Variations: Trolwal, Trolval, Teufelwal, Teuffelwal, Devil Whale
The Trolual or “devil whale” is one of the more familiar sights on ancient ocean maps. These malevolent cetaceans are mostly found in the northern Atlantic around Scandinavia.
Troluals are depicted as enormous whales with prominent tusks, frills, paws, and large scales on their body. They are as big as mountains, and may have vegetation growing on their backs.
A sleeping trolual on the surface of the ocean looks deceptively like a small island. Sailors will land on it, walk around, even start a fire – and then the whale awakens and sinks below the waves, drowning anyone unfortunate enough to remain on it. Unlike most other island monsters, troluals will also take a more proactive approach by crushing and overturning ships, making them a significant navigational hazard.
Fortunately, troluals can be distracted from their murderous intentions. One strategy is the sounding of trumpets, which are loud enough to momentarily startle and confuse the trolual. Barrels thrown overboard will also divert the whale’s attention. As the trolual plays with its new toys, the ship can sail to safety.
Even the great troluals are not immune to exploitation by humans. Munster states that the inhabitants of Iceland build their houses out of the bones of these whales.
The only major literary appearance of a trolual is in the fabulous tale of Alector, where one surfaces off the coast of the Asian Tangut Empire and ravages harbors every full moon. It is defeated and slain with the help of a magical flying hippopotamus.
Aneau, B. (1560) Alector, Histoire Fabuleuse. Pierre Fradin, Lyon.
van Duzer, C. (2013) Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps. The British Library, London.
Gessner, C. (1560) Nomenclator aquatilium animantium. Christoph Froschoverus.
Munster, S. (1552) La Cosmographie Universelle. Henry Pierre.
Nigg, J. (2013) Sea Monsters: A Voyage around the World’s Most Beguiling Map. University of Chicago Press.