In the Three Billy Goats Gruff, the protagonists spend their lives mainly eating grass and not planning for the future. There is no contingency for what they will do when the grass runs out, and they do not adequately ration themselves. Thus, the grass upon which they graze runs out relatively soon after we have joined the story. This is viewed as a ‘natural’ thing, as if grass does not renew itself and, if they had thought ahead, they could have limited their consumption in such a way that they would forever be able to graze from fresh meadows. As a result of this ‘oversight’, the goats are viewed as the heroes of the story.
These heroes then, opportunistically, spy a tranche of land with grass they want but that is some way away from them, far away enough that they need to embark on a journey that involves crossing a bridge. There is no question of ownership of this land, and when, upon setting hoof on the bridge, they are confronted by a troll, they do not consider the troll’s possessiveness may be related to his ownership of the land that they are going to strip of its grass. What, say, if the troll had plans to acquire a milking cow, and graze that in the field? He would be well within his rights to consider three goats impinging onto his grass without so much as a by-your-leave as something of a nuisance. The troll, however, being a troll is viewed in the fairy tale community as a villain. I accept that his threat to eat the goats does not play well on the troll. However, my knowledge of troll culture is relatively limited. Perhaps ‘I’ll eat you’ is similar to ‘I’ll kill you’ to a human; thus, if the troll was simply being protective ‘I’ll kill you if you eat my grass’ wouldn’t be seen as being a threat of actual murder (really) so the threat of eating would be at much the same level.
Furthermore are not given any information about the troll. We are only told of his actions which, admittedly, don’t paint him in a positive light, but nothing more. The troll’s actions must be assumed to be reasoned, unless we take the troll to be irrational (and there’s nothing to suggest that he is) and as such the reasoning behind them is perhaps more important than the actions themselves. To jump to the conclusion of negativity without knowing the reason for it is naïve indeed and goat-sympathisers throughout the years have been doing exactly that. There is no question at all that the goats themselves are at fault because of their lack of forward planning.
The goats are the aggressors in the story. After their lack of planning is highlighted, they set out to another pasture without giving a thought for its owners. When questioned about their actions, they rely on the position of the bully and get the largest of their number to butt the troll –who may well be protecting his own interests –into the river. Then, having committed this assault, the goats live on, scot-free, in happiness while the troll, in never being seen again, presumably drowns in the stream.
I posit, then, not that the troll was acting with malice aforethought, nor that he isn’t doing so, but simply that we cannot know. We do not know enough of the troll to come to these conclusions. He is a short-tempered character, certainly. Does a short-temper warrant brutal assault resulting in a watery grave? There’s no way you can argue it does. The troll, regardless of his reasoning, is wrongly treated by the goats. His demise deserves to be seen as a tragedy for troll-kind rather than a perverse victory for goats.
History has painted the troll wrongly. He deserves better.