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Trollhunters and Two Worlds} ?> Jim Lake is an unremarkable teenager living in Arcadia Oaks, an equally unremarkable town (despite it’s cool name). There wouldn’t be much left to say about this character or setting if they weren’t the subject of Guillermo Del Toro’s colourful Trollhunters. As it is, adventure is afoot.
Right under Jim’s feet, actually.
As the story opens, Jim’s 15-year-old problems appear unremarkable. He wishes he owned a cooler ride, hopes he won’t get detention, and finds it easier to stare at his crush than speak to her. Things get complicated—and more dangerous—when the magical amulet of the fallen Trollhunter calls out to Jim and pulls him into inescapable peril.
Jim’s adventure straddles two worlds and brings to mind my own engagement with other worlds. Although the ones I escape to are found in books, TV and film, and video games rather than a kingdom under my feet, their effect on me is no less real.
Fans of fantasy are familiar with the charge of escapism. It’s “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy,” and can become a bad habit if abused. Fortunately, enjoying other worlds doesn’t need to be escapism; other worlds can help prepare us for the things we face in this world.
Rule number one of being the Trollhunter is to never be afraid; rule number two is fight to the death. When Jim faces his first real challenge in the Troll world, he has trouble getting past rule one. A sparring match with disappointed Trollhunter-hopeful Draal ends in an embarrassing loss which prompts Jim to abandon the “sacred obligation” of being the Trollhunter. However, he quite literally cannot escape. The amulet magically pursues Jim, much like the obligations of this world, sacred or otherwise.
I appreciate immersing myself in fantasy worlds in order to live experiences I can’t live in my own life. Sometimes this means learning from hobbits and wizards; other times it means experiencing life through the eyes of someone who doesn’t share my sex, race, or faith. Good fiction builds empathy, and fantasy often takes place in worlds where great tasks and challenges await, so good fantasy should be a mental proving ground.
Elements of these other worlds escape into my world as often as I escape into theirs and, if I’m honest, that scares me sometimes. The way stories work on me transforms reading, watching, and even playing into a risky endeavor because truth is truth wherever it’s found. This means truth can make demands of me whether I believe it or not; and this isn’t always a comfortable thought.
Ashamed and dejected after his loss to Draal, Jim also can’t escape a fateful rendezvous with the school bully. But it’s not his first fight anymore—Jim is changed, though he hardly knows it yet. Confronted by Steve, Jim prepares to surrender and be scorned but finds something worth more than his honour to fight for: his mom and Clair, the aforementioned crush. Losing the fight with Draal and surviving proves that losses don’t always mean endings. So when Steve demeans Jim’s hardworking, physician mom and violently pushes Clair, Jim stands up and lands the one hit he couldn’t manage against Draal. Thus, he conquers his first giant.
Before his lopsided match against Draal, Jim’s mentor and trainer tells him “one hit, master Jim, makes all the difference.” It turns out it did, but not in the way anyone expected.
Confronting his bully is both a very big deal for Jim and of little consequence in the grand scheme of his new life as Trollhunter. It’s the work of small hands compared to resisting the evil plots of the shadowy, evil troll Gunmar. But it was an encounter that prepared Jim for other, greater things. The young Trollhunter challenges Draal to a rematch, bringing the confidence gained in one world to the other, but Jim brings more than confidence with him—he is changed.
The ability to form and reform are the real power of other worlds and the greatest value of fantasy. In Jim’s case, living in two intersecting worlds allows for experiences in each to inform decisions in the other. He goes on to fight a rematch with Draal, but Jim also brings something from his world unknown to trolls: mercy. In his stunning victory over Draal, Jim decides to not practice the second rule of being Trollhunter; he spares his defeated foe and wins a friend and protector.
I’m thankful I get to control when or how I enter these other worlds, but the risks and rewards are just as real as the ones Jim learns as he moves between the worlds of trolls and humans. Once I see the truth in a work of fiction, it’s hard to un-know it. Anne of Green Gables showed me that boys don’t necessarily have better imaginations than girls. Elrond’s declaration in The Lord of the Rings that small hands move the wheels of the world is at once encouraging and troubling; what are my small hands doing to move the wheels while the eyes of the great are elsewhere?
Even though I’m free not to, I’ll continue to spend a portion of my time in other worlds. Not because the other worlds are better than this one, but because they make me better for this world.