Thursday 16 May 2013

Trolldawn II: The Regeneration

Last time, as you may remember we traced the origin of the contemporary Troll from Poul Andersons Three Hearts and Three Lions, to an obscure 1950s comic strip Marching Zombies, (which I'd picked up in The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics ) originally published in Black Cat Mysteries #31  Intrigued by the possibilities that the origins other D&D creatures might be lurking in such publications I hunted high and low through myriad old comics archives online, and discovered this...


Yes, it's a strange mutant creature with the power to regenerate from a comic strip called "The Last Man on Earth", which appeared in Black Cat Mysteries #31 published in October 1951 - the exact same issue that gave the world Marching Zombies.

Regeneration, is of course one of the basic features of contemporary gaming Troll not found in folkoric records. So it's not just the appearance, bur also  the regenerative ability of Porl Andersons Trolls that migrated into D&D, (and from there into Warhammer and elsewhere into popular culture) both appear in the exact same publication. It would be too much of a coincidence.

Like Marching Zombies the tale of  The Last Man on Earth is quite an odd story, and it goes something like this:

In 1950s America, people are getting infected and mutating into Trolls and killing people, who are then resurrected as Trolls, perhaps foreshadowing the Bath Salt Zombie plague of 2012. One of these regenerating beasts is captured and experimented on, but eventually escapes, the Troll-disease spreads and it  eventually takes over the whole human race. The last surviving human discovers a way to kill the Trolls (apparently gas, not fire, does the trick here) but unfortunately he has contracted the Troll-disease himself. Nonetheless, he then time-travels back to 1950s America in an attempt to stop the first Trolls, but as he is carrying the disease, he inadvertently causes the genesis of the Trolls in the first place, in exactly the kind of troll-zombie disease paradox one expects as soon as the worlds time-travel and disease are mentioned in the same story. Infact, just how this guy manages to invent and build a time machine entirely on his own in a post-Trollapocalypse world is beyond me, but anyway.

Moral of the story? try to invent time travel before you contract Trollism and destroy humanity.

And here's a colour frame from Marching Zombies, which shows off their sickly greyish green hue:

by The Fire of Kalu

Now if I can only find some special reference linking the destruction of trolls by fire, then the circle would be complete, and we'd finally have completed the mystery of where the non-folkloric fantasy troll really originated...


  1. I would have assumed Anderson just made up the fire thing on his own... fascinating stuff!

    1. seems like Anderson didn't make up the regeneration ability or their appearance, so not I'm going to give him credit for the 'kill it with fire' motif easily!

  2. In folk lore fire often has dual properties, the power to destroy and bring about rebirth. Forest fires, it is said, were an important part of how fire was viewed in the ancient world. The real life Salamander which thrives in forest fires and the mythical Salamander and Phoenix are evidence of how fire's regenerative attributes were perceived before the classical Greek view of the four elements prevailed.

    Is it possible that the answer is as simple as this: regeneration must be cancelled out by it's ruling element, you fight fire with fire?

    Alas, I can find no example to prove or disprove my theory.

    1. An illuminating point of view. I think we'd need to establish Andersons approach to elemental symbolism, or perhaps a close-reading of his troll section (alas book is in an unmarked box in the loft) and thematic use of sympathetic magic to establish a textual basis for the theory.

    2. Lofts, I might as well have put my loft stuff straight in the bin as I will never see any of it again thanks to 'attic-fear'. I suppose knowing it exists and is technically in my possession is a comfort of sorts.

      I will do a bit of poking through online resources, in the meantime I hope you have luck getting to the bottom of it.