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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.
  • All Trolls Are Different: The troll in the story is a great ugly monster living under a bridge described as having "eyes as big as saucers and a nose as long as a poker". This folkloric portrayal of trolls solidified foreign perception of such beings when the story got popular in nineteenth century Britain after being translated to English, and the image of trolls as gullible large long-nosed monsters dwelling under bridges influenced many later depictions around the world.
  • Eye Scream: The oldest billy goat uses his horns to poke out the troll's eyes.
  • 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.
  • Guile Hero: The goats survive the troll by arguing that it would be more advantageous for him to wait for the next, meatier brother, only the oldest goat to be too strong for the troll to eat and push him off the bridge.
  • 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 encounter the troll, and three times does he roar asking for who is tripping above the bridge.
  • Talking Animal: Goats and trolls have no trouble talking with each other.
  • Troll Bridge: Possibly the Trope Codifier. A troll guarding a bridge is the antagonist here, and thanks to this tale, many depictions of trolls later to its publication and translation portray them as sleping or living under bridges and attacking passersby.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): The Three Billy Goats Gruff