The HILDA graphic novels had been on my radar for a while, but knowing they’ve recently been adapted into a Netflix original made me finally give them a read (I like to read the source material before watching any adaptations).
In Hilda and the Troll (2010), Hilda is a young girl living with her mother in an unspecified part of the Scandinavian countryside, in a little wooden cabin on a great grassy plain. She spends her days wandering outside, drawing in her sketchbook, and reading texts about mythological creatures — which, the reader soon realizes, are not mythological at all.
Hilda encounters sea spirits and giants and trolls, recording them faithfully in her sketchbook. And this isn’t treated as particularly extraordinary; it’s taken for granted that her world is filled with such things. A little man made out of wood occasionally invites himself into Hilda’s house to lie by the fireplace, and Hilda is accompanied everywhere by Twig, her pet… something. Whatever it is, it’s adorable, and looks rather like a blue fox with antlers.
The story is rather thin, but in a very gentle, purposeful way. Hilda explores the countryside, and comes across what she thinks is a troll that’s turned to stone. To prevent it from coming to life while she’s sketching it, she hangs a bell on its nose, knowing that trolls hate the sound of bells. But this will have some unexpected ramifications…
The stakes aren’t remotely high, but like I said — the gentle story is less about creating a suspenseful narrative and more about inviting children to join Hilda on her adventures. There is a large map to pore over in the inside flap, with tantalizing landmarks such as the ruins, the old bridge, the blue pine forest and the wood-man’s house, so readers can track Hilda’s progress across the wilderness.
Luke Pearson’s illustrations become a little more polished in later books, in which Hilda’s design becomes more rounded and cute, but his colour palette of soft browns and faded orange is beautifully off-set by the blue of Hilda’s hair.
Hilda and the Troll is a lovely book that shares with the reader its values of protecting nature, being curious about the world around us, and appreciating the little things in life, whether it’s a hot cup of tea or the sound of rain on the roof. It might even send children out into the garden with their own sketchbooks…