a book blog about reading all of astrid lindgren's books

Posts tagged ‘karlsson series’

Astrid Lindgren – A Critical Study

Astrid_ALACSThere’s no way to accurately sum up this 327-page book about Astrid’s writing.  It was an exhausting read, but an excellent one.  Written by Vivi Edstrom and translated by Eivor Cormack, it was published originally as Astrid Lindgren – Vildtoring och lagereld (1992).  I was curious how the English title compared to the Swedish title, so I did an online translation.  It came up with this: Astrid Lindgren – Vildtoring and Campfire.  Uh huh . . . well, so much for that.

The book gives a short overview of Astrid’s writings focusing on the following groupings:

  • “Adventure and Apple Blossoms”
    • Britt-Mari and Kerstin books which, to my knowledge, have not been translated to English
    • Kati books
    • Bill Bergson books
    • Rasmus and the Vagabond
    • Rasmus, Pontus, and Toker (not translated to English)
  • “From Bullerby Village to Salt Crow Island”
    • Noisy Village books
    • Lotta books
    • Madicken books
    • Seacrow Island
  • “Humor and Farce”
    • Pippi Longstocking books
    • Karlsson books
    • Emil books
  • “Reality and Vision”
    • Mio, My Son
    • The Brothers Lionheart
    • Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter

I could not possibly sum up everything I learned from this book, but what I can do is make a list of super-interesting things that I want to remember:

  • Oskar from Rasmus and the Vagabond is mentioned as having the nickname “God’s Own Cuckoo” in this book, as opposed to the English translation of “God’s best friend.”
  • This books lists Pippi’s name as “Pippilotta Provisonia Gaberdina Dandeliona Ephraimsdaughter Longstocking”
  • Astrid Lindgren was talking about the difference between her two flying characters, Mr. Lilydale and Karlsson: “Mr. Liljonkvast [Lilydale] returned several years later, but then the rascal had gone and changed character, without asking me, and what he had turned into!  Such an unbearable and willful character [Karlsson] that no one really wanted to see him!  He, however, saw himself as a handsome, highly intelligent, and reasonably stout man in his prime.  But he was no longer nice little Mr. Liljonkvast.”
  • On The Brother Lionheart, Astrid Lindgren said, “Never before have I had such strong and spontaneous reactions to any book.”
  • In regards to the younger brother Lionheart, whose name is Karl, it is noted that karl is a Swedish word for man.  This adds depth not only to the younger Lionheart’s journey into growing up, but also to Karlsson-on-the-Roof, who is obsessed with how manly he is!
  • On why she wrote Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, Astrid Lindgren said, “I wanted to get out into the forest.”
  • “Ronia has some free-spirited predecessors in Lindgren’s works.  She is related to Pippi Longstocking, Madicken, and, as already mentioned, the Amazon-like Eva-Lotta in the Bergson trilogy.  These girls overstep the limits of convention, and they always do it outside the family, in a world of their own, with the threat close behind them.”
  • Astrid Lindgren is explaining how she came to be a writer: “If it had not been snowing in Stockholm on a certain day in March 1944, it would probably not have ended that way.”

The most fun pages of the entire book, however, were a couple pages on names.  It lists the Swedish names of characters and the English/American names.  By now, I’ve mostly figured them out – Kalle Blomkvist/Bill Bergson, Madicken/Meg/Mardie, Jum-Jum/Pompoo, etc. – but a few of them absolutely floored me.  For instance, Ronja/Ronia was once translated into English as Kirsty.  KIRSTY.  Thank you, world, for reverting to Ronia.

I also loved the list of books by Astrid Lindgren, but was somewhat dismayed to see only 35 books listed, not even half of what she wrote.  Very few of her picture books were on the list or discussed.  I would love to read more about her picture books.  Alas.

This is a very fun read, but much more enjoyable because I have read almost all of the books discussed.


The World’s Best Karlson

Astrid_WBK Karlson has been spotted!  In this final Karlson book (Karlsson pa taket smygar igen, 1968, translated by Sarah Death) he and Smidge evade the bad guys who are out to get him and they play some tricks on the wretched Uncle Julius and Creepy Crawley.

Karlson remains a bully as ever, but the family has learned to deal with him — Mother has learned to keep buns around for him and Smidge has learned not to show Karlson his favorite toys – for he knows that as soon as Karlson sees Smidge’s coolest things, he will demand to have them.  But underneath the family’s frustrations with Karlson, there is acceptance and even a blossoming care for the little man.

Even Miss Crawley seems to have come around.  When Smidge and Karlson make a loud noise one night, awakening both her and Uncle Julius, she seems to cover for them:
“What a dreadful storm,” said Miss Crawley.  “What a crack of thunder, eh?  No wonder the power’s gone off.”
“Was that really thunder?” said Uncle Julius.  “I thought it sounded like something quite different.”  But Miss Crawley assured him that she recognized thunder when she heard it.
“What else could it have been?” she asked.

As if she doesn’t know!  Yet she doesn’t rat Smidge and Karlson out and she doesn’t turn Karlson in for the reward.  In fact, Karlson’s identity is revealed in a much more Karlson-like manner, which I won’t spoil: it’s a fitting end to a fun series.

Karlson Flies Again

Astrid_KFAKarlson Flies Again (Karlsson Pa Taket Flyger Igen) was translated by Sarah Death, who has one of the most unfortunate last names ever invented.

Lillebror’s name has been translated in this edition to Smidge as opposed to Eric.  Betty and Bobby are Sally and Seb.  Bimbo the dog is now, thank God, Bumble.  Cheers to Sarah Death despite her own terrible name.  These are fabulous improvements on the names.  Well done.

In this Karlson edition, the flying man continues to be a bully but it seems like he does so for better causes this time around.  The way that Karlson and Smidge gang up on the creepy Miss Crawley is admirable; that she is such a worthy opponent and can more or less handle Karlson’s antics makes it seem like Karlson has met his match.

Two stories from this book remind me of other children’s books: the first, when Miss Crawley gets her toe stuck in Smidge’s mousetrap – this hearkens back to Emil’s disastrous mousetrap that his father stepped into.  The second seems to foreshadow a memorable scene in Roald Dahl’s Matilda.  In both stories, a tyrant (Miss Trunchbull for Dahl, Miss Crawley for Lindgren) is taken down several notches by mysterious writing appearing from a “ghost” (Karlson masquerading as a ghost for Lindgren, Matilda’s eye-power for Dahl).  Indeed, this is perhaps the most Dahl-like book of Lindgren’s that I have real, in no small part due to the illustrations by Tony Ross which are so much like Dahl’s frequent illustrator Quentin Blake’s artwork that I had to look it up to make sure they weren’t really the same person.

This book is magical.  Yes, Karlson is still a bully, but in this translation, his antics help Smidge and he’s much more tolerable than his original book.  I wonder how much of it is the translation and how much of it is simple evolution of the character.

“If you ring once,” said Karlson, “It means, ‘Come straight away,’ and if you ring twice, it means ‘Don’t come whatever you do,’ and three times means ‘Just imagine there being somebody in the world as handsome and perfectly plump and brave and great in every way as you, Karlson.'”


Karlsson-on-the Roof (Lillebror och Karlsson pa taket, 1955) was illustrated by Jan Pyk and translated by Marianne Astrid_KOTRTurner.  It is listed on Astrid Lindgren’s site as “Smidge and Karlson on the Roof,” although in my translation the main character is neither Lillebror or Smidge but is named . . .

wait for it . . .



Dear Translators of Astrid Lindgren’s Works,
Why do you insist upon translating all these names she chose into the name “Eric”?! Lillebror (“little brother”) sums up lots of things about this character, but by naming him Eric you wipe all that away.  And even if you were going to change the name, do you always have to pick “Eric” . . .?  Are there not other names you could use occasionally?  I am actually surprised that Kajsa Kavat was translated into Brenda Brave rather than Erica Brave.
A disgruntled reader

Well, now that that’s out of the way, let’s continue.

Karlsson is a strange flying man who, frankly, is a total bully.  I wanted to like him more than I did.  I love the idea of a strange man living on roofs and visiting people and playing tricks.  But . . . Karlsson is mean.  Pippi plays tricks, but more often than not she does it without meaning to, and always without meaning harm.  When she does play mean tricks they are always in self-defense.  Emil plays tricks, but his heart is always in the right place.  Karlsson, however, is a selfish, egomaniacal control freak.  I kept waiting for “Eric” to have enough of his garbage, but “Eric” never does.  It made me sad.  Poor “Eric.”

Not that there aren’t moments of humor in the book; it’s a quick, fun read.  “Eric” hasn’t quite figured out how it all works when he begins this conversation:
“Mommy!  I was born in Stockholm, wasn’t I?” said Eric.
“Yes, of course you were,” said Mommy.
“But Bobby and Betty [siblings] – they were born in Malmo?”
“Yes, they were.”
“And you, Daddy, you were born in Gothenburg, you said.”
“Yes, I’m a Gothenburger,” said Daddy.
“And where were you born, Mommy?”
“In Eskilstuna,” said Mommy.
Eric threw his arms around her neck.
“Wasn’t it terrifically lucky that we all met!”