We left our hero (like a year ago, I’m so sorry guys) alone in the middle of nowhere after her bear roommate/super cute nighttime visitor was swept away by his evil troll mother. A brief recap: if she had slept with mystery man for one more month without curiosity, the spell would have broken and he wouldn’t have had to be a bear anymore. However, her mom convinced her that maybe she should KNOW WHO SHE WAS SLEEPING WITH, so she lit a candle and checked him out in the middle of the night. Now he has to marry his evil troll stepmother’s evil troll daughter, in a land that lies east of the sun and west of the moon.
She decides she’d better go there and rescue him—maybe because she feels guilty, maybe because he’s super cute, maybe both. Astronomy is no help here, so she chooses a direction at random, walking until she meets a little old lady.
The little old lady doesn’t know how to get east of the sun and west of the moon, but she gives our girl directions to a second little old lady, a loaner horse so she can get there faster, and a golden apple. (She always gives her a golden something; the specifics vary but this set seems to be the most common.)
The second little old lady also can’t help us get to the troll palace, but she can help with another horse, directions to another old lady, and a golden carding comb. Old lady number three gives her a golden spinning wheel and sends her to the east wind, and can we all just pause and take a moment to consider the difficulty of lugging around a whole entire spinning wheel made out of solid gold? This poor girl.
The east wind can’t help. The west wind can’t help. The south wind can’t help. Finally she gets to the north wind, who once blew a single leaf east of the sun and west of the moon. He knows where it is, and he’s up for a challenge—our girl is significantly heavier than a leaf, but he manages it with great difficulty.
Girl positions herself outside step-sister troll’s window with the golden apple. Troll expresses interest in the apple, and they make a deal—apple in exchange for one night with the troll’s future husband/stepbrother.
Now it may seem odd that she’s so unconcerned by who he spends his nights with, but troll girl’s got this—boy’s all drugged up. Same thing happens the second night, in exchange for the carding comb. Fortunately, our former bear has some friends among the trolls. Which makes sense since they are his step family. Apparently trolls just don’t care about sorta-kinda-almost incest?
Friends let dude know about his nighttime visitor who’s been sitting by his bed and crying while he sleeps for the last two nights. And about the drugging. He doesn’t take the spiked drink on the third night—the spinning wheel night—and he and our girl make a plan.
(Side-note: the text specifies that his friends are Christians. That’s important in a way we’ll get to shortly.)
Tomorrow is the wedding. And before things get going, our bear-dude issues a condition for marrying the troll.
Sure, whatever, says troll-mom. We got magic, we can meet conditions, no big.
Dude whips out the nightshirt our girl spilled candlewax all over. Wash this.
Turns out trolls really, really suck at laundry. Troll bride can’t do it. Troll mom can’t do it. All the other fancy, royal trolls can’t do it. They scrub and scrub and scrub, and the wax stain just gets bigger.
Now some versions of this story make a point of telling us that the trolls can’t wash clothes because they aren’t Christians. Which I think is just, like, really fascinating. I’ve been thinking about this thing—trolls can’t do laundry—for so long.
I’ve considered a few options. Maybe this was a well established fact about trolls at the time, forgotten by history. Maybe these privileged, royal trolls were so far removed from the daily lives of normal, working trolls that things like chores were beyond their comprehension. But my best guess is that we have a Nothing But the Blood of Jesus situation on our hands here. You know, like, “What can wash my sins away? Nothing but the blood of Jesus”? There’s this big thing in hymns and stuff where stain=sin, and this particular wax stain is essentially a physical representation of our heroine’s mistake. Thus, she can wash out her own stain, because though she sinned, this journey is an indication of her repentance, and the Lord is with her now. The trolls cannot wash out the sin, because they are wicked and do not know God.
(Thus far my research supports the theory that 95% of ridiculous fairy tale occurrences in fairy tales recorded in largely Christian areas after the rise of Christianity can be explained by something I learned in Sunday School. See also: Prince Lindworm.)
So. The troll bride fails to meet the conditions set for the marriage, and all of the trolls are so upset about this that they literally explode. And everyone else lives happily ever after!