Always Be Afraid

Netflix – the great timesink of our era. I’ll admit that I don’t watch much with the eight bucks a month it costs me but shows like Trollhunters certainly make it worthwhile. I’ll also admit that when I heard about a kid’s show written by Guillermo del Toro I had about the same hopes as I had for a bedtime story by M. Night Shyalaman, which was not a whole lot. But I watched it all the same as it came well recommended and I was pleasantly surprised.

Long story short, Jim Lake is a kid in high school who finds an amulet that lets him turn into the Trollhunter, a sort of U.S. Marshall for trolls, those weird looking guys who turn into rock if they’re touched by sunlight. Jim is the first non-troll to be accepted by the amulet and gain the powers of the Trollhunter, which amount to summoning a suit of armor and sword composed of daylight and deadly to trolls, and he joins with a couple of trolls, Blinky and AARGH, and his friend Toby to keep trolls safe while trying to keep the amulet out of the hands of trolls who are up to no good.

Jim’s story is sadly typical for kids his age: No father, mother working too hard to keep the household together, crush on a girl he doesn’t know how to approach and no role model to work off of. Well, except for Mr. Strickler, one of the teachers at school, and maybe Blinky, the troll in charge of teaching him the lore of the trollhunters. But life was hard enough without mystical amulets and bloodthirsty troll generals chasing wherever he goes.

So let’s talk about stuff in a spoilery fashion.

Trollhunters has the potential to be a very generic tale. A couple of things set it apart from other young adult stories of this stripe. First, Jim’s relationship with his mother is very well developed and rings true. Jim cares for his mother and tries to take up as much of the slack as he can even as she tries to be two parents at once. It’s sweet and sad at the same time. The one disappointment in this is that Jim doesn’t share his new job with his mom like he does with his friend Toby and, when she eventually does find out about it, a plot contrivance wipes her memory soon after. I liked the dynamic between the two when Jim was struggling to make his mom see how important his place in the troll world was and she was struggling to let him do what she knew made him whole. Taking it out of play so quickly felt cheap.

Mr. Strickler fixes one of the problems many YA tales have – good villains. We watch him ascend from a lackey to a legitimate player in the power struggle in the troll kingdoms through ruthlessness and cunning. The show is replete with clever dialog for him, especially after Jim learns who he is and Strickler starts giving him warnings in coded language in public. There’s a brilliant scene where he visits Jim and his mother (still in the dark at the time) at their home for dinner. He spars with Jim, verbally and physically, all while both dance around Barbara out of a mutual desire to keep her in the dark. It’s one of the best moments in the whole show.

Finally there’s Blinky, the wonky, many-eyed troll that teaches Jim the ropes. He’s a different kind of mentor figure, eccentric and intellectual without ever being distant or unapproachable. Too often today intelligence is associated with emotional dysfunction. Blinky is a an emotionally functional but very smart troll, full of sage advice and strategic insight. He’s not a brave troll himself, nor does he have the strength to fight in the first place. He’s more of a Merlin to Jim’s Arthur, on hand with books, wise words and the fix when social situations pose a problem, but rarely taking a hand in fights.

Speaking of Merlin, one of the most interesting parts of Trollhunters is the lore of the world. Jim’s amulet is activated with the phrase, “For the glory of Merlin, Daylight is mine to command!” This touch of Arthurian lore adds an interesting twist to the show. After all, the Lady of the Lake made Arthur a king so what does that say about Jim Lake? Or about his father?

There’s lots of other fun bits of lore scattered about, like the way we learn how to defeat the ultimate bad guy or the troll facts Blinky is always sharing out. But my favorite has to be the first rule of trollhunting: Always be afraid. Frank Hubbard sneered at fear as a weakness, del Toro reminds us it’s something that can help us so long as we don’t let it control us. That kind of simple, practical and time tested life advice is the foundation of every story in Trollhunters and it’s hard not to love the story for it.

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