Three Billy Goats Gruff

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The White House 2003 Christmas decoration using "Three Billy Goats Gruff" as the theme.

"Three Billy Goats Gruff" (Norwegian: De tre bukkene Bruse) is a Norwegian fairy tale.[1] The fairy tale was collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe in their Norske Folkeeventyr, first published between 1841 and 1844.[2] It has an "eat-me-when-I'm-fatter" plot (Aarne-Thompson type 122E).


The story introduces three male goats, sometimes identified in the story as youngster, father and grandfather, but more often described as brothers. There is no grass left for them to eat near to where they live, so they must cross a river to get to a "sæter" (a meadow) or hillside on the other side of a stream in order to eat and get fat. To do so, they must first cross a bridge, under which lives a fearsome troll who eats anyone who passes that way.

The smallest billy goat is the first to cross and is stopped abruptly, by the troll who threatens to "gobble him up!" The little goat convinces him to wait for another slightly bigger billy goat to come across because he is larger and a more gratifying feast. The greedy troll agrees and lets the smallest of the goats cross. The medium-sized goat then passes next. He is more cautious than his brother, but is also stopped by the troll and given the same threat. The second billy goat is allowed to cross as well after he tells the troll to wait for the biggest billy goat because he is the biggest.

The Third Billy Goat then gets on the Bridge and is stopped by the hungry Troll. When the troll gets up on the bridge however, the third billy goat is so big that he easily kicks the troll off of the bridge. The troll falls into the stream with his horns upside down. From then on the bridge is safe, and all three goats are able to go to the rich fields around the summer farm in the hills. They all live happily ever after. The troll still lives under the bridge but is never seen or heard of.

Adaptations and cultural references[edit]

The first version of the story in English appeared in 1859, in George Webbe Dasent's translation of some of the Norske Folkeeventyr, published as Popular Tales from the Norse.[3]

A version of the story written and performed by Frank Luther was often played on the BBC radio programme Children's Favourites in the 1950s and early 1960s.[4]

The story was adapted by Gwen Edwards into a popular children's musical at Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, in the summer of 2007. It was called Billy, Goat, Gruff: The Musical.[5] A chamber music setting for string quintet and narrator was composed by James Scott Balentine for the Cactus Pear Music Festival Kinderkonzerts, with the text adapted by Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio, published by Guildhian Music.

In 2008, the BBC created a modern adaptation for its Fairy Tales season. In this, the story was given a twist in that the troll was presented as a tragic, cruelly maligned victim:

The troll character is dirty and smelly and everybody is frightened of him, and I think that heightens the pathos of the ending, because it’s a witch hunt, without any evidence.

—Mathew Horne, Daily Telegraph[6]

Neil Gaiman adapted the story for Snow White, Blood Red, an anthology of children's fairy tales retold for adults. In Gaiman's version (entitled "Troll Bridge"), the troll approaches a young boy who has crossed his bridge and demands to "eat his life." The boy eventually persuades the troll to wait until he has lived a little more, after which he will return to the bridge. The goats in this adaptation are represented by the protagonist as a child, a teenager and finally a middle-aged man. The story was nominated for a 1994 World Fantasy Award.[7]

In the Norwegian film The Troll Hunter, the titular character attempts to bait a troll by placing three goats on a bridge.

Lazy Bee Scripts published Billy Goat Gruff, a simple play for young children in 2009.

The song Much Chubbier by Nerdcore rapper MC Frontalot on his 2014 album Question Bedtime is a retelling of the story.


There are many references to this story in English Literature including Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Lords and Ladies and Stephen King's It. The comic book "Fables" by Bill Willingham contains mention of the goats, and the troll is an ongoing character.

The Billy Goats Gruff make an appearance in Small Favor, tenth book of the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

The tale also comes into play during the first King's Quest game. A troll is guarding a bridge Graham needs to cross. The optimum solution to the puzzle is to lure a goat over to the bridge. Upon seeing the troll, the goat is angered, and butts it into the river below.

The tale is also included in Simon the Sorcerer.

The tale is the inspiration of the novel The Adventures of the Billy Goats Gruff by Kevin P. Futers. The book is set in 7th century Northumbria and the goats are named Edgar, Bert and Frith.

The Scholastic version is two alternative book versions with the illustrations of Susan Blair and Ellen Appleby. It is available on record. It is also available on cassette. The narrator is Bob Thomas. The composer who composed the music is Arthur Rubinstein.

A reference to the tale is made in the 2011 game of the year Skyrim;[8] the player character is able to see three goats running away from a bridge under which a dead troll can be found.


  1. ^ Encyclopedia of American folklore: Facts on File library of American literature. Author: Linda S. Watts. Publisher: Infobase Publishing, 2007. ISBN 0-8160-5699-4, ISBN 978-0-8160-5699-6. page 383.
  2. ^ Asbjørnsen and Moe
  3. ^ G. W. Dasent, The Three Billy-Goats Gruff, in Popular Tales from the Norse, p.313
  4. ^ "Children's Favourites". 2005-11-28. Retrieved 2010-06-09. 
  5. ^ "It’s curtains up on Barter’s ’07 season".
  6. ^ Micheal Deacon (05/01/2008). Once upon a time.... The Daily Telegraph. 
  7. ^ Neil Gaiman, "Smoke and Mirrors"
  8. ^ "Skyrim:Easter Eggs". 

External links[edit]