Tyll the Giant

Tyll the Giant / Suur Tõll

Published: May 10, 2017

Tyll the Giant (Suur Tõll) is an Estonian short animated film from the Soviet era, released in 1980. It was made by Rein Raamat, one of the earliest and most well-known Estonian directors of animated films. The film has nationalistic elements, and was frowned on by the Soviet authorities. It has more music than words, but it is nominally in Estonian.

Tyll the Giant is a figure from Estonian folk mythology. He was said to have lived on and ruled over the Estonian island Saaremaa. The legends tell of him defeating a demon that had long been trying to harm him, though eventually he is decapitated. He vows to return from the dead if anyone ever needs his help, though this led to a children’s tradition of calling his name to see if he would appear; so he soon stopped.

Tyll the Giant is one of several cultural productions about the giant. This particular cartoon tells the story of Tyll’s battles with the demon and then his own death, though it ends on a happy(ish) note, with Tyll’s vow to return from the dead if necessary. In Raamat’s opinion, the film tells the story of a hero dying for the sake of his nation’s freedom—so one can see how it might not have appealed to Soviet authorities. Tyll’s eyes were even in the colors of the forbidden Estonian flag (white, black, and blue), compounding the problem. The film didn’t last long on the Soviet market, but did make it to a number of international film festivals, where it was amply awarded.

Raamat himself had an animation career spanning more than 20 years. He has been given many lifetime achievement awards from Estonian and international organizations, and is an Estonian SSR Distinguished Artist (Eesti NSV teeneline kunstnik). Some of his other notable films include Field (Põld) and Hell (Põrgu).


Director: Rein Raamat
Production company: Tallinnfilm


The full film:



The very different Hell (Põrgu), 1983:


About the author

Julie Hersh

Julie studied Russian as a Second Language in Irkutsk and before that, Bishkek, with SRAS's Home and Abroad Scholarship program, with the goal of someday having some sort of Russia/Eurasia-related career. She recently got her master’s degree from the University of Glasgow and the University of Tartu, where she studied women’s dissent in Soviet Russia. She also has a bachelor’s degree in literature from Yale. Some of her favorite Russian authors are Sorokin, Shishkin, Il’f and Petrov, and Akhmatova. In her spare time Julie cautiously practices martial arts, reads feminist websites, and taste-tests instant coffee for her blog.

Program attended: Home and Abroad Scholar

View all posts by: Julie Hersh