The Strange Troll and
The Sunbeam

Hjalmar Bergman
The story opens with a querulous, miserable troll child, bellyaching as usual in the nursery of his parents' perpetually dark troll castle. One day, by pure accident, a sunbeam steals into his nursery through a tiny hole in the ceiling. The troll child, who had of course never seen a sunbeam before, is utterly enchanted and plays with the sunbeam. This ends when his troll mother discovers this irregularity and shrieks: "Eeek, Eeek! A sunbeam in my castle! Kill it, kill it!" and chases the sunbeam away. She is, of course, deeply concerned that her little one ("my darling toad" she croons to him, "my sweet little bat") may have been psychologically scarred for life by exposure to a single sunbeam. And so he was. He never forgets the sunbeam, and for the rest of his life he conceals in his heart a great longing to see her again. He becomes, in short, the "strange" troll whose later life the story recounts:

"He grew up to be a splendid troll youth and learned all his forefathers' troll ways. With the years, he himself became a full-grown troll and he developed a big "trollery," which corresponds to what humans usually call a workshop or factory. Here he transformed withered leaves, grass, and flowers, all dead insects, birds, and other animals, into dark, rich, fertile earth. When he reached the age of two hundred, he was a mature troll, and when he reached five hundred years of age he was immensely rich... When, at age six hundred, the troll had built up an enormous fortune and retired from day-to-day affairs, he sought out another troll who was considered to be the cleverest in the kingdom.

The strange troll said to the clever troll: "Brother, I will present you with one tenth of my wealth if you tell me one thing: where can one buy sunbeams?" The clever troll would have laughed aloud at the strange troll, but he checked himself in time and thought to himself: "I nearly made a stupid move there, and that would have been too bad, since I have lived two thousand years without making one before." But what he said aloud was: "You've come to the right troll! Follow my advice and seek out the Man in the Moon. He is the retail dealer for sunbeams, and has a big inventory of them in stock." So he received one tenth of the fortune.

The strange troll then took a sickle with a sharp edge and a strong handle, fastened a long, long line to the handle and himself to the line's other end. Then he slung the sickle up toward the moon, and when it held fast in the moon's soil just between the feet of the Old Man, he shouted: "Heave ho, Old Man, heave ho!" The Old Man heaved and hauled, heaved and hauled, and it was not much more than 100 years before the troll set foot on the moon. When the Old Man in the Moon came to know what the question was, he said: "You're searching for a sunbeam, eh? Well, you have come to the right Old Man. But, hmmmm, what have you got in that big backpack of yours?"

"Two tenths of my fortune," answered the troll, "and it will be yours for a single little sunbeam." The Old Man took the pack, which was full of gold, and he said: "Look around and take your pick! Take a dozen and I'll throw in the thirteenth at no extra charge, for I am no cheapskate."

The troll looked around, and saw that a torrent of glittering beams flooded through a big gap in the moon mountain. They were beautiful enough, the troll thought, but they weren't sunbeams. And he said: "I can get as many like these as I wish on earth, and there we call them moonbeams."

"It is all very well," replied the Old Man, "that on earth they are called moonbeams but here sunbeams. And sunbeams they are, though I have improved them and taken out their sting and made them agreeable even for trolls. But since you reject my goods, we are done here." With that, he seized the poor troll around the waist and flung him out into space. The troll flew through space like a black bird, followed by billions of moonbeams, and it was scarcely another hundred years before he again stood on the earth.

"Ack, ack," he sighed, and groaned so fearfully that all the other trolls crept from their holes and tree-stumps and asked what was up. "A three-tenths part of my fortune I have offered," said the strange troll, "and yet I haven't gotten a single little sunbeam. Give me a good lead, dear brothers, and I shall give you the rest of my fortune!"

The ordinary trolls rubbed their hands together and threw their tails around each others' necks and danced with joy. The strange troll gave them the rest of his fortune, the regular trolls divided it among themselves, and one of them said: "Listen to our advice. You are so strange that you are almost like a human. Therefore follow our advice and get going to the humans, for you can't stay among us."

And they drove him out of the forest. The troll ran for his life, and all at once found himself in a town. It was blackest night, and the doors and windows of the houses were shut and dark, all except one. That one stood open, and in the room inside sat a man next to a burning lamp, reading a book. Books weighed down the table, books lay piled on the chairs and sofas, books lined the walls from floor to ceiling. And the troll thought to himself: "He who read so many books must be a very learned man. Perhaps he could procure a sunbeam for a poor old troll."

He plucked up his courage and leaped, landing on all fours in the middle of a heap of books on the floor. The learned man didn't take his eyes off the book, so brave was he. But he said: "I see you all right, you gargoyle, but you don't frighten me. Either you are a swindler in disguise, in which case I shall turn you over to the authorities, or else you are a troll; and in that case you don't exist, for Science has long since shown that there are no such things as trolls."

"This time I've picked the right man," thought the troll, "for he has even enough learning to work out that I don't exist, poor me." But aloud he said: "I am a poor troll who seeks a sunbeam. When I was little, I saw one and ever since I have kept in my heart a great longing so see one again."

When the man of learning heard that, he had a hard time keeping himself from laughing. And he said: "It must have been a strange sunbeam that you saw when you were little. Well, your desire is cheap and can easily be fulfilled. Sleep only an hour or two, and you will get to choose among billions of sunbeams. But if you have come to make a fool of me, be aware that I shall turn you over to the authorities."

And the learned man took a thick cover and spread it over the troll, who quickly went to sleep. When the sun came up and shown right in the window, the learned man woke the troll up and said to him: "Open your eyes and tell me what you see!"

The troll opened his eyes wide, and then the learned man yanked the cover off his head. Then the troll felt a violent pain in his eyes and saw a flash like a thousand and then another thousand bolts of lightning. Then he saw nothing more. "Oh, learned Sir, how dark it is!" he said. "I see neither moon nor stars, and not even my hands in front of my face!"

The sun had blinded him.

--- From Bland Tomtar Och Troll
Åhlén & Åkerlunds Förlag (1926)
Translated and abridged by Dr. Phage
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