Hilda and the Bird Parade
Created by: Luke Pearson
Published by: Nobrow
ISBN: 1909263060 (Amazon)
A few years back, I reviewed Luke Pearson’s wonderful strange little book, Hildafolk, a smallish relishment in whimsy and existential joie de vivre. In the course of talking about the book, I felt the need to justify lightheartedness in literature. I felt too many “serious” readers were unable to give serious time to books that didn’t challenge in terms of serious serious subjectmatter. Readers, I believed, are too easy to dismiss particular kinds of fiction as being trite fantasy. This led me to argue that “The novel is, in all cases, the bastion of fantasy. Story is, in its nature, a carefully composed unreality.” I argued that to miss that was to lose too much of the value of literature—to stunt one’s growth as a reader for the sake of self-congratulation.
Looking back, I can see I was in a bit of a rush to talk about the fun-loving, imaginative aspect of Hildafolk. There’s definitely some interesting ideological stuff in there too—even if only for a panel or two.11The woodman, in explaining why he would spend so much time at Hilda’s house, states that he is aware of too much in his own house to ever be truly comfortable in it.
In another moment, Hilda discovers that in her carelessness, she has harmed another and deals somewhat with regretfulness for her actions. The book, certainly, can be enjoyed by younger readers (my four-year-old loved it last night) and those who simply want to engage a world of fantasy and imagination, but! But but but! The Hilda books have always been about more than just escape and wonder and trolls, giants, and elves.
In Hildafolk (now rebranded as Hilda and the Troll and resized to match the rest of the series), creator Luke Pearson explored themes such as prejudice and the kind of personal negligence that lends to colossal misunderstanding—even where no active ill-intentions exist. In Hilda and the Midnight Giant, Pearson explores the unaired slights that build community resentment and the ennui that accumulates in the ends of eras. In Pearson’s third visitation on the character, beneath and about and throughout Hilda’s adventures and wonderments, we find a brief meditation on the conscious repurposement of another culture for the comfort of the central character—first to stave off an existential sense of alienation and second to improve on the appropriated culture. In part, it’s these moments and undercurrents that will give some readers a sense that Hilda’s adventures make for a valuable reading experience. And for sure they add into the prodigious wealth of value present in the books.
Charting Hilda’s arc throughout these stories is charming and touching and will, in the end, perhaps make her a more indelible character than other popular adventurers like, say, Tintin—who remains static throughout all his adventures and never experiences anything we might consider Growth. She is a young girl, and personal development is something that we should absolutely expect as the years tick by. Still, this kind of thing is often only artificially accomplished by mere physical maturation (e.g. height or breasts) or through broad skips from one level of growth to another, the transformative moments having taken place off-scene. In Hilda, it feels like she is growing up while we watch.
In addition to Hilda’s development as a character, it has been a joy to watch Luke Pearson evolve as a creator. The style employed has shifted perceptibly between each of the Hilda installments. Check out these comparative character designs of Pearson’s protagonist, animal familiar, and mother:
I have enjoyed each of Hilda’s incarnations22Though I will readily betray a preference for the earlier version of Twig! and love absorbing myself in everything visually associated with these books.
I will admit to having held off from reading Hilda and the Bird Parade for longer than I probably should have. With the conclusion of the second book, Hilda and the Midnight Giant, Hilda and her mother are set to relocate from the spare, lovely, wilderness environs of their high-altitude meadow and down into the city. In my head, I was sure the book could survive the transition just fine (Pearson is a prodigious creator and his other books and projects show a pretty awesome versatility.) But my heart just wasn’t into it. I didn’t want Hilda living in the city any more than Hilda did. So I waited. I saw the book released in Britain and I didn’t order it. I waited more. I saw it released in the US and I didn’t order it. I saw it on the Nobrow table at SPX and I didn’t order it. I waited and waited. I was stubborn and resentful. After all, Hilda was only just beginning her explorations of those rich mountains in which her family had dwelt for generations. Finally though, I received the book as a Christmas present.
This was me trying to want to read a hilda book that took place in a city
Also: Sorry for the scan quality on this
Opening Hilda and the Bird Parade while my children opened their own packages, it felt as if Pearson had anticipated my reluctance by emphasizing Hilda’s own. This volume opens with Hilda waking and rushing excitedly through her morning routine in order to go explore the mountains with her sketchbook as her mother waves a cheerful goodbye. The pleasant scene lasts a mere two pages. Pearson then revisits the same scene but a year later, days after Hilda has moved to the city with her mother. The framing is identical but the mood altered entirely. Hilda is drained of her vivaciousness, an unwilling captive of the city. I was glad for that presentation. It told me Pearson understood. I was also glad to have stubbornly put the book on hiatus, for it gave me the opportunity to more solidly put myself into Hilda’s little red boots.33And boy do they look scrumptious on me.
Hilda and the Bird Parade is, yes, about the Bird Parade. And yes, that gives Pearson some of the best opportunities to draw amazing things. But more prominently, this third volume in the series is about Hilda coming to grips with her new environment and being able to see the same kinds of magic at work on the very very manmade streets of Trolberg. Hilda needed this journey and I needed this journey.
Hilda and the bad seeds, hanging tough
Like the NKOTB
For all their beautiful visual moments and nostalgic pastoral landscapes, both the first two Hilda books can be a little heavy on text. In The Bird Parade, Hilda still has plenty to say, but it somehow gets less in the way of her explorations and doesn’t hinder her ability to witness all kinds of fascinations. Salt-lions, rat kings, raven gods, mountain trolls from afar. Pearson keeps this book solidly within the Hilda mythos.
Colour has always been an essential element to the Hilda books. The first volume was filled with pleasant greens, oranges and earth tones. The Midnight Giant developed a satisfying nighttime set of dark, less-saturated blues that dominated most of the significant or memorable moments of the book. The Bird Parade is dominated by forceful oranges and reds in its climax that help reinforce the wonder of the titular parade. In the early bits of Hilda’s exploration of the city, the palette is dominated by various hued greys (to emphasize the stone and dirt of the city) with less vibrant red and blue accents on parts and pieces such as doors and rooftops. Seen from the ground, Trolberg looks used and tired, but Pearson allows us (and Hilda) the opportunity to see the city from a height and it takes on a bit of beauty that would have otherwise remain undiscovered—much as how if Hilda had been prevented from her adventure in this book, the hidden wonders of her new domain would have remained buried treasure, useful to no one.
This scene in which Hilda is lost in a crowd is wonderfully claustrophobic
In the end, I was glad for Hilda and the Bird Parade. I knew I would be, of course, but I find it hard to fault my reluctance to move along with Hilda into her new home. I’m fine with the move and I’m sure Pearson will find plenty of new stories to tell in this place. Only. Only if he does at some point find reason to move Hilda back into the mountains or to some other more natural habitat, I will not whisper even the slightest complaint. We each, after all, have our preferences.
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