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A Troll Down Memory Lane

This article was originally published by AARP Magazine, 2011.

Remember those ugly little dolls everyone collected in the 1960s? Plenty of nostalgic baby boomers do!

Before Marge Simpson and her gigantic pillar of blue hair, there was Lorinda, a green-skinned little gal of Martian descent, with wild, unruly tresses that streaked skyward like blueberry cotton candy. Lorinda made the scene around 1965, when Mimi Michalski, of Bloomfield, N.J., was 12, and she still makes the scene every Christmas, when Mimi sets her 60-strong troll collection out in her antiques-decorated living room for their annual rite of visitation.

Remember trolls? Those bug-eyed, pug-nosed, Einstein-coiffed rubber dolls of exquisitely adorable ugliness? If you were a girl of a certain age (say 8 to 12), living in a certain time (the mid-1960's), they were the ultimate collector's item. Your brother had a baseball card collection, but you had a shoebox full of bright-haired trolls — and maybe even a specially designed troll comb to go with them. I rediscovered the allure of Troll World recently, when I ran across a picture of a fetching pink-haired wizard troll on the Internet, and innocently posted it on my Facebook page, musing that I just might have to start a collection.

In doing so, I had apparently set out some kind of Baby Boom nostalgia trip wire. The comments came fast and furious. Not only from my Facebook friends like Mimi, whose troll collections remained intact and tidily classified in her attic, but from others who fervently wished they'd kept theirs. Of course, all generations have their signature toys. Barbie debuted in 1959 and arguably became the most iconic doll of the Baby Boom generation.

But if Barbies were aspirational ice princesses, with their permanently crippled toes, impossible waistlines and impassive expressions, trolls were their complete opposite. They were hairy beasts: squat, flat-footed, wild-haired — precursors of the braless hippies to come. There was, in their mass adoration, the hint of irony, the beginnings of kitsch, maybe even a little subversiveness.

My friend Kit Schackner, who lives three-tenths of a mile from Mimi Michalsky but has never met her, was the other big troll collector in my group of Facebook friends.

She told me they were the hottest thing when she was in middle school. So hot, in fact, that her science teacher banned them from class.

Kit, who to this day revels in her role as neighborhood gadfly, remembers a troll revolt as her first act of organized insubordination. One day, when the teacher's back was turned, "someone" — Kit admits she was likely the guilty party — "coughed on cue. "And all the trolls came out," she says. "It was a beautiful thing to see."

Troll aficionados can regale you with the varieties and makes of trolls, from the original Dams to the Russ Berries and the tiny naked miniatures that came in gumball machines. Like any good modern tale, the troll juggernaut comes with its own legal side drama.

Faced with a lawsuit from Dam Things, Russ announced in 2004 it would stop making the critters. Of course, you can find trolls of every make, vintage and description — including Russ Berrie trolls — on eBay. As for me, well I wish I still had troll or two. I found a cute one on Amazon, dressed up like a French schoolgirl with a red-and-white striped shirt, going for $24.99.

It's as tantalizing as anything else I lust for online, but I feel a little sheepish pressing the button. Where would I display it? And how would I explain that I just bought it this year? No, it seems that I'm in between my troll-acquiring periods. The first one, of course, was during the mid-60's. And the next one? Whenever I become a grandparent.

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