Excerpt from The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Sea of Trolls

by Nancy Farmer

The Sea of Trolls
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    Sep 2004, 480 pages
    May 2006, 480 pages

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The abbey of Lindisfarne was founded in A.D. 635, and by 793 it was a center of great learning and art. When the raiders arrived, the monks ran to greet them and to invite them to dinner. The description of what happened next is in The Sea of Trolls and is taken from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Amazingly, one beautifully illuminated manuscript survived the fire: the Lindisfarne Bible.

This attack was the beginning of two hundred years of Viking raids on the British Isles.



Viking is a term that means "pirate" or "raider." Vikings could come from Denmark, Norway, or Sweden, and I have chosen to use the word Northmen for them in the book. They would have spoken Old Danish or Old Norse. Jack would have spoken Anglo-Saxon. Languages change over time. Anglo-Saxon morphed into Old English and then into the English we speak today. Old Norse changed into Icelandic, which is what the Northmen in the book use. Kristin Johannsdottir, an Icelander teaching in Canada, very kindly provided the correct translations.


Icelandic Pronunciation

The accent, in Icelandic words, is usually on the first syllable, as in music or wonderful. Most letters are pronounced as they would be in English, with a few differences:

r is trilled, as in Spanish.
þ is like th in think.
ð is like th in that.
æ is like i in English.
J is like y in yes.
t, d, l, and n are pronounced with the tongue on the back of your front teeth, not at the top of your mouth. The differences between o and ó and a and á are too difficult to explain here. Use o as in sofa and a as in father.


Trolls, Jotuns, And Frost Giants

In the legends of northern Europe these three names seem to refer to the same creatures. They were large, they loved ice and snow, and they were the enemies of mankind as well as the gods. Most of the time they are described as ugly, but there are stories of some who were very beautiful.

According to the sagas, the Jotuns occupied the northland of Europe first. The worshippers of Odin fought them for centuries to get control of Norway and Sweden. An eleventh-century manuscript describes the Jotuns as wild people who attacked from the mountains in sledges. They wore animal skins, and their language sounded like the growling of animals.

Even more interesting, the sagas say humans were not allowed to settle in Norway until they intermarried with Jotuns. There are frequent references to historical figures who were part troll. So it's possible that trolls really existed. There are (or were) many unusual tribes living in the far north from Norway to Siberia. It's even possible that Jotuns are a distant memory of the Neanderthals.

Their original home was said to have been Utgard, which was in the Utter North. I have placed it on Jan Mayen Island, a lonely volcano not far from the North Pole.


Ivar The Boneless

Ivar was a half-legendary king. He probably lived around 880, though I've placed him earlier. I invented his wife Frith. Ivar's father was called Ragnar Hairy-Britches, and he was a thoroughly nasty swine. He was eventually thrown into a pit of poisonous snakes by a Saxon king, a good trick since there are almost no poisonous snakes in England.



Most of the Viking warriors were ordinary men. A few were berserkers, who were sent in first to demoralize the enemy. Berserkers weren't afraid to die. Their aim was to kill as many people as possible before they fell in battle and went to Valhalla. Some berserkers may have taken a drug to go mad, but for others it just ran in the family. You could call them an early form of terrorists. Thorgil is patterned after a shield maiden in The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise.

Copyright © 2004 by Nancy Farmer

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