For those familiar with Pearson’s comics, Hilda and the Hidden People is a retread of the events of Hilda and the Midnight Giant and Hilda and the Troll, with some expansions and embellishments to pad the spare story out into a 170 page novel.
Hilda is a young girl living in a Scandinavian-esque northern valley she shares with trolls, elves, and giants. The young adventurer passes her days tramping around the hills with her deer fox Twig and filling her sketchbook, followed by cozy evenings curled up by fire with her mother. Life is peaceful until the pair receive threatening letters from a group calling themselves the Hidden People, demanding that Hilda and her mother abandon their home. When the invisible creatures lead an all-out attack on the house, Hilda’s mother begins to think that moving to Trolberg, the nearest human metropolis, might be the best course. Hilda, who loves the valley and her magical friends, is determined to neutralize the threat and change her mother’s mind about moving to the city.
Luckily, she has the help of one of the Hidden People, a diminutive elf named Alfur. It turns out that the Hidden People aren’t so much hidden as invisible—in order to see them, considerable paperwork must be processed. Hilda soon realizes that her seemingly isolated home is actually surrounded by a sprawling community of tiny elves of which she has never been aware (and to which she has apparently been causing some inconvenience). As Hilda struggles to reach a peaceful resolution with the leaders of the Hidden People, she is also caught up in a different puzzle. A mountain-sized giant has been stalking the hills at midnight, and Hilda is the only one who has seen him. Hilda finds that her small elf problem may be unexpectedly connected to her giant mystery—and that moving to Trolberg may not be so bad after all.
Hilda and the Hidden People is the first of several illustrated middle grade novels Flying Eye Books has planned to coincide with the debut of the Hilda animated series on Netflix. Originally created by Luke Pearson as a series of large-format graphic novels, Hilda is adapted to prose by British author Stephen Davies, with illustrations by Seaerra Miller. Miller does an admirable job capturing Pearson’s characters and aesthetics in chapter headings and occasional full-page illustrations. Unfortunately, Davies has not captured Pearson’s authorial voice nearly so well.
Davies’s adaptation is rather bland as a whole, and he writes Hilda as very young and excitable—absent is the dry humor and wiser-than-her-years self-assurance of Pearson’s graphic heroine. Much of the dialogue comes straight from the graphic novel, though vocabulary seems to be simplified in places. Visual jokes are retained, but don’t come across in prose without additional (and unfunny) explanation. Most significantly, this adaptation lacks the sense of folkloric texture and everyday magic that is so present in Pearson’s comics. The book reads as a young middle grade or advanced chapter book, and although the Hildafolk comics can be heartily enjoyed by an adult as easily as a child, I don’t expect Hilda and the Hidden People will be much enjoyed outside the seven-to-ten audience Flying Eye is targeting.
Hilda and the Hidden People is a serviceable introduction to the world of Hildafolk for young middle grade readers. It doesn’t stand well on its own as middle-grade fantasy, and will work best as a tie-in for fans brought in by the new animated series. For existing fans of the comics, this novel is not a particularly good supplement. It adds no new material to the stories and largely fails to capture much of the sophisticated charm and snarky tone of the Pearson’s work. Two more Hilda novels are scheduled for 2019, the first of which, Hilda and the Great Parade, is due out in January.
Hilda and the Hidden People
by Stephen Davies, Luke Pearson
Art by Seaerra Miller
Flying Eye Books, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 7-10