must cross a river to get to "sæter" (a meadow) or hillside on the other side of a stream in order to eat and fatten themselves up. To do so, however, they must first cross a bridge, under which lives a fearsome and hideous troll, who is so territorial that he eats anyone who tries to cross the bridge.

The smallest billy goat is the first to cross, and is stopped abruptly by the troll, who threatens to "gobble him up!" However, the little goat convinces the troll to wait for his big brother to come across, because he is larger and would make for a more gratifying feast. The greedy troll agrees and lets the smallest goat cross.

The medium-sized goat passes next. He is more cautious than his brother, but is also stopped by the troll and given the same threat. The second billy goat is allowed to cross as well after he tells the troll to wait for the biggest billy goat because he is the largest of the three.

The third billy goat then gets on the bridge and is stopped by the hungry troll. When the troll threatens to devour him, however, the third billy goat challenges him and knocks the troll off the bridge with his horns. The troll falls into the stream and is carried away by the current. From then on the bridge is safe, and all three goats are able to go to the rich fields around the summer farm in the hills, and they all live happily ever after.

Adaptations and cultural references[edit]





  • The tale also comes into play during the first King's Quest (1983) game. A troll is guarding a bridge Graham needs to cross. The optimum solution to the puzzle is to lure a goat over to the bridge. Upon seeing the troll, the goat is angered, and butts it into the river below.
  • The tale is also included in the video game Simon the Sorcerer (1993).
  • In the video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011), near a place called Purewater Run, there is a stone bridge near a waterfall. If it is the player's first time there, they will see three goats; upon looking under the bridge, they will find a dead troll.


  • The first version of the story in English appeared in George Webbe Dasent's translation of some of the Norske Folkeeventyr, published as Popular Tales from the Norse (1859).[4]
  • An abbreviated version of this tale is used in "3-Part Puzzle" by Gordon R. Dickson,[5] translated into an ET language as "The THREE (Name) (Domestic Animals) (Name)" (and the (horrendous, carnivorous, mythical creature). The ET Envoy is puzzled over the glee that children show over this "simple and boring" "lesson in tactics".
  • Stephen King's It (1986) alludes to this story.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Lords and Ladies (1992) refers to this story.
  • Neil Gaiman adapted the story for Snow White, Blood Red (1993), an anthology of children's fairy tales retold for adults. In Gaiman's version (entitled "Troll Bridge"), the troll approaches a young boy who has crossed his bridge and demands to "eat his life." The boy eventually persuades the troll to wait until he has lived a little more, after which he will return to the bridge. The goats in this adaptation are represented by the protagonist as a child, a teenager and finally a middle-aged man. The story was nominated for a 1994 World Fantasy Award.[6]
  • The Billy Goats Gruff make an appearance in Jim Butcher, book Small Favor (2008), the tenth novel of the Dresden Files series .
  • Andri Snær Magnason's retells the story in the children's book Tímakistan (2013). This variant features a kid, its mother, and her husband. When the mother goat tells the troll to eat her husband instead of her, "the troll lost his appetite. 'What's the world coming to?', he cried. 'The kid tells me to eat its mother, and she tells me to eat her husband! Crazy family!'."[7] The troll goes home leaving the goats uneaten.
  • The tale is the inspiration of Kevin P. Futers's novel The Adventures of the Billy Goats Gruff, which is set in seventh-century Northumbria and includes goats are named Edgar, Bert, and Frith.[citation needed]


  • The tale appears to be cryptically referenced in the song "John Brown" (1988) by indie-rock band Masters of Reality. The lyrics are usually understood to be "John Brown, bring him down; pull his body to the ground. Left him up, for long enough; let me be the Baby Gruff."[8]
  • James Scott Balentine composed Kinderkonzerts, a chamber music setting for string quintet and narrator, with the text adapted by Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio, for the Cactus Pear Music Festival.[9]
  • The song "Much Chubbier" by Nerdcore rapper MC Frontalot on his album Question Bedtime (2014) is a retelling of the story.

Radio productions[edit]

Stage productions[edit]

  • Gwen Edwards adapted the story into a popular children's musical called Billy, Goat, Gruff: The Musical (summer 2007), at Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia.[11]
  • Lazy Bee Scripts published Billy Goat Gruff (2009), a simple play for young children.[12]


  • In 2008, the BBC created a modern adaptation for its Fairy Tales TV series. In this, the story was given a twist in that the troll was presented as a tragic, cruelly maligned victim:

The troll character is dirty and smelly and everybody is frightened of him, and I think that heightens the pathos of the ending, because it’s a witch hunt, without any evidence.[13]


  1. ^ Encyclopedia of American folklore: Facts on File library of American literature. Author: Linda S. Watts. Publisher: Infobase Publishing, 2007. ISBN 0-8160-5699-4, ISBN 978-0-8160-5699-6. page 383.
  2. ^ Asbjørnsen and Moe
  3. ^ "Three Billy Goats Gruff". Youtube. 
  4. ^ Dasent, G. W. Dasent. "The Three Billy-Goats Gruff". Popular Tales from the Norse. p. 313. 
  5. ^ Dickson, Gordon (1988). Beginnings. Baen Books. pp. 51–53. ISBN 0-671-65429-2. 
  6. ^ Neil Gaiman, "Smoke and Mirrors"
  7. ^ 'Þá missti tröllkarlinn matarlystina. Hvert er heimurinn að fara? hrópaði hann. Kiðlingurinn segir mér að éta móður sína og hún segir mér að éta manninn sinn. Hvílík fjölskylda!'; Andri Snær Magnason, Tímakistan (Reykjavík: Mál og Menning, 2013), p. 131.
  8. ^ "Masters of Reality "John Brown" lyrics". 
  9. ^ Balentine, James Scott (composer) & Sant’Ambrogio, Stephanie. "Kinderkonzerts". Cactus Pear Music Festival. Guildhian Music. 
  10. ^ "Children's Favourites". 2005-11-28. Retrieved 2010-06-09. 
  11. ^ "It's curtains up on Barter's '07 season". 
  12. ^ "Billy Goat Gruff". Lazy Bee Scripts. 2009. 
  13. ^ Horne, Mathew & Deacon, Michael (Postscript) (May 1, 2008). "Once upon a time...". Daily Telegraph. 

External links[edit]