Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.
By Brad Sun. When I was young, I had a hamper that looked like a frog with a big open mouth to put all my toys and stuffed animals in. It was a fun way to organize my things, but at night, with the lights turned off, the giant frog would suddenly seem terrifying. I would sleep facing away from it, afraid to look back at the large bulging eyes and gaping mouth. It somehow never occurred to me to tell my parents how scared I was, instead suffering in silence night after night. Childhood is filled with harrowing moments like these, moments of whimsy that suddenly turn into nightmares, and in Troll Bridge, Neil Gaiman ruminates on how these secret fears can linger on, haunting us well into adulthood.
Troll Bridge is essentially a post-modern reimagining of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, but Gaiman has stripped the Norwegian fairytale down to its core, building upon its foundation a deeper and darker story of regret and innocence lost. Only faint echoes of the original remain, peppered cleverly throughout the book. When the ancient troll growls, “I heard you trip-trapping over my bridge,” his rhythmic words trigger something familiar in the back of our collective minds. A memory long forgotten bubbles its way to the surface and we are reminded of the childhood fears that left us trembling beneath our bed sheets.
In Troll Bridge, nostalgia is a weapon. Far removed from the sentimental comfort food that currently litters our pop culture landscape, Gaiman knows that the past can hurt and looking back can be an exercise in guilt and longing… longing for the days when we were innocent, when adolescent lust was naively mistaken for eternal love, longing even for that monstrous frog hamper and all the scarcely remembered horrors that fill a youngster’s fertile imagination. For as fraught with hidden fears and bumps in the night as childhood may be, the unseen terrors were always external. Dragons could be slain and a quick-witted hero could always outsmart the troll blocking his path.
The beasts and demons of adulthood cannot be so easily conquered because they come from within. It’s no longer the monsters in the closet that keep us up at night, but the unanswerable questions running through our heads. Was it a mistake to buy this house? Will I die alone? And scariest of all — Am I a good person? The ravenous troll under the bridge stands in for all such late night insecurities. At the age of seven, our protagonist boasted to him of the life he would lead and the person he would become. The troll was a dreadful figure then, the monstrous impediment to realizing his hopes and dreams. Returning decades later as a tired unfulfilled man, the troll comes to represent something else entirely.
Illustrating Gaiman’s modern fairy story is Colleen Doran, whose delicate pencil drawings merge the dreamlike fantasy of a children’s book with a darker, more mature undercurrent. The titular monster is horrific in all the ways you would expect a troll to be, but his depraved eyes and luridly protruding tongue suggest an even more disturbing and profound kind of violation. Yet even when the creature is nowhere to be seen, there is a sense of impending tragedy and loss coursing through Troll Bridge’s pages. Like all classic fairytales, Troll Bridge has a monster to face and a lesson to teach. But this is a story for adults, not children. And as our wary protagonist knows all too well, we’re not promised happy endings.
Dark Horse Books/$14.99
Story by Neil Gaiman.
Art by Colleen Doran.
Letters by Todd Klein.