Go for a walk in a Danish forest and you may spot a giant troll peeking out from behind a tree, or lounging luxuriously across the ground. These folkloric creatures are made by recycling artist, designer, and activist Thomas Dambo, he makes giant wooden trolls out of recycled wood and materials and places them all over the world for little people like me to come visit. Since he’s Danish, the most concentrated amount of trolls is in Denmark, but you can find them in mountain towns like Breckenridge, near the coast of Maine and even all the way in Korea.
Dambo has been building giant wooden trolls and hiding them in liminal, lesser-visited spots across the globe since 2014. There are over 30 in his native Denmark, including several within easy reach of the capital, Copenhagen, plus 6 hidden in secret corners of South Australia, and trolls in unlikely spots in China, the mountains of South Korea, Singapore, and Belgium. In the United States, his scrap-wood trolls can be discovered in places like Miami’s Biscayne Bay area, Jackson Hole, and Chicago’s Morton Arboretum. You can find them all on his digital map, trollmap.com. Some of them are pretty hidden (hey, trolls like nature more than people after all!)
In all, Dambo’s creations total 100. And then there’s the troll I visited today with my mother. I’ve been living in Denmark since 2017 and It never crossed my mind to go on a troll hunt.
The first on my list is the troll Jens Nej, which was just 13km from where I currently live.
Trolls were a natural symbol for the Danish artist to align himself with. The tradition of trolls in Scandinavian cultures reaches back further than the Vikings, with tales of giant creatures that come out at night and turn to stone in the sunlight—they’re sometimes mischievous, sometimes slow-witted, and all in tune with nature. You may also remember bright-haired troll dolls from your school days or the healing trolls of Frozen; even Finland’s Moomins play into this tradition. In Norway, there are plenty of places to discover troll traditions, such as the legendary Trolltunga—“troll tongue” cliff. Netflix’s 2022 film Troll added a modern reworking to the genre.
The whole idea of creating a troll trail started as a project to get people to rediscover the beauty in the world around them. In 2016, he created The Forgotten Giants, a six-strong trail of giant wood trolls built in Copenhagen on hillsides, under bridges, and in locations people rarely visited. Further projects followed around the world, creating points of interest on tourist trails and opening up lesser-visited locations. When COVID hit Denmark in 2020, and his plans to create a sculpture at Burning Man were shelved, Dambo doubled down on his Danish projects. He created 10 more trolls that could only be found via GPS coordinates in a treasure-hunt style, taking explorers from clue to clue until they found themselves at a hidden location. It was a project he hoped would give a little joy back to the Danish people.
I will go on troll hunting every time I get to go to a place where there’s one nearby. When I have visited most of them I will write another post showing pictures of the trolls and difficulty finding them 🙂