Probably by accident, Netflix has gotten onboard with my intention of getting my son, Simon, willing to watch “girls’ stuff.” While his two-year-old sister Irene loves this show (she called it “Hih-uh”), he’s also perfectly happy to watch it, and it’s certainly not because he identifies with David, Hilda’s male friend. He’s much more like Hilda herself, and it doesn’t bother him in the slightest to identify with a female character. We didn’t set out to teach him a lesson with the show; it just looked cute. But those are the better lessons anyway.
Hilda (Bella Ramsey) lives in the wilderness with her mother, Johanna (Daisy Haggard), and their deer-fox, Twig. At least they do at first. They are under attack by little people they can’t see; Hilda discovers they’re elves, and she befriends Alfur (Rasmus Hardiker) as part of her effort to solve the problem. Unfortunately, though she solves the elf issue, their house is stepped on by a giant. So Hilda, Mum, and Twig go to Trollberg. After a rough start, wherein she befriends the Great Raven (Cory English), she joins the Sparrow Scouts and teams up with Frida (Ameera Falzon-Ojo) and David (Oliver Nelson). They have all sorts of adventures together while Hilda tries to adapt to city living.
The trio doesn’t always get along, you understand. Frankly, Hilda has spent so long alone in the Wilderness with her mum and no other humans that she’s not used to worrying about anyone’s feelings. Which is part of why her mother wanted to move them to Trollberg in the first place, one suspects. Hilda literally does not understand that “face your fears” is not always the solution, especially to someone as fearful as David, and Frida’s insane preparedness jars against Hilda’s carefree spontaneity. The kids bicker, as kids will do, and this leads to a fair amount of plot in the last few episodes.
But at her heart, Hilda is a good kid. She’s generous and compassionate, when she remembers that others’ needs are not necessarily hers. She’s full of curiosity and determination. She tells David at one point that she’ll listen to Frida because Frida usually has an idea about what to do about a problem. And while, no, her preferred solution to David’s problems isn’t necessarily successful, the point remains that she’s trying to help him. She and David are both willing to suffer if it means helping the other, and that is a true friendship.
I’m also fascinated by the worldbuilding of the show. Hilda lives in a world of elves and trolls and giants, and in her world, they’re just part of the regular landscape. Every house in Trollberg has a nisse. The library has spell books that actually work. I don’t know what the deal is with Wood Man (Ako Mitchell), but whatever it is, he’s just another person in Hilda’s life. Who her mother doesn’t like, because he is Hilda’s carelessness of others taken to the next level. The magic of their world is as taken for granted as magic would be in a world full of it—only truly worried about when it’s dangerous.
Terry Pratchett said several times over the course of the Discworld series that racism as we know it is not as much a thing in Ankh-Morpork, because concern about the colour of your neighbour’s skin is not as big a deal if they’re a completely different species. I don’t know if I believe that, and he kind of implies it isn’t strictly true anyway (“the sort of person who instinctively pronounces ‘negro’ with two g’s”), but it’s certainly true that the ethnic diversity of Hilda’s world is never commented on by any of the characters. Frida is black, and there’s clearly at least one Muslim family (a girl in Hilda’s Sparrow Scout flock wears a hijab), and so forth. Hilda doesn’t say anything about it presumably because she’s not enough used to humans at all to assume that any humans should be like her.
Hilda is also shown having just as much difficulty in school as you’d expect—presumably she’s been homeschooled up until this point, inasmuch as she’s clearly an intelligent girl who has no problem keeping up with her class academically. But, like most of the homeschooled kids I’ve known, she has real difficulty with the social and hierarchical aspects of schooling. She won’t raise her hand. She doesn’t worry about what they’re supposed to be discussing so much as what’s interesting her in any given moment. I’ll admit to a bit of chagrin that neither Frida nor David knows the answer to “Why do they ask us questions they already know the answer to themselves?” (To make sure you know the answer, Hilda!) One wonders what adult life would look like to a Hilda who’d never lived in Trollberg.
Still, she is able to fix things no one else can by pure nature of being who she is. It is she who thinks to talk to storm spirits, she who knows that trolls are people of a sort, too. Hilda may not be a good girl in the way of her classmates, but she is a good girl nonetheless. I’m very glad to discover that we will be getting more adventures with her next year.