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Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Hilda: Blending Folklore and Fiction

 One of my seven year old son's favorite shows is Hilda on Netflix, so its safe to say I've seen all the episodes of both seasons repeatedly. Its a fun show with a great premise and lively characters. Based on a comic the animated show follows the adventures of the eponymous heroine, a young girl raised in the wilderness who moves to the city of Trolberg, and tangentially her friends. The show blends some tidbits of actual folklore, modified, with creative adaptations to give the audience a brand new product. It is a fun story that sweeps the viewer along as the headstrong Hilda, who has a talent for dealing with Otherworldly beings, adapts to a move from the wilderness to the city which it turns out has just as much supernatural going on as her mountain home did. 


There is some actual folklore in Hilda, although rarely without distortion for plot purposes. In the first season we are introduced for example to elves, giants, trolls, mara, nisse, barghest, and a lindworm - all of which are real beings in folklore. However all of these are depicted with important differences in Hilda from what we would find in the original folklore which is important to keep in mind. The elves of Hilda are extremely small, only a few inches tall, and effectively powerless (lacking magic); this is at odds with elves in wider folklore, even the places where they are described as small they are seen as powerful magically and able to protect themselves. The mara in Hilda are mean teenage girls who cause nightmares in contrast to the folkloric maran who are night hags that cause sleep paralysis, night terrors, and sometimes death. What this basically means is that any of the actual folklore found in Hilda should be viewed as a starting point not a primer. 


 A lot of of what we find in Hilda is pure imagination, which is really fun. Examples of creatures in Hilda that are purely fiction as far as I know would be the Woffs, the Great Raven, Nittens, Vittra, the Wood Man, and the Tide Mice as well as Hilda's pet a 'deer-fox' named Twig. These beings help flesh out Hilda's world which is a place that is wild and enspirited and create a show that is fun and interesting for children and adults. The fiction tends to play off of and be rooted in the folklore, creating what may be called a folklorique result, something that isn't folklore but contains themes of it and reflects some older ideas. 

Some Good Pagan Bits

There are some very good pagan and animist aspects to Hilda:

  •  Weather is controlled by elemental spirits that live in the clouds; when they argue they create storms. 
  • there are several episodes centred on the lesson of human hubris relating to non-human spirits. One example from season one is the way the Meteorologist caused a terrible storm as a consequences of trapping a spirit. Another would be Hilda's own creation of the Tide Mice.
  • the show does a good job of teaching that there are many other spirits in the world and that they have agency and personality, even the clouds, which is great
  • shows that spirits are found in all places, wild and urban

Some Concerning Bits

 I do see people unreservedly recommending the show, and I have to admit I do have some reservations myself. I love the show and so does my son, but I also know where the line is in the material between the older folklore and creative license. I have a bit of concern that much like what I've seen with fairies in urban fantasy novels people will take the material from Hilda an incorporate it directly into their spiritual beliefs without any further research and that would be unfortunate.

Another aspect that I feel must be addressed by anyone practicing witchcraft who is going to look at this show as a template for belief, is that it is unashamedly a kids show, wherein the threats are minimal, the consequences always manageable, and the most dangerous of supernatural situations within the range of what a child can handle. It makes for great kid's tv, but in a spiritual context leans into the anthropocentricism that already plagues modern witchcraft as well as contributing to the idea that humans can handle any Otherworldly threat that comes there way with relative ease. Even the trolls which are placed as the greatest threat in Hilda's world never actually hurt anyone and are far more noise and bluster than danger.

My Overall Thoughts

Ultimately I like the show and enjoy watching it, but I do find myself using some points in different episodes to discuss actual folklore and beliefs with my kids. The episode with the Mâran is a good example of that, where the show's depiction veers widely away from the folklore while still using the folkloric terms, an opportunity I took to discuss actual Mâran lore with my children. I think that anyone who watches it and is tempted to include ideas from it in their spiritual beliefs should see it not as a manual of belief but as a springboard for further research - and be prepared for the actual folklore to be different in tone and content than the show. As much fun as Hilda's elf friends are they are very much at odds with the elves found in Icelandic folklore. 

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