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Daniel Kraus Teams with Guillermo del Toro to Show Us What’s Lurking under the Bridge
With three novels under his belt, Booklist Books for Youth Editor Daniel Kraus has made a respectable name for himself as an author of YA horror, so it won’t come as too much of a surprise that he has partnered with Guillermo del Toro, the renowned filmmaker behind Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth, to write Trollhunters, which will be released in July. Both authors have worked behind the camera, and it shows in their collaboration, which unfolds at a cinematic pace with vividly visual language. “This project was born with an intention for multimedia,” says Kraus. “I think it’s safe to say that everything Guillermo does has a cinematic bent, with its arms open to a large potential audience.”
What’s more appealing to a large audience than a classic high-school story? After an eerie prologue set in the 1960s, when Jim Sturges’ dad, Jimbo, watched his brother disappear under a bridge, del Toro and Kraus introduce Jimbo’s teenage son, Jim, who lives in the shadow of his father’s 45-year-old trauma. If living with an addled father in a house with a Fort Knox–style security system wasn’t bad enough, Jim is also the target of his school’s number-one bully, an untouchable top athlete. The classic geek-jock dynamic isn’t the only iconic high-school marker, though: there’s also a dehumanizing gym-class rope-climb, the looming possibility of failing math class, and plenty more. If those moments seem a little on-the-nose, it’s clearly by design. “High school is like a prepopulated world over which you can drape any skin,” Kraus says. “Part of the fun of Trollhunters was taking stereotypical teen archetypes and situations and escalating them to grotesque heights.”
And what grotesque heights they are. Before long, Jim’s sucked through a portal under his bed, finds an underground troll lair, learns about the return of a vicious child-snatching bridge-dweller, and discovers that he’s pretty amazing at hunting trolls. With the help of his jokester best friend, Tub; a strange man covered in armor cobbled together from junk; and two trolls (named Blinky and AAARGH!!!) dedicated to protecting humans, Jim slices, dices, and squelches his way through a passel of increasingly bizarre and monstrous creatures.
Although some of the trolls seem to have stepped out of a book of fairy tales, others are less familiar, such as the troll that disgorges a putrid sack of its internal organs in order to become light enough to scale a wall. Far from being just supernatural oddities, however, the trolls have a comprehensive history. “One of the coolest things Guillermo came to the table with was a tremendous backstory for the trolls—where they came from, their various political factions, how they migrated from Europe to America, and so forth,” says Kraus. That history goes a long way toward deepening Jim’s link to the whole endeavor and enriching the characters of the trolls, who are at times terrifying, disgusting, heartwarming, and hilarious.
Surely what everyone wants to know, though, is what it was like to work with such a celebrity, and Kraus has only positive things to say: “Guillermo is incredibly generous. One of the first things he said to me was that if he had an idea that I thought belonged in the trash, I should trash it. . . . He’s a fountain of ideas and I’m a hard worker, so it made for a natural combo.” For Kraus, who has written about some very heavy themes and is currently hard at work on the second volume of The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, the first volume of which will be published this October, the playful atmosphere of Trollhunters was a nice change of pace. “As a writer who has tended to hammer away very hard at often unpalatable topics,” he says, “it was a very liberating experience for me. I smiled a lot while working on it.”
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