The Role of the Droll Troll
Once upon a time, in the Land of Continuity, there lived a monster of sorts. All the people indigenous to this kingdom knew this alleged creature of the underworld as the Droll Troll.
This contradictory and somewhat dubious appellation had been borne dutifully by the troll for as long as he could remember, even though he suspected that he was not really a troll because, as hard as he tried, he could invoke no supernatural powers. But to the people, he was definitely a troll (or at least, he had always acted like one) and his behavior included a humorous (albeit often pathetic) proclivity to execute his monsterly duties in an amusing fashion.An objective observer might find the Droll Troll to be not a monster at all but a rather large, ungainly and not particularly handsome person possessed of considerable feeling for his fellow man. Of course, there were no openings for Objective Observers in the Land of Continuity and, what everyone thought one was, was infinitely more important than what one might really be. There must be no incongruities in the Land of Continuity, or so the king proclaimed.
In his battered, thatch-roofed hut at the edge of the forest (trolls were required to live away from Decent People), the Droll Troll awoke one morning, rose and went outside to sit upon a round, flat rock in front of his dwelling.
Impulsively, he jumped straight up in the air, shouting, “I am not a droll troll.” Then, he sat back down on his favorite stone and pondered this flash of wisdom.
“If I’m not a droll troll,” he mused, “then what might I be? Let me see. Doctor…? Layer…? Dentist…? Baker…? Dragon slayer…? Minstrel…? Poet…? Writer of tales…?” He shouted, Why, I could be a million things.” He turned to the forest about him “I… can… be… anything… that… I… wish… to… be,” he told the trees , pausing between each word for the reassurance of its echo, “and… I… WILL.” He finished with a roar that stilled the birds in midsong and sent rabbits scurrying to their warrens.Laughing and singing, he went into his hut, his mind agog at all of the wonderful things that he might do, could do, most certainly would do! He put on his very best patched jerkin and gray trousers, added a tall green hat and set off to see the king.He was positive that the King would give him a new role.
The troll walked the rest of the morning and by early afternoon was on the outskirts of the King’s City. A group of children stopped their play and began to chant, taunting him from a safe distance:
“The Troll is coming, –
The Troll is coming,
Who’s afraid of the
Droll old Troll?”
“No! No!” the troll shouted over their shrill voices. “No more! I am not the Droll Troll anymore.”
“You are! You are!” a tow-headed boy countered. “You steal our parent’s chickens and you scare us in the night. When you’re in the stocks, you make us laugh. You always have and you always must.”
“No!” he roared, scaring them in broad daylight. “I will not do that anymore. I am no longer the Droll Troll.”
“What are you, then?” a small girl asked.
“I don’t know” the troll whispered. “I’ll be whatever else the King will let me be.”
“Children!” a scrawny woman with greasy hair and a long, barnyard-stained dress shouted. “Get away from that troll. Have you forgotten what be does?”
The troll bowed somewhat awkwardly and said, “Madam, I am no longer the Droll Troll.”
“No longer?” she smirked. “Your role is fixed by time in our Land of Continuity. You are the Droll Troll. There is no other.”
“Not anymore,” he replied. “Look at me. Do I look like a monster?”
“No,” she answered. “As a matter of fact, you look pretty much like my husband.”
“Well, then,” the troll continued, “Why should I continue to be something I don’t wish to be with a role that does not fit?” He smiled broadly at the stunning clarity of his logic.
The woman stared at him, her face mottling as she answered. “Because to us you have always been the Droll Troll. Your role is cast and fixed by time.”
“Who are you, Madam, if you don’t mind my asking?” the troll inquired.
“I am the wife of the Forger of Iron and the Mother of the Children of the Forger of Iron,” she stated.
“Yes, I see,” the troll observed. “I asked who you were and you told me what you do.”
“In Continuity Land, you are what you have done, Mr. Troll. Remember?” she said sadly.
“I believe the King will let me change my role,” he said, his eyes shining. “I wish desperately to have another one. And I will.”
“I don’t believe your hopes will be realized, Mr. Droll Troll,” the woman replied, “but I do wish you eversomuch luck. “
“Thank you, Madam,” the troll said grandly as he turned and started walking in the direction of the castle.
“Mr. Droll Troll,” the forger’s wife shouted. He stopped. “If the King does let you change, would you hurry back and tell me?” Her voice was pleading.
“Madam, I most assuredly will.” Smiling, the troll turned and strode again toward the palace.
BLAM…BLAM….BLAM. The great brass knocker sounded on the castle portal. Shortly, the door opened just enough to allow a brightly liveried doorman in a red and gold tunic with emerald-clocked silver hose to slip outside. He paused, looking quizzically at the troll. Finally, he spoke. “Ah, yes. The Droll Troll. And what business do you have at the Royal Palace?”
“I,” the troll said, pausing for emphasis, “I have come to get a new role.”
“You…what?” the doorman exclaimed, restraining his facial expression while amazement sent shivering reflections around his suddenly tremulous legs.
“A new role,” the troll said more softly. “I am not a droll troll any longer and I wish to be something else, I believe that the King, in his wisdom, will let me change.”
“Listen, Troll,” the doorman sputtered, “can you not comprehend that were it possible to change roles, I certainly wouldn’t be hanging around in hallways in this silly looking costume, waiting to open doors? This is the palace of the King of Continuity. Nothing changes here. Roles in particular.”
“The King will let me change,” the troll insisted.
“Foolish troll. Have you forgotten how you stole the King’s horses?” the doorman snapped. “Have you forgotten how he put you in the public stocks and made you sing silly songs to amuse the populace? Remember how the people came to look and laugh, but mostly, to show their children what happens when one takes the King’s possessions? Forget your dream, Troll. You are what you are and the King and the people need you to be as you are. You cannot change roles. That’s final!”
The troll continued to stand where he was, tears forming inhis eyes. “But you see, Mr. Doorman…Oh, you must clearly see…I’m not a troll any longer. I don’t know how it happened, but I awoke this morning and I was no longer the Droll Troll. Now, I have no role and I must see the King. I must.” When he finished speaking, tears were coursing down the troll’s cheeks, dampening his great beard.
“Okay. Okay. Stop crying!” The doorman’s voice softened as he went on. “Trolls don’t cry. Remember? I will tell the Prime Minister that you wish to see the King. Wait here.” Shaking his head, he closed the door on the sobbing troll.
After an appropriate passage of time, the great portal swung slowly, majestically open, revealing the doorman who promptly announced, with stentorian vigor; “The Droll Troll. To see His Excellence, the Prime Minister.”
Waving the troll inside with, a giant sweep of his arm, the doorman bowed with exaggerated attention to decorum.
“Wait here, Droll Troll,” he said, “until the Sergeant-at-Arms comes to conduct you.” Then he added, “Oh, yes. If the King should let you change, let me know right away by tapping your foot, would you please? I’ll be watching.”
“Most certainly,” the troll responded, smiling at the doorman’s conspiratorial tone. “I most certainly will.”
“I wish I could believe a troll,” the doorman muttered as he withdrew.
The Sergeant-at-Arms appeared, marching with precise, stiffkneed steps. When he reached the troll, he came to a snappy halt, did a precise about-face and said, over his shoulder, “Walk this way, Mr. Troll.” Without looking to see if the troll followed, he stepped briskly off and, after a seemingly endless time of marching through statue-laden corridors, the troll called to his guide: “Wait, please. I can’t continue to walk like this. The gait is too awkward and it’s hurting my legs.”
“My legs hurt, also, Troll,” the Sergeant-at-Arms replied.
“Then why do you continue to strut as you do?” the troll inquired.
“Because, Droll Troll,” his guide said, sighing, “It’s the way that a Sergeant-at-Arms walks. My role is Sergeant-at-Arms. I cannot change the way my role is played anymore than I can change the role itself. No matter. We’re here, anyway.”
He motioned to a pair of gigantic gilded doors that loomed before them in the torch lit gloom.
“Good luck, Mr. Droll Troll,” the Sergeant-at-Arms continued. “And, oh, if they let you change roles in there, would you give me a ‘wink? I’d like to try my hand at being a brewmaster.”
“I’ll be sure to let you know what happens,” the troll replied magnanimously.
Seemingly unbidden, the giant doors opened. The troll was awestruck by a scene even grander than he could possibly have imagined. Golden columns, ivory marble floors thickly veined with blue, a mass of courtiers in chiseled velvets, more silks and rich furs of exotic origins swirled before him.
The brisk announcement of the page snapped him back to awareness of where he was and why he had come. “The Droll Troll to see His Majesty.” Instantly, the page turned very red in both cheeks and hurriedly went on, “That is, the Droll Troll will keep the proper protocol and mine with the Prime Speakister next. I mean…” he stuttered, “he will speak with the Prime Monister first. That is, the Mime Prinister, er…” he finished lamely, “there’s a big guy come to see the number two man around here.”
“Bring him forth,” cried the Prime Minister from far across the hall.
“I hope you aren’t in any trouble after that announcement,” the troll whispered to the page as they walked across the opulent expanse.
“Not to worry, Troll,” the page responded. “This is my role, whether I can do it well or not. Have you forgotten that this is Continuity Land?”
“How could I forget?” the troll muttered.
The Prime Minister rose as the troll approached and stepped up on a block about three feet high. This ascension made the Minister’s total stature a glaringly artificial seven feet.
“You may kneel and speak, Droll Troll,” the Prime Minister said, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“Your Primness,” the troll began.
The entire court burst into loud crescendos of laughter.
“Your Primness,” the troll repeated, ignoring the court, “I am no longer the Droll Troll.”
A massive sigh of disbelief swept around the court.
The troll continued, “I am no longer the Droll Troll and I seek the King that I may have another role.”
“Change roles?” the Prime Minister said, laughing so hard that tears streamed over his burgundy cheeks, “Change roles, is it? Nobody changes roles in the Land of Continuity. Look about you, fool! Each person here is doing as he or she has always done. That’s all. Look and understand your folly!”
The troll gazed all about. Sure enough, he saw courtesans courting, jesters jesting, ladies-in-waiting waiting, busboys bussing, guards guarding, ministers-in-justice dispensing injustice, congressmen in congress (some with courtesans) and the wine master nearly mastering the wine and becoming only slightly drunk up in the process.
The Prime Minister spoke again. “You see all of these people? They all think from time to time that they would rather be something else. But the role that they have is all they know—or will ever know in Continuity Land. No one ever changes. They cannot! Ever!”
“But I must,” the troll pleaded, “Because I am no longer a droll troll. In fact, about everything I have done today is untrollish. I cry. I worry about others.”
“Fool!” the Prime Minister interrupted. “Trolls don’t cry!”
“Ay, but I do,” the troll said, springing his trap. “So, by your own definition, I cannot be a troll.”
“You do sound more like a lawyer,” the Minister said. “Okay. You can see the King. I’m sure he’ll set you straight again.”
“Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister,” the troll said, bobbing his head appropriately.
“One thing before you go,” the Minister said, “If he agrees to give you a new role, please raise your right hand and pull on your ear so that I’ll know. I’m sick and tired of hopping up on this stupid block to fit the majesty of my role. If the King lets you change, I want to be the first in line for…” His voice trailed off wistfully.
“With all certainty, I will help you any way I can,” the troll promised.
“Sergeant-at-Arms,” the Prime Minister shouted, “take the Droll Troll to see the King!”
Hidden trumpeters sounded a fanfare, a series of gossamer drapes were drawn and the King appeared on his throne. The Droll Troll’s muscles were replaced by gelatin until a resolute shove, administered by the Sergeant-at-Arm’s right fist in the troll’s back, propelled him forward.
“Grovel about for a bit, Droll Troll, that I might find a monster such as you whimsically amusing,” the King-ordered with great majesty. “Then, you may speak your piece.”
“Sire,” the troll pleaded, “I no longer know how to be amusing, and to tell the truth, I’m not really sure what ‘whimsical’ means. As you can see, I’m a bit large, even for a troll, but I’m hardly a monster.”
“Silence!” the King roared. “Be a droll troll. That is your role.”
“I’m very sad,” the troll whispered, “but I cannot please you. I know not the way of it, Your Majesty, but I am no longer the Droll Troll.”
“You had better get back to being one or I’ll show you the Headsman’s role,” the King sputtered.
“I have already done all I might do, Your Majesty,” the troll replied, rising to his feet. “Now, you must do what you must do.”
“Get back on your stomach, Troll!” The King spat out the words one by one.
“That would change nothing, Sire. I am no longer the Droll Troll and I wish a new role,” the troll said, awed by his new found courage.
“Nobody, but nobody, changes roles in the Land of Continuity,” the King replied and began the Litany of the Land, the responses chanted by his courtiers,
King: “You are what you have always been.”
Courtiers: “Forever and ever!”
King: “You are what we have labelled you.”
Courtiers: “Forever and ever!”
King: “You are whatever you have done!”
Courtiers: “Forever and ever!”
King: “No one can ever change his role!”
Courtiers: “Not ever! Not ever!”
They concluded with a resounding, “Hal-le-lu-jah”.
The King was smiling now and the air of tension was gone from the court.
“Sire,” the troll insisted. “Is it a troll, a droll or otherwise, that stands before you now?”
“Very well. No. I see a brave, though also foolish, man standing before his king like any other petitioner. Unfortunately, this man asks the impossible. What he asks even I cannot grant. You see, Droll Troll, even if I said whatever it is you want me to say, the people would never let you change. My Kingsmen have been chasing you for years because you are the Droll Troll. What would they do? How would parents frighten their children into being good? The list is long, Droll Troll. We need you even though we despise you. No! You may not change!”
“Oh, Sire,” the troll implored. “That’s not fair!”
“If you want fair, my troll, see a fairy. That’s not my role.” The King leaned over and whispered to the troll, “But I wish it were. This crown is giving me migraines and the job is not all that it’s reputed to be.”
“What must I do?” the troll asked.
“Take your punishment like a man, Troll,” the King replied, straightening up and resuming his majesty. “Now I must perform my role. Guards! Take the Droll Troll to the public stocks and place a sign about his neck that reads:
Would change his role.
At this announcement, the troll reached up, pulled his ear in vexation, blinked a tear from his eye and stamped his foot in frustration. He was nearly bowled over by the Doorman, the Sergeant-at-Arms and the Prime Minister, all running toward the King and yelling, “ME, too! ME, too!”
Fortunately, there was room in the stocks for four.
A week after he was let out of the stocks, the troll was sitting on his favorite rock in front of his hut. A blinding light suddenly appeared and he disappeared under his house.
A tinker of laughter and a mellifluous voice drifted through the cobwebs of his hiding place. “Come out, Mr. Droll Troll,” the voice cajoled. “It’s me, your Fairy Godmother.”
“You are my what?” said the troll.
“Your Fairy Godmother, silly.” She went on, still smiling. “It’s my role.”
“You’re real?” the troll asked as he clambered out from beneath the porch. “Truly real?”
“Yes, I’m real, silly goose. As real as lotteries and bookies and good luck charms. Look. Here’s a nice, warm cookie just for you,” she said as she snapped her want, materializing a large cookie. “Go on. Eat it,” she continued as she pushed the cookie through the air towards him. He grabbed it and tried to stuff it in his mouth all at once. A goodly portion ended up ensnared in his beard.
“My, my,” the fairy said, holding her sides and laughing. “Just look at you. You have cookie all over your face. How droll.”
“Don’t say that!” the troll exploded. “I am no longer the Droll Troll.”
“Well, then,” she said, still smiling, “what are you?”
“I don’t know,” he replied in a small voice. “But I am most assuredly not a droll troll.”
“What, then, would you like to be next?” she asked.
“I wish to be a writer of tales for children. I have a lot of great ideas.” His eyes were brimming as he finished. “Oh, what’s the use? Nobody in the whole kingdom will let me change.”
“Hmm. A writer of tales for children. Very well.” She plucked a golden Christmas bauble blossom from a St. John’s Wort at the troll’s feet, her movement causing shimmering ripples to effervesce from her gown. “So be it!” With a gracefuL gesture, she circled the troll with the bloom.
The woods dissolved and the troll found himself seated on an oaken stool before a massive desk. In front of him lay a blank sheet of the finest paper and several excellent goose quill pens. He picked up one of the pens, inspected the nib, dipped it in ink and touched it to the virgin sheet of paper. It was then that he discovered that he couldn’t spell a single word.
“Fairy Godmother!” he wailed through burgeoning tears. “Fairy Godmother! Where are you?”
“Right here, dear,” She said as she materialized.
“Oh, Fairy Godmother. I can’t spell. Please,” he begged, “please make me able to spell.”
“Heavens,” she said. “I couldn’t do that. It would be changing both our roles.”
The troll sputtered, “But…but…you have already changed my role.”
“No,” she replied, “I have only created an illusion of role change. I can’t change the real world.”
“An illusion?” he asked, rising from his stool. “This is just an illusion? I want a change. A real change. That’s what I wished for and that’s your fairy godmother’s role.”
“I can’t make real changes,” she said defensively, her robes again sending sparkles through the atmosphere. “If I made one wish really come true, I would no longer be a fairy godmother; I’d be the Queen of Welfare. That would be a role change for me. If you don’t want an illusion, I’ll just have to give you back your reality. Me actually change another person? By magic? How droll, Mr. Troll.”
The troll found himself once again sitting on his hard, round rock, wondering at the nature of things in the Land of Continuity.
Years passed and the Droll Troll filled his assigned role. He robbed and stole and made old beams creak in the night. Primers and spelling lists disappeared from the schoolroom. In sunlight hours, he frequently played the buffoon for the village children. Occasionally, he stole a notebook and pen, paper and ink along with a cackling chicken for his next day’s pepper pot, but the people found nothing particularly odd about this because the Droll Troll was reputed to be a little strange.
As decades passed, when the troll would steal a chicken or two, the owners of the hens might find a beautiful tale left behind for their children. At first, they were incensed that the troll would so obviously be trying to break out of his role as thief and jester…but they read the stories to their children and the children repeated them to one another. The parents read them first, of course, but only to be sure that the tales were fit to be told to their offspring. They always were, but on occasion, a parent might have to read one twice to be certain.
If anyone ever made the connection between the appearance of a children’s story and the theft of a chicken or two, they never admitted it to any official of the kingdom. It was not unusual, however, to see a couple of hens staked out on the stoop of a cottage just before one of the children’s birthdays. The fowl were invariably stolen and a new tale was always found nearby.
The troll gradually became famous for his stories and warmly thought of for his untrollish ways. When his life was nearly over, he went away to die as trolls do. The people set a plaque on his favorite stone which can be seen to this day. It reads:
SOME ROLES MAY NEVER CHANGE BUT THE PEOPLE INSIDE OF
THEM CAN AND DO. EVEN IN THE LAND OF CONTINUITY.