Once there was a troll. He was not especially good-looking, nor was he especially ugly. He was just an ordinary troll. His name was Gus. So begins The Happy Troll, a charming picture book that depicts the troll's quest for happiness.
Gus might be an ordinary troll, but he has an extraordinary voice. His singing charms his little friends, and soon trolls from far and wide come to hear Gus' songs. With the joy reflected in Peter Sís' oil pastel on gesso illustrations, we see Gus bathed in light while his audience watches in rapt attention. Gus especially enjoys the little gifts his friends bring fresh water, nuts, roots and berries. Gus was happy.
But, one day, a grateful raven with a gold ring on his claw begs Gus to sing for him. Gus is transfixed by the gold ring and will only sing if the raven gives up the ring. The raven gives up the ring and Gus sings. In the tradition of such stories as The Fisherman's Wife, The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle and, of course, The Midas Touch, Gus learns that wishes granted can bring woe. He is beguiled by a snake with a gold crown and a frog with a gold carriage. He is so busy showing off his crown and ring that he has no time to sing his songs.
Soon, he is all alone. And, boy, is he alone. Sís paints the sad, lonely troll with dark teal strokes under a weed-infested tree, with the lonely carriage decaying on the side. Nothing gives the reader hope but a tiny, golden fairy carrying a lantern in the lower left corner of the page. It takes Gus, all alone, to figure out what he needs to do to get his music back. And, along the way, he finds joy and forgiveness. The timeless story, originally published in Switzerland and now released for the first time in an American edition, is perfectly complemented by Sís' tiny details. In the end, a joyous circle of hand-holding trolls tells it all.