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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Folklore in Hilda

 As part of my ongoing series on folklore found in mass media I'm going to take on the popular Netflix show Hilda. This is an animated series based on an existing comic/graphic novel that pulls heavily from Icelandic and related folklore. It is aimed at children and features a main character who is a child and so we go into this understanding that the folklore within the show has been softened for modern views on what is appropriate for children. 

Hilda is an entertaining series, so far having two seasons and movie which follow the adventures of the eponymous Hilda who is something of an expert in the magical and unusual. Where most people in Hilda's world fear the supernatural its Hilda's main focus and many of her adventures occur because she engages with something other people avoid. 
So that all said, let's dive into some of the folklore we find in the series:

  • Elves -  Elves are one of the more important groups of folkloric beings found in Hilda, with the elf Alfar (literally named elves, which to be honest is a bit confusing) as an important secondary character. 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. However inline with folklore the elves are invisible to mortals unless they choose to be seen - and in Hilda's world the human signs paperwork. 
  • Giants - Giants are a common being found within folklore and another which appears in Hilda as a blend of actual folklore elements and creative license. In folklore giants are usually dangerous and often described as somewhere around 12 to 13 feet tall. Hilda's versions are truly gigantic - one sleeping giant being mistaken for a mountain - but are only dangerous in that their size means they often unwittingly cause destruction. 
  • Trolls - Trolls exist across a range of folk belief  sometimes as outright dangerous beings and sometimes as a sort of rough mannered fairy being. In most folklore its agreed that they turn to stone in the sunlight, with this transformation understood to be permanent. They sometimes steal human children and their characters can range across stories from vicious to very human-like. Hilda's versions of trolls follow some of this folklore, in that they are rough and dangerous creatures who turn to stone during the day, but they are different in that the stone transformation is temporary. Hilda's trolls initially appear almost animalistic but they are later shown to be intelligent beings with a society and relationships.
  • Mara -  Folkloric Maran or Mare are night hags that cause sleep paralysis, night terrors, and sometimes death. Since this would obviously be a bit intense for a children's show the Mara in Hilda are mean teenage girls imbued with supernatural powers who cause nightmares and torment sleepers with their worst fears. 
  • Nisse -  Nisse is the Danish and Norwegian term for a type of spirit that helps around a home or farm. Described as male and usually appearing with a beard and wearing a hat they live in the house and protect the home. Hilda's versions, as usual, follow the broad strokes of the folklore but with differences: there are female Nisse for one thing, and while folkloric Nisse will leave if offended in Hilda Nisse can be thrown out of a home by an angry homeowner. Also in Hilda all the Nisse are named Tontu, which is just the Finnish word for Nisse.
  • Barghest -  In northern English folklore a type of giant monstrous dog which sometimes is said to kill people and other times is an omen of death. Hilda plays with this idea, featuring a gigantic black dog which is terrorizing the area but is eventually found to be friendly when reunited with its original owner. 
  • Lindworm -  Lindworms are beings found across centuries of folk belief, specifically Norse, and are usually depicted as what we might understand as a sort of wingless dragon. They could be dangerous or malefic but were also connected to knowledge of medicine and the natural world. Hilda stays true to this idea although her Lindworm is friendlier than the usual run. 
  • Changelings - showing up in the recent Hilda movie is the concept of changelings, something found widely across folk belief. In traditional folklore a changeling is a fairy or object exchanged for a stolen human; this is also what it is in Hilda. The main difference in Hilda's depiction of changelings is the method used to get the human back (usually very brutal in folklore) and the motivation behind the change. In stories a fairy is swapped for a human because the fairies want the human for various reasons, while in Hilda the swap occurs because of a supernatural being that decides her own child will be safer among humans.

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