And, I’ll eat you for supper!
My father used to read this to me with a grin, and I always asked him to read it again. It was fun to have my gentle smiling dad pretend to be a scary hobgoblin. Imagining magical creatures with him was always safe.
The troll who lived under the bridge ate anyone who crossed the bridge, and he was pictured in my story book as a hunched old creature with a big nose and long fingers. I remember the image better than the story.
It is an image that I see in my imagination every time someone on the Internet is referred to as a troll. Today’s trolls are more likely to be young men, but they have the same streak of nastiness as the fairytale bridge troll. They jump out when you least expect them, and they scare the bejeezus out of you. But, now it’s not fun, and it’s not safe.
Internet trolls like to criticize, argue, and insult. Mostly, though, they like to provoke people in the comments sections of news articles, blogs, and discussion boards. Nothing pleases them more than to have rapid and contentious responses to their words. A lot of the time these miserable creatures are also sexist and ageist, and I know when I’m not welcome.
Now that I think about it, there are other trolls in life. A person with anger-management issues can suddenly spin off in a rage in a store or restaurant and berate some innocent clerk or server. Everyone looks on, bewildered. Where did that come from? What can we do to calm him down? He just jumped out from under his bridge, started accusing people of wrong-doing, and we are in shock. This is not something that happens all the time, and so we don’t have a ready response. It’s scary.
The supervisor who occasionally wanders into the office to criticize is another troll. She comes in like a stealth bomber, finds a mistake or an oversight and makes sure you know that she knows about it by dropping a boss bomb. Then she leaves. There is no chance to explain, provide context, or counter-argue. She’s gone. Back under the bridge.
The person who harangues a stranger on the bus because she is of different ethnic origin. “Go back to your own country,” he or she says, without knowing where that person was born. Then they get off the bus, disappearing anonymously under their bridge.
The image of the troll living under a bridge is mixed up in my mind with the homeless people who sometimes now shelter beneath highway overpasses. They might suddenly talk loudly or ask for spare change. They might be unclean and smelly, so we recoil from them. But they are not trolls. Most of the time they are not being deliberately mean.
It’s not bridge-dwelling but unexpected cruelty that defines a troll.
Image source: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-6l5sT_E98vE/Ufqo_jA9OEI/AAAAAAAAA-A/woMjg7FzVAE/s1600/Father2.jpg