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!
*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 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 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 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.
- Becker, Becky Briggs. “So @DeerTrivia & I finaly watched the Hilda S2 episode w/ librarian witch Kaisa riding an enchanted vacuum cleaner to suck up magical soul sucker mice. Love how this season expanded on previous season plot points. @darling_sammy @history_hermann,” Twitter, 30 Jan. 2021
- Bunyan, Stephen. “Season 2 of @hildatheseries drops tomorrow on Netflix and Im super excited to be able to finally show off all the work we did on it! Have some Librarian slacking off to hold you over until it comes out. #Hilda #HildaTheSeries #HildaSeason2 #HildaFanart,” Twitter, 13 Dec. 2020
- Clemente, Mike. “The Witch – (Hilda Season 2 Episode 3) – ‘Toon Reviews 46,” MC Toon Reviews, 8 Jun. 2021
- Cook, Rhianna. “Absolutely loving this series! At least as much as I love the comics! It helps that it features an amazing library with a super cool librarian that anticipates the needs of the user before they even know what they want! #IAmALibrarian #Hilda #comics #PicturesMeanBusiness,” Twitter, 25 Sept. 2018
- Davis, Victoria. “‘Hilda and the Mountain King’: Why We Love Our Trolls,” Animation World Network, 7 Jan. 2022
- Definitely: Max. “I’m looking for jobs and you know what I REALLY want to do? I want to be the witch librarian from Hilda. I want to be up on a ladder shelving books and slide down when a kid is like “we need a book about ghosts” and hand it to them and leave. But that job doesn’t exist 😦,” Twitter, 13 Jul. 2021
- Deo, Meera. “Librarians are superheroes! Many have gone way beyond the scope of their jobs to be campus #COVID testers, substitute teachers, & IT support. Extra pay? No way. Some aren’t even called “faculty” tho they do the work. One of many ways #PandemicEffects exploit existing hierarchies,” Twitter, 4 May 2021
- “Five results for “hilda, librarian”,” Forbidden Planet, 2022
- Hammarlund, Kaisa. “Go Hilda! And with a guest appearance from your favourite goth librarian[.] Streaming on @netflix now! @BabbleVoice,” Twitter, 30 Dec. 2021
- Hammarlund, Kaisa. “Thanks Erfan! We love the show too. Kaisa is deliberately played with an amalgamation of Nordic accents. We wanted her to be a bit mysterious to place. So a mix of Icelandic and Swedish would be correct:),” Twitter, 2 Dec. 2021
- Hammarlund, Kaisa. “Thank you! We adore our Lil Librarian Witch. Glad you’re enjoying season 2 as much as us,” Twitter, 15 Dec. 2020
- Hammarland, Kaisa. “Thank you Matthew! We had such a giggle in the studio. Especially with the mean Marra;) And I agree..the mysterious Björk-ish librarian is ace. Perhaps she’s got more to come.. #TeamHilda,” Twitter, 25 Sept. 2018
- Hermann, Burkely. “10 other beautiful libraries in animated series,” Pop Culture Library Review, 21 Feb. 2021
- Hermann, Burkely. “A Mysterious Librarian is the Breakout Star of Netflix’s Hilda,” Pop Culture Library Review, 22 Sept. 2020
- Hermann, Burkely. “A scary intergalactic “library” in Megas XLR,” Pop Culture Library Review, 6 Jul. 2021
- Hermann, Burkely. “Applying the “Librarian Portrayal Test” to librarian depictions,” Pop Culture Library Review, 31 Aug. 2021
- Hermann, Burkely. “Authorized books and restrictions in animation,” Pop Culture Library Review, 9 Mar. 2021
- Hermann, Burkely. “BIPOC librarians in animated series: She-Ra to Yamibou,” Pop Culture Library Review, 26 Mar. 2021
- Hermann, Burkely. “Countering the “shushing librarians” stereotype in animated series,” Pop Culture Library Review, 20 Apr. 2021
- Hermann, Burkely. “Doctor Strange’s quest for power and the Black sorcerer-librarian,” Pop Culture Library Review, 12 Oct. 2021
- Hermann, Burkely. “Fictional Librarian of the Month: Desiree in “Too Loud”,” Pop Culture Library Review, 14 Dec. 2021
- Hermann, Burkely. “Hilda, hidden information, and research in a library,” Pop Culture Library Review, 16 Feb. 2021
- Hermann, Burkely. “Is Kaisa, the librarian in “Hilda”, experiencing burnout?,” Pop Culture Library Review, 16 Nov. 2021
- Hermann, Burkely. “Lacking “proper, consistent representation”: Librarians in popular culture,” Pop Culture Library Review, 12 Nov. 2020
- Hermann, Burkely. “Libraries Take the Spotlight in this Disney Junior Show,” Pop Culture Library Review, 6 Mar. 2021
- Hermann, Burkely. “Loved seeing my favorite witchy librarian in
@hildatheseries “Hilda and the Mountain King” film which came out on Dec. 30! Hope to see her again in Season 3! #spoilers #HildaandtheMountainKing #HildaTheSeries,” Twitter, 3 Jan. 2022
- Hermann, Burkely. “Messy libraries and more fights in the library,” Pop Culture Library Review, 2 Mar. 2021
- Hermann, Burkely. “Myne the “bookworm” librarian and the Nippon Decimal Classification System,” Pop Culture Library Review, 29 Aug. 2020
- Hermann, Burkely. “Restricted access and the unnamed librarian in “Merlin’s Story”,” Pop Culture Library Review, 14 Sept. 2021
- Hermann, Burkely. “Sarah, the book jail, and the “sanctity of library property” in “Too Loud”,” Pop Culture Library Review, 11 Jan. 2022
- Hermann, Burkely. “The “atypical” librarians in animated series,” Pop Culture Library Review, 6 Apr. 2021
- Hermann, Burkely. “The Mysterious Librarian in Netflix’s “Hilda” Finally Gets a Name,” Pop Culture Library Review, 8 Jan. 2021
- Hermann, Burkely. “Uncle Grandpa and the “terrifying” 12 cent late fee,” Pop Culture Library Review, 26 Oct. 2021
- “Hildalibrarian,” Reddit, 24 Jan. 2022
- “Kaisa,” Hilda wiki, 24 Jan. 2022
- “Kaisa | The Librarian (Hilda),” Archive of Our Own, 24 Jan. 2022
- “Library,” Hilda wiki, 7 Nov. 2021
- MacTaggert, Michael. “And remembering the entire “Hilda” episode that culminated in Kaisa conquering her anxiety about practicing magic as a “failure” of a witch by reading a magic book and using skills from her previous career path to save the day,” Twitter, 14 Mar. 2021
- Miss Library. “I love that the Hilda creators put Kaisa the library witch in this show I feel so seen!,” Twitter, 17 Jun. 2021
- Mohr, Sara. “Just finished watching the animated series Hilda on Netflix. It was recommended to me because the Librarian is a witch who know just what book you need before you even ask her. I can also definitely get behind the very positive messages about libraries,” Twitter, 26 Apr. 2021
- mossedman. “I love that she didn’t even hesitate to help them and only stoped [sic] when she realized it wouldn’t work. It was never about morals or ethics, just a purely mechanical understanding of the situation,” Reddit, 4 Jan. 2022
- Pearson, Luke. “I’m afraid it was not intentional on my part. I don’t know who exactly did her final design and made her hair purple though, so it’s not impossible,” Twitter, 18 Dec. 2020
- The 2nd Dimension, “Making Hilda and the Mountain King | Full Interview with Director Andy Coyle and AD Megan Ferguson,” YouTube, 22 Jan. 2022. In the video, see 25:14-26:30, 17:57-19:00, and 2:08:39-2:08:52.
- “Void of No Return,” Hilda wiki, 29 Sept. 2021
- Zahed, Ramin. “Creative Team Behind ‘Hilda and the Mountain King’ Discuss Her Next Big Adventure,” Animation Magazine, 22 Dec. 2021