Literature / Three Billy Goats Gruff

"The Three Billy Goats Gruff" is a traditional Norwegian Fairy Tale, collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jorgen Moe, concerning three billy goats (that's a term for a male goat) who are siblings (or in other variants a grandfather, father and son) and a troll who lives under a bridge. The goats want to cross the bridge to get to the plentiful grass on the other side.

The youngest and smallest goat crosses the bridge first. (At this point, if reading to a small child, it is traditional to say "trip trap, trip trap". Please imagine your own trip-trappings for the sake of efficiency.) The troll pops up and says; "Who's that trip-trapping over my bridge?"

The goat pleads with the troll to let him go because he's only small and skinny, but his brother is much bigger and meatier. Stupidly, the troll agrees to this, and lets the little goat go on his way.

Next the second goat comes along, and the process is repeated. The medium-sized goat tells the troll to wait for his bigger brother. (At this point, we can only hope that these goats knew their eldest sibling would be capable, as otherwise, serious questions must be raised about their filial loyalty) The troll, greed getting the better of him, agrees to wait for the third goat.

The third goat, unfortunately for the troll, turns out to be a badass among goats, and when the troll pops up to say his catch phrase, trounces the troll and throws him off the bridge. The goats all then live happily on the other side of the bridge. The End.

The moral of the story, presumably, is that the grass actually is greener on the other side, patience is not a virtue, violence solves everything, pass the buck if you're scared of facing a problem, and you shouldn't mess with goats. A Family-Unfriendly Aesop perhaps, it still remains a very popular story.

This story provides examples of:

This story is referenced in:

  • In The Troll Hunter, Hans ties three increasingly large billy goats to the top of a bridge as bait for a troll.

  • In The Dresden Files, the Gruffs Satyr-like beings that are the Summer Court's, more specifically Titania's, elite wetworks assets. Their primary duty is killing trolls and in the Dresdenverse, trolls are tough, even by the standards of the supernatural. Eldest Brother Gruff is capable of pimp-smacking fallen angels without breaking a sweat. And there's a confirmed total of nine of them, and it's reasonable to assume that there are actually more.
    • It's worth noting that the Gruffs, as per the tale, get progressively bigger, up to the second eldest "Tiny" Gruff, who's twelve feet tall and has knuckles the size of cantaloupes. Eldest Gruff, the most powerful by a landslide and a half, is five feet tall and capable of destroying Fallen angels and killing Senior Council members in fair combat.
  • Discworld's trolls have a longstanding rivalry with goats.
    • In Lords and Ladies, the Bursar unwisely makes a point of telling the Lancre bridge troll (acting as customs officer) that they didn't have any billy goats with them. Modest hilarity ensues.
    • In Monstrous Regiment, a bridge troll will charge you extra if you have billy goats with you.
    • In the short story "Troll Bridge", Mica the troll has no knowledge of any billy goats, and doesn't know why his wife keeps bringing them up.
  • "Troll Bridge", a short story by Neil Gaiman, is a variation in which, instead of a succession of goats, there's a single human who twice manages to persuade the troll that if it lets him go, there'll be more of him to eat next time he crosses the bridge. The third encounter, of course, goes rather differently.
  • Used, very appropriately, in John Barth's Giles Goat Boy. The protagonist, who has been raised from childhood among a herd of goats, is visited by an old lady who reads him the story as an opening gambit in her attempts to reacculturate him to humanity.

  • Mountain goats in Rift drop an item called "Goat Gruff".

Video Games

Western Animation
  • Animaniacs has its own version with the Warners as the goats.

Alternative Title(s): The Three Billy Goats Gruff