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"Three Billy Goats Gruff" (Norwegian: De tre bukkene Bruse) is a Norwegian fairy tale. The fairy tale was collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe in their Norske Folkeeventyr, first published between 1841 and 1844. 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 immediately stopped by the troll who threatens to "gobble him up!" The little goat convinces him to wait for the bigger billy goat to come across because he is larger and more gratifying as a feast. The greedy troll agrees and lets the smallest goat cross. The middle goat sees that the youngest one has crossed and reaches the conclusion that the bridge must be safe after all, 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 will have the most meat.
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 throws the troll into the stream with his horns and crosses the bridge. 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, however, was never seen again.
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. 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.
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
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.
In the Norwegian film The Troll Hunter, the titular character attempts to bait a troll by placing three goats on a bridge.
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 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.
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