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Literature / Three Billy Goats Gruff

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"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. Because fairytale trolls are simple, easily foolable creatures, 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, the goat 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.

This story provides examples of:

  • An Aesop: In addition to the four mentioned in the article, there are some more serious ones.
  • Gender Flip: Versions that may not have looked up the meaning of the word "Billy" sometimes make one of the goats (often the middle one) a female.
  • Mugging the Monster: The troll had no idea that the eldest goat could kick his ass when he tried to eat the guy.
  • Rule of Three: Three goat brothers.
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  • Talking Animal: Goats and trolls have no trouble talking with each other.
  • Troll Bridge: A troll guarding a bridge is the antagonist here.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Inverted. The eldest brother is the toughest and the one who resolves everything. Though there is one version where the biggest brother actually starts off, and the youngest brother knocks the troll clear out of the story.

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 are Satyr-like beings that are the Summer Court's, more specifically Titania's, elite wetworks assets, and nearly always operate in teams of three. Their primary duty is killing trolls and in the Dresdenverse, trolls are tough, even by the standards of the supernatural. The Gruffs are not only powerful, but also intelligent, pragmatic and fearless, to the point where they are more than happy to use firearms and explosives when the situation calls for it. 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.
    • One of the earliest works (it's in the first collection of short stories) does in fact involve a troll hiding under a bridge.
  • 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 10,000 gold more 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.
  • The story is actually the inspiration behind Stephen King's novel It. There are two scenes that stand out in this regard, Georgie was Bill's baby brother who was killed when he came across IT in a storm drain, causing Bill to start looking for Georgie's killer. This parallels the relationship between the eldest goat and the youngest goat, as the eldest goat was the protector of his siblings. The death of Adrian Mellon is a more blatant example, as he is killed by IT after being thrown off of a bridge.


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

Video Games

  • King's Quest I, where you have to lead a billy goat along to a Troll guarding a bridge.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: An Easter Egg to be found is that one of the bridges in the game has a dead troll under it, with a rather pathetic note on its corpse, referencing this story.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim also has its own Easter Egg on the tale here.
  • In Simon the Sorcerer, you can find a troll blocking a bridge with a picket line while engaged in negotiations with the goats, who happen to be his employers.
  • In The Wolf Among Us, the "Trip Trap" bar was named after the fairy tale and it belongs to a troll named Holly, who inherited it from her mother. The lore reveals that the bar was lost in a bet and the mountain trolls were the ones who gave it the name "Trip Trap".
  • One of the regions in Ni no Kuni is called Billy Goat's Bluff, as part of the in-universe theme of locations having names that reference fairy tales.

Western Animation

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

Alternative Title(s): The Three Billy Goats Gruff