A Surprise Discovery in the Smokies ~ Trolls!

The day did not begin with a search for trolls. Nothing, in fact, could have been further from my mind.

Tom and I were on our way out for a day-hike with friends in the Smokies. As I drove, Tom read aloud from a book about the wildflowers that might be in bloom this time of year.

And then suddenly, somewhere near Gatlinburg, I happened to see the word “troll” on the side of an old building.


“Troll!?” I called out in disbelief, interrupting Tom. “Trolls are from Scandinavian cultures! What on earth would they be doing in Tennessee?”

I’m Danish-American. The thought of finding trolls in the Smokies made me even happier than finding wildflowers.

Like elves, fairies and gnomes, trolls like to hide themselves away in ancient mountains, rocks and caves. According to Norse mythology, they turn to stone if caught above ground during daylight hours.

On second thought, perhaps the Great Smoky Mountains are just the right kind of habitat for them!

I’ve come across some odd things while hiking in the Smokies, IMG_5552but never trolls.

Fascinated by the possibility, we kept a sharp eye out for them during our hike.


But, of course, because the sun was shining, they stayed well hidden.

Late in the afternoon, we passed back by the sign we’d seen – and this time, stopped and got out for a closer look.IMG_0334

A jumble of antiques & collectibles spilled out onto the front porch, leading the way to what looked like a hoarder’s dream castle of stuff in the inner recesses.

Tom explored around the outside of the building–


while I wandered through an incredible collection of Americana kitsch inside.


It wasn’t until I wandered out onto a back porch that I found them–

IMG_0338dozens and dozens of them!

Big trolls and little trolls. Trolls from the floor to the rafters. Trolls on logs, trolls on shelves, trolls hanging from shelves.


Trolls tucked between ferns and hiding behind pinecones.

My heart sang with happiness!

Still curious as to how trolls came to be in Tennessee, I sought out the shop owner and asked, “Who is making trolls in the Smokies?”

“We are!” Erik Arensbak said with a smile.

“But trolls are Danish,” I said.

“And so are we!” he said, further surprising me by speaking in Danish.

His father, he told me, was an artist and Danish resistance fighter who emigrated to North America with his bride in 1949. Although they initially landed in Canada, they gradually moved further and further south, eventually purchasing land adjacent to Great Smokey Mountain National Park in1969. Known to some as “the hippies on the hill,” they began a business handcrafting trolls when the woodland creatures Ken Arensbak made to illustrate the Scandinavian tales he told his own three children so delighted friends and neighbors, they requested their own.

I had to take one home with me, too.

IMG_0344In the end, being hikers, we thought it might be in our best interests to bring home “trail guide troll.”

“Well of course, I can’t sell a troll to you,” Erik said, when I handed him my choice.

“But there is a small adoption fee of $21.98.”

After he wrapped the troll in tissue and put it into a large paper bag, he picked up a pen and began fiercely jabbing the bag.

For a brief, scary moment, I thought he was trying to kill my troll.

IMG_0347And then I caught on …

“Air holes?” I asked.

“But of course,” he said with a smile, peering over his glasses at me.

Tusind tak, Erik!


If you are considering adopting a troll, you can visit 5 Arts Studio or find them @ http://www.trolls.com

Author: kristin fellows

Kristin Fellows is a street photographer & travel writer, based in Asheville, North Carolina. Kristin’s adventures in the past several years have taken her to Iceland to hike volcanoes and photograph puffins; to Barcelona, Mexico, Addis Ababa, and New Orleans for street photography; and most recently, to Athens for a big fat Greek wedding, and to Helsinki to get beaten with frozen birch branches in its oldest public sauna. She is also a documentary film consultant and has worked on more than 200 hours of public television films & productions. Her photograph, “Skywalker,” was chosen as a National Geographic Photo of the Day in 2015. Kristin is working on her first book, The Red Moon Letters – a non-fiction, dual-narrative thriller set in Ethiopia during the time of the Haile Selassie. Educated in both London and the US, Kristin also has a cherished diploma from the Icelandic Elf School (Álfaskólinn.) Kristin is the niece of the late New York Times foreign correspondent, Lawrence Fellows. Follow Kristin on Instagram @ kristinfellowsphotography

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