That's why, when I saw this scene from a somewhat forgotten grade B movie, Troll 1, I felt I was in the presence of revelation. In it, a character who is later transformed into an elf, recites from Spenser's Faerie Queene:
For those unfamiliar with this flick (now in my top 10 all-time faves), this moment may appear a bit opaque -- like a dream, or an avant-garde poem. Here's the context:
The girl who requests this recitation is actually possessed by a murderous, scary looking (male) troll. This denizen of the mythic underworld is slowly overtaking all the inhabitants of an apartment building in San Francisco, and converting each of their pads into a different faerie world (you get a preview of these environs in this scene).
Once this devilish transformation is completed, the possessed girl will be crowned the troll's Faerie Princess. And when this happens, the troll's maleficent kingdom will be reborn as a 4th dimension existing along side -- and in dark competition with -- ours.
The Secret of the Troll Doll Craze
As I was wondering why the troll felt so at home in the girl's body, Elaine Equi (my better half) reminded me that little girls and trolls have always had a thing for each other. It's a fact of psychological life that no doubt fueled the Troll Doll craze.
Why? Elaine's theory is that young girls cling to trolls as symbols of power -- exactly what they lose after a fully feminized socialization. In addition to being a rebellious, anti-social figure, the troll possesses awesome magical capabilities.
In this sense, trolls are necessary for girls, as symbols of autonomy. For that matter, trolls need little girls, too. For (as the movie shows) without them, their desires can never surface in the waking world.
Coincidentally, Equi wrote a poem about all this -- long before we saw the movie:
The Necessary Troll
Once I thought I saw a lecherous troll gesture loudly
beneath a bridge on a box of jasmine tea imported
from some imaginary country in an undisclosed century.
He was trolling patiently for after-school girls
to give him the pearl of their girlish essence.
The tea was so delicate and feminine -- really more
like perfume in a cup than something to drink.
I hated the taste, but enjoyed playing chicken with the troll,
letting my eye sweep his dirty corner without grazing him.
No one knows what happened to those who actually did look.
Some say they turned into spiders and crawled -- others that they
aged hundreds of years in a blink. I never crossed that bridge,
preferring to believe that as long as I didn't, everything
would remain as it was on the cardboard box. And regrettably
it has. You see, I didn't realize the value of the troll's slurpy
slobber and its power to transform a common commodity
such as tea into a rare and precious thing.
Giving up the Troll here results in a gentle sense of loss. I wondered, though, if "the troll's slurpy slobber" had totally evaporated. It was preserved, at least, in the poem, was it not? This brought to mind something I read by the philosopher Lyotard on Freud's theory of dreams.
Freud termed the way dreams mash up images, sounds and meanings condensation. Lyotard tells us that this aspect of the dreamwork "crumples" the text of a dream. This process hides/censors anti-social desires from waking consciousness while, at the same time, preserving them -- for it offers them a masked, indirect way to see the light of day. If you crumple a piece of paper with a message on it, some of its words are still legible. (p. 28)
The comparison of poems and dreams, of course, has a long, rich history. Both are modes of figurative language, as are tales about trolls (perhaps the most "crumpled" of all mythological figures). And all three "genres" often depend on condensation for their power.
The poet Lorine Niedecker wrote the classic statement on the advantages of the condensed work of poetry:
Learn a trade
to sit at desk
Some have read Niedecker's line about "no layoffs" as proof that being a poet is a 24/7 gig. True enough. But I see it also meaning that she can't get fired. As such, poetry offers a bit of autonomy no one can take away.
Perhaps like a dream, the work of poetry keeps a bit of the old slobber around.