There is no doubting the place of writer/director Guillermo del Toro in the world of modern entertainment, crossing borders of genre, language and generation with his multi-award winning film Pan’s Labyrinth retelling the days of the Spanish civil war overlaid with a fantastical element as seen through the eyes of a child in addition to his more commercial offerings of Hellboy, Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak.
Having collaborated with Chuck Hogan on the modern vampire trilogy The Strain, adapted into a television show for which del Toro directed the pilot episode, his latest literary offering is Trollhunters, co-written with The Monster Variations’ Daniel Kraus and illustrated by Sean Murray, the adaptation featuring the voices of Star Trek Beyond’s Anton Yelchin, Pacific Rim’s Ron Perlman and The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun ready to follow on Netflix.
With the opening scenes of two brothers in the late summer of ’69 in San Bernardino, California, Jack and his little brother Jim Sturges out on their bicycles at twilight, Jack vanishing under a bridge and Jim haunted into adulthood by his memory of his lost brother, the book reminds of Stephen King’s It, and inevitably the evil reawakens a generation later, fifteen year old Jim Junior finding that he must defend his city from the return of the trolls led by Gunmar the Black.
Full of dismemberments and internal organs, the prose is calculated to be as ghoulish, ghastly and grim as possible without crossing the abstract border from juvenile fiction into adult situations or vulgarity, certain words and phrases being permissible while others are forbidden, though new girl at school Claire Fontaine is given special dispensation, possibly because when she reverts to her native Scottish accent few readers will understand what she’s saying.
Kraus has captured the consuming obsessiveness of teenage boys, though with a troll named ARRRGH!!! (actually Johannah M ARRRGH!!!) as a lead character it seems a pre-teen audience might be a more appreciative, although they are likely to be daunted by the relentlessly dense prose. “We live in a time ill-suited to long-form poetry,” mourns the multi-ocular troll Blinky, a caution Kraus should have adhered to himself.
Desperately overwritten, Trollhunters feels like an overdeveloped premise with every moment described in controlling detail, though this ties with del Toro’s films where his dedication to design and presentation often overwhelms the frugal narrative, and it reads like ingredients prepared from an overfamiliar recipe rather than an original idea, the high school football star who doubles as extortionist bully, the long-suffering fat freckled ginger best friend, the entrancing new girl in class who outshines all the other girls in the eyes of reluctant hero Jim.
With the forthcoming series to be rendered via computer animation, it is as though Trollhunters has been conceived with that in mind rather than as a novel in its own right, the floorboards beneath Jim’s bed falling away to reveal the stairs to the troll’s domain begging to be digitally rendered rather than seeming a natural moment, the different troll species conceived to be seen rather than read about.
While Murray’s delicately shaded sketches are beautifully rendered, they alone would have been sufficient to engage and entice a reader through pared-down passages which would inspire young imaginations to complete the picture; instead it is a long slog which is exasperatingly hyperactive and insufficiently rewarding, predictably ending on a football field, because in America everything is a game and all that matters is winning.
Trollhunters is available now from Hot Key Books and the television show launches on Netflix on December 23rd