A long time ago in the far-away country of Iceland, there lived a horrible ogress named Grýla. She made her home high up in the mountains. She lived in a cave with her troll husband, Lep-palúði, and a hundred troll children. All throughout Iceland and many countries beyond, Grýla was feared. She was a mean, nasty, and ugly creature who would stomp through the countryside looking for bad or lazy children who didn’t do their chores.
When she would find one, she would snatch them up and throw them in a bag she carried over her shoulder. When she had collected as many as she could lift, she would head back home and lock them away in her cave’s dungeon, with the help of her cat, Jólakötturinn, who would stalk any children that didn’t receive new clothes for Christmas.
One day, Grýla was at home in her cave and she overheard a group of her troll-sons talking in low whispers. Sneaking a peek into the cavern, she saw the huddled group and knew without counting that there were thirteen in the circle. She did not understand these thirteen little trolls. She and Leppalúði had a hundred troll-children, but this small group was different.
They were strange. They stuck together, supported and helped each other and mostly just seemed nice. This was very odd troll behavior. They were a mischievous lot and played most of their pranks around Christmas-time when they liked to visit the human villages. Because of this, most people called them The Yule Lads.
Grýla tried to make them into proper trolls. She would take them with her to hunt bad children. She praised them when she heard the humans were scared of them. She tried to reward them with ogre-treats but they weren’t interested. She leaned in to hear their hushed talk.
“I hate how she makes us go with her,” complained Stúfur.
“Me too.” Grumbled Door-Slammer.
“These stupid tunics,” grumbled Sky Gobbler. “If it weren’t for these things, everything would be fine.” He said, pulling on the hem.
“No one would ever notice us!” agreed Sausage Swiper.
“Yeah, but with these, they can’t help but notice!” cried Stúfur.
“I have a plan, my troll-brothers,” Window Peeper assured them as he smiled. “Trust me! I can fix it so we don’t have to hunt bad kids for Mama-Grýla’s stew anymore.”
Grýla frowned as she listened to her troll-children. This was no good at all. She was the most feared ogre in all the land and no one dared challenge her. As she listened from the passageway, she realized they had discovered her secret. They knew the clothes they wore were magic.
She had made the tunics herself and carefully mended each when they were frayed or made new ones when they wore out. She sewed all of the family’s clothing, but some items were special. Grýla was a seið-witch and had a magic spindle and distaff that she used to create a special cloth that was laced with magic spells.
Whenever they would wear clothes made of magic fabric, people would see only what Grýla’s magic spell made them see. The spells made people think Grýla and her Yule Lad children were hideously ugly and terrifying. Grýla smirked as she thought of her favorite description. People said she had three heads with four eyes on each- three in the front and one in the back– with huge curved horns, a knotted beard, and ears that attached to her nose and dangled down to her shoulders! Grýla listened at the door as Window Peeper explained.
“I finally found where Mama Grýla hid her magic spindle,” he said excitedly. “I can sneak in and take it so she can never make any more magic cloth.” “You mean, we can wear real clothes and people will just see us as the handsome trolls we are?”
Meat Hook stroked his long skinny chin, raising his hooked beak-like nose in the air, grinning to show his dull fangs. “No more horrible-looking monsters that make people run screaming?”
“Window Peeper, you’re a genius,” squealed Stúfur.
Grýla couldn’t take anymore, she could not allow this to happen. She pulled herself up to her full twelve-foot height and spun into the room where the Yule Lads whispered. Her face was twisted into a terrifying frown and she glared down at the group. The Lads all jumped to the feet and scattered throughout the room.
“Lagarfljót,” shouted Gully Gawk, naming their secret hideout where they would meet later.
He ran with Sheep Cote Clod, Stúfur, and Door Sniffer. Spoon Licker, Bowl Licker, Skyr Gobbler, and Meat Hook all took off in the opposite direction. Pot Scraper, Sausage Swiper, Door Slammer, and Candle Beggar ran around Grýla, letting Window Peeper escape.
Window Peeper ran as fast as his troll legs would let him, skidding around the sharp corners and shuffling through the winding pathways to his mother’s secret spinning room. He heard the ruckus behind him grow softer as he ran further. He found his way to the hidden room. Panting and wheezing, he pushed his thick glasses up on his nose as he quickly looked around the room. He whooped in triumph when he saw the magic spindle.
Grabbing it, he ran room and rushed out of the cave. With his troll-brothers running wildly through the cave tunnels, hooting and shouting, the echoes made a terrible racket. Grýla lunged from one to the other, grabbing but too slow to hang on. One by one, they scrambled away, scampering and darting through the mountain passes and out of sight.
Grýla stood scowling as Leppalúði and her eighty-seven other troll children joined her. She angrily told them the story and had to admit the truth to them. The Yule Lads had stolen the magic spindle and as the clothes wore out, she could no longer repair them with magic thread. She searched for a magical creature to make a new spindle but none would help her.
Gradually, the magic wore thin in their clothes and they all became less horrible, less scary-looking. Today, Grýla, Leppalúði, and all their troll children are just average-ugly trolls and most people don’t even remember them enough to be afraid.
A Short Story from “Yule Lads & Other Legends Coloring Book” by Heidi Herman, used with permission.