The Battle Trolls Story

This story is one I’ve found myself telling a few different times, and it’s one of my favorites. It’s a story that my brothers and I all know and like to re-tell at family gatherings. Because Christmas is the time for giving, I would like to share this story with you.

Let me start by painting a picture of my step-grandfather, upon whom this story hinges. He was my dad’s stepfather, but to us he was just Grandpa. Our biological grandfather on that side was not really involved with the family in any way. This Oliver guy was it (as well as the source of my middle name).

He was what you would confidently call “grizzled”. A former Navy man, he had a persistent gray flat top you could set your watch to, and a mustache, because he was a man born before 1970. On his forearm was a blue, blurry tattoo of (I think) a lady. He was never seen out of his easy chair or without a beer and smoking implement. 

His sense of humor was what you’d expect from that description – ribald. Whenever we’d go to visit he’d greet me the same way: “Hey Jon. How’r the wife and kids?” Being a child I never had a clever response to that. Once he handed me a paperback book with a man riding a dirt bike on the cover and it was called Daredevils of Dust. I (stupidly) asked what was in the book and he said, “Naked ladies”.

The feature about Grandpa Oliver that feeds this story is that he didn’t believe in toys. I think it’s safe to assume that play toys did not factor into his upbringing. And whenever he saw me or my brothers playing with any kind of toy, he would call us sissies. Rather, he would direct the insult at the toys themselves. Ninja Turtles were for sissies. Nerf guns were for sissies. Even toy cars and trucks were for sissies. I think he wanted to use a stronger adjective but was censored by my parents.

It was the early 90’s. Treasure Trolls were making an unexpected comeback in the marketplace. In an attempt to capture the young male market, Hasbro released Battle Trolls – Troll dolls with attitude. Attitude was super important in the 90’s. They were Troll dolls but they all had “tough” personas like Frankentroll, Cyborg Troll, and Punk Troll. Their faces wore permanent scowls, they had scars and battle wounds, and their outfits were consistently frayed from battle. They still all had the shock of colorful hair, but in all other ways these Trolls were bad ass.

Battle Trolls


With Battle Trolls, my brother and I hatched a plan to turn the tables on grandpa for all the times he’d called our toys “sissy”. The plan was thus: We would casually let grandpa know that we, his grandsons, played with Troll dolls. Anticipating the obvious response, we would then produce Battle Trolls and BLOW HIS MIND with how manly and awesome these Troll dolls were.

So the next time he came to visit, we made good on the plan. We each picked up our most hardcore Battle Troll, held them behind our backs, and walked up to grandpa. He was sitting out on the porch, cigarette and beer in hand as always, and we approached.

“Hey grandpa,” one of us said, “we play with Trolls…”

“Those things are for sissies”, came the expected response. The plan was working! We whipped our Battle Trolls out from behind our backs and said simultaneously,


We proudly presented Punk Troll and General Troll – proof that toys weren’t just for sissies. Proof that there were toys out there that could make a kid a force to be reckoned with. Grandpa would HAVE to approve of this kind of toy…

Grandpa glanced at one doll, then the other, then off into the distance, taking a pull from his cigarette.

“They’re still for sissies.”

Our hearts and jaws fell. We were so dejected. Our plan to prove the value and manliness of toys had backfired spectacularly.

It’s funny to think about this story today because, what a stupid plan. Of course that would be grandpa’s response. We were holding 5 inch rubber dolls with red, fuzzy hair. A few molded scars and an aggressive facial expression weren’t going to transform them into symbols of masculinity.

I can’t say that grandpa Oliver had a huge impact on my life or shaped the person I am today. I can’t say that. But I’m glad I have stories like this to tell. People who never had a taciturn old grouch in their life are missing out.

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