Guest post: Analyzing the witchy librarian in ‘Hilda’ TV series + new movie

It’s all about that Kaisa!

I have a treat for y’all! I am featuring another guest post by Burkely Hermann, who contributed a couple of guest posts last year about BIPOC librarians and BIPOC archivists in animated series. I asked Burkely to contribute another guest post because I thought analyzing the reel librarian character of Kaisa, the breakout character and fan favorite from the Hilda TV series and the new Hilda and the Mountain King movie, would be interesting for readers. Enjoy!

For more of Burkely’s insights into librarians and archivists, make sure you visit his Pop Culture Library Review and Wading Through the Cultural Stacks blogs.

*SPOILER ALERTS BELOW*


It’s all about that Kaisa: Analyzing the breakout witchy librarian in Hilda

~ Guest post by Burkely Hermann

In recent years, librarians have become more prominent in animated series. Unfortunately, most of these librarians either only appear in one episode, like Wong and O’Bengh/Cagliostro in What…If?, and Mira and Sahil in Mira, Royal Detective, or are stereotypical and problematic. There are some exceptions. Librarians Sara, Sarah, and Jeffrey/Desiree in Too Loud, Amity Blight in The Owl House, Naoufel in I Lost My Body, and Myne in Ascendance of a Bookworm all defy stereotypes in their own ways. Apart from these characters, one character shines through. She has become one of the best depictions of librarians in fiction, especially in animation, for some time. Her name is Kaisa. She is a casually gothic, witchy librarian in Hilda, an all-ages animated series. This article will analyze this character, noting her significance in representations of librarians in fiction.

Although Kaisa’s character only appears in six of the show’s 26 episodes – not even 23% of the series – she has become a smash hit among fans. She even appeared in three graphic novels by Luke Pearson that the series is based on: Hilda and the Great Parade, Hilda and the Nowhere Space, and Hilda and the Ghost Ship. There is a subreddit for her, which has over 180 subscribers, voluminous fan art, and cosplays! 

Currently, fans have written over 90 fan fictions featuring her character on Archive of Our Own. The UK retail seller Forbidden Planet has shirts, keychains, and pins featuring the character. While Kaisa’s name is not revealed until the second season, she is based on the name of a Swedish actress with the same first name: Kaisa Hammarlund. As such, her voice is an “amalgamation of Nordic accents.”

Kaisa after casting a spell in the episode "Chapter 3: The Witch," in the show's second season, with Hilda and Frida alongside her.
Kaisa after casting a spell in the episode “Chapter 3: The Witch,” in the show’s second season, with Hilda and Frida alongside her.

Kaisa in the first season

In the show’s first season, she remains mysterious, only appearing briefly. She is still shown as having an unmatched knowledge of cemeteries, the dead, and mystical items. At first, she helps Hilda and her friends, giving them books of interest and anticipating their questions.

At one point, she reminds Hilda that reference books are not taken from the hidden special collections room. She gives Hilda, who is a bit snobbish in how she treats a reference book in one episode, the right materials so she can raise the dead! At the end of the first season, she is shown outside the library, walking across the streets of the city of Trolberg. According to a new interview, Kaisa was supposed to have more scenes in this initial season, but the crew and producers weren’t sure how to develop her character at the time. Despite this, by the end of that first season, she had become a breakout star.

Kaisa in the second season

In the second season, which aired in December 2020, Frida and Hilda help Kaisa find a missing book, with all three of them fighting beasts and finishing challenges on their way. Although they eventually find the book, the committee of three witches chastise them for not turning it in on time (it’s over 30 years late at that point), and they are sucked into a void, where a monster awaits them. This was the beginning of an expansion of plot points from season 1.

While Kaisa uses her witch powers to try and save them, she is helped by Frida and Hilda. They give her the right book so she can make sure the void is subdued, and all three escape unscathed! After all of that, she is still grateful to an elderly patron and powerful witch who was her mentor, a person who is pleasantly surprised to see her as a librarian. She is later shown outside the library in the same season, fighting Tide Mice who can take over people’s minds. 

Kaisa asks Frida and David about body swapping in the recent film, Hilda and the Mountain King
Kaisa asks Frida and David about body swapping in the recent film, Hilda and the Mountain King

Kaisa in the new movie, Hilda and the Mountain King

Not surprisingly, Kaisa appears in the recent film, Hilda and the Mountain King, a continuation of the animated series. Although she only has a guest appearance, she has an important part in the film. Frida asks her for help in reversing a spell cast on Hilda which has made her swap bodies with a troll. At first, Kaisa agrees to help but stops when she realizes it wouldn’t work, having a “purely mechanical understanding of the situation,” as one fan put it. While Frida is annoyed by this, when she tries to use the spellbook anyway, it doesn’t work, as witch magic can’t be mixed with troll magic.

Kaisa is shown to be right all along, to the chagrin of Frida, and David, to a lesser extent. Reportedly, in early stages of the film’s development, the crew tried to incorporate Kaisa into the climax of the film. According to the movie’s director, Andy Coyle, the scene had Kaisa rebelling against the rule that witches shouldn’t interfere in a fight. Sadly, the scene was cut from the final film because of a “limited amount of screentime.”

Characteristics of the Trolberg library and Kaisa the librarian

The library where Kaisa works appears to be “ordinary” on the outside. It is grand inside, with secret passageways going through one special collections room after another. This ultimately leads to an inner chamber with a committee of three witches controlling the Witches Tower. There are so many resources that someone could stay there for hours and days, studying to their heart’s content. It is a magic library in more ways than one, and is amazing, as real-life librarians have recognized

Kaisa explains why she can't help Frida and David in the film
Kaisa explains why she can’t help Frida and David in the recent film, Hilda and the Mountain Kin

Kaisa is a principled librarian who likely has a MLIS degree and is an atypical librarian who has a life outside the library. Her portrayal fulfills what I’ve termed the “Librarian Portrayal Test.” She is a twenty-something who wears headphones, like Kino does in Kino’s Journey, has a cassette player, and is skilled with magic. Despite this, Kaisa, like any librarian, is tasked with enforcing the roles. In one episode, she tells the show’s protagonists to “keep it down,” but never shushes them.

Her character has led some librarians to “feel seen” and others to note she used skills from her “previous career path” (as a witch) to save the day. Others have used Kaisa as a way to praise librarians more broadly. While some have said that her job isn’t as realistic as it might seem, some have countered this by saying that Kaisa and the series as a whole, communicates “very positive messages about libraries.”

She has a unique appearance since the series is in an intentionally nebulous time frame. It has a setting that is something familiar, something foreign. The series and the film was described by the director of Hilda and the Mountain King, to be set, vaguely, in the early 1990s. The series, and the film, are also inspired by Scandinavian folklore. This makes it no surprise that the two-leveled Trolberg library has “outdated” elements like library slips and card catalogs, along with “newer” elements like copiers. Despite this, it is abundantly clear that she has experienced burnout as a librarian. In one episode, she argued that patrons who borrow books are liable to return them, tying into the debate among librarians and libraries over the role of patrons.

Some have argued that Kaisa might be asexual, basing it on her character’s colors (purple, black, grey, and white), even though this supposition has not been confirmed, or denied, by the show’s creator or anyone on the show staff. If this is the case, Kaisa would be one of the recent depictions of LGBTQ librarians in pop culture such as Desiree in Too Loud and Amity Blight in The Owl House.

Undoubtedly, Kaisa will reappear in the show’s next, and final, season, which will go beyond the graphic novel series by Luke Pearson that the series is based on, and likely into new, and exciting, places. The season, which may premiere later this year, will likely be 13 episodes long, allowing for Kaisa to, once again, get a chance to shine in the animated series, serving as an important depiction of librarians in popular culture.

A bit about Burkely

Burkely Hermann is an archivist and researcher who works for the National Security Archive (NSA). He graduated from University of Maryland with an MLIS degree with a concentration in Archives & Digital Curation in December 2019, and earned a B.A. in Political Science, minoring in history, in May 2016 from St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He was recently elected as a member of the Society of American Archivists Steering Committee. He currently writes about libraries on his blog Pop Culture Library Review and about archives on his blog Wading Through The Cultural Stacks. He presently writes pop culture reviews of animated series and webcomics for The Geekiary and Pop Culture Maniacs. He also writes about his family history roots, and sometimes writes pieces for I Love Libraries, an initiative of the American Library Association. He has also been published in the American Archivist Reviews Portal, the SNAP Roundtable, Issues & Advocacy, Neurotastic, and the NSA website. In his spare time, he writes about fictional works, volunteers as a National History Day judge, likes hiking, reading webcomics, watching animated series, and occasionally swimming.

Sources used

Author: Jennifer

Librarian, blogger, movie lover

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