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

Posts tagged ‘novels’

Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter

Astrid_RoniaI saved this book for last because I couldn’t imagine any other book ever living up to it.  Every time I read it, which is every couple of years, I am blown away by how incredible it is.  Really.  If you haven’t read Ronia, go do it.  Now.

Originally Ronja Rovardotter, the book was published in 1981 and translated by Patricia Crampton.  Once upon a time, it was translated as Kirsty the Robber’s Daughter.  Woffor did un do that?  Thankfully, the 1985 translation reverted the name to Ronia.

What is it that makes Ronia the best book?

There is humor: Only Noddle-Pete stubbornly refused to roll in the snow.  “I may die anyway,” he said, “and I want to do it with the dirt I’ve got on me.”

There is wonder: She laughed silently because rivers and forests were there.  She could scarcely believe it.

There is hope: She thought happily before she closed her eyes, Tomorrow I’ll be getting up again!

There is growing up: The world was bigger than Matt.  It was so big that it took your breath away.

There is friendship: She remembered how things had been before, when she was alone and the woods were enough for her.  How long ago that seemed now!  Now she needed Birk to share everything with.

There are troubles with children: “You can’t do anything with children these days. They do as they like – you just have to get used to it.  But it’s not easy.”  (Matt to Borka)

There are struggles: Then Ronia became desperate.  “Life is something you have to take care of — don’t you realize that?”

There is loss: But Matt walked up and down the stone hall weeping mightily and shouting, “He’s always been here!  And now he’s not!”

There are magical creatures: “Woffor did un do that?” say the rumphobs.

There is magic in the forest: The woods in the spring night felt full of secrets, full of magic and other strange and ancient things.  There were dangers there, too, but Ronia was not afraid.

Some combination of all this makes Ronia the most satisfying book I have ever read, and a big part of why I wanted to fully explore all of Astrid Lindgren’s works.

This book concludes the Astrid Lindgren Thru-Read of 2015.  More thoughts on completion will be coming soon.


Mardie to the Rescue

Astrid_M2TR Mardie to the Rescue (Madicken och Junibackens Pims, 1976, translated by Patricia Crampton) is the second book about Mardie, which apparently was never released in the United States.  Pictures are by Ilon Wikland.  No surprise — they’re great.

The first Mardie book is a little more whimsical, but I love this book a little more because Astrid Lindgren was not afraid to discuss uncomfortable topics:

  • Mardie’s mother suffers from depression.  “She’s just lying down, feeling sorry for herself.”  Mardie gave a sigh of relief.  Mama did feel sorry for herself from time to time, but it passed over quite soon.
  • Mr Nilsson is an alcoholic: “He never does anything but compeltate and flossifize!  Was he sober?”
    “Yes, I think so,” said Mardie uncertainly.
    “I don’t think so,” said Mrs. Nilsson.
  • Mr. Lindson has mental disorder and lives in the poorhouse and attacks Lisbet.
  • Mattie and Mia live in poverty.
  • The elite make the rules and scorn the working class, such as Mardie’s beloved Alma.

Mardie is one of the only children (maybe the only child) Lindgren wrote about who was clearly from an upper-class family.  She has a dressmaker, live-in help, modest political power due to her father’s job, and lives a much more comfortable life than her friends Abe and Mattie.

Despite being comparatively rich, Mardie in this book blossoms as a generous and caring young girl.  Because of her, Mattie and Mia get de-loused, Abe has the chance to fly, and Abe’s mother sleeps easier at night after Mardie pays off the doctor.  She also includes Lisbet in so many adventures, and their relationship blossoms.

If I could have a sister out of all the characters in Astrid Lindgren’s books, I would pick Lisbet (oh, maybe Tjorven, maybe it’s a tie).  For example, this scene makes me laugh: What Lisbet could not understand was why she not in all the pictures, when Mardie had been one and two years old.  “You couldn’t be there, because you weren’t born, there wasn’t any Lisbet in the whole of Junedale,” said Mardie.  “There wasn’t any you then.”
“Silly thing, of course there was me,” said Lisbet.  “But I didn’t want to sit next to a nasty child like you.  I was at the sweetshop buying sweets.”

Lisbet also collects bad words and climbs into the wardrobe to say them to herself.

But there are also moments of seriousness: The fire and the song and the Spring dusk, oh, how could it be so beautiful and so splendid and so sad?  Mardie was full to bursting with something she could not quite put a name to.  Something which had no name.  Yes, of course, it was life itself she felt, but it was something more as well.

And this line: Imagine anything so wonderful being really true!

Mardie vs. Mischievous Meg Translations

Astrid_MadickenAfter reading Eva-Maria Metcalf’s book about Astrid Lindgren’s writings, I was blown away by her opinions on the vast differences between the British and American translations of the Swedish Madicken (1960).  I will present her thoughts on the translations after I discuss my own findings.

My dad, who is my most loyal follower, went online and ordered the British translation Mardie for me because my library did not have it.  Thanks Dad!

Mardie was translated by Patricia Crampton in 1979.  It includes pictures by Ilon Wikland.  It was printed in Great Britain.

Mischievous Meg was translated by Gerry Bothmer in 1962.  The pictures are by Janina Domanska.  It was printed in the USA.IMG_6907

I read these two books side by side, paragraph by paragraph.  It takes a lot longer to read two books at the same time than it takes to just read two books.  But only this way could I discover their differences.

1. Names.  It is not just the title character who has been renamed!  Here are just some of the name changes:

Main character: Mischievous Meg/Mardie
Home: June Hill/Junedale
Sister: Betsy/Lisbet
Friend: Albert/Abe
Chocolate Dolls: Perker & Smerker/Jerry & Berry
Neighbors: Karlsson Family/Carlsson Family
Neighbor kids: Tore and Maja/Tom and Marie

I’ve never been a fan of name changes in Astrid Lindgren’s works.  I believe Madicken would have been a fine name for either edition.  Neither the names Mardie nor Meg has the lilting cadence of the name Madicken.  Although I haven’t name-checked with the Swedish edition (the library doesn’t want to share their Madicken copy, sigh!) I would bet Mischievous Meg stays closer to the originals than Mardie does.  “Tom and Marie Carlsson” just screams “unnecessarily translated names!”

2. The Missing Chapter and Characters. The next most obvious difference in the two books is that Mardie includes an extra chapter.

Chapter 5 of 9, “Lisbet sticks a pea up her nose,” is a rollicking chapter that was not included in the Mischievous Meg edition, perhaps due to a fight scene deemed unseemly.  The two characters introduced in Mardie’s Chapter 5 are Mattie and Mia.  They make an additional appearance in Mardie, Chapter 8 (Christmas in Junedale), but this scene is completely omitted in Mischievous Meg.

Mattie and Mia are from a poor family.  This is obvious in the way they are described, illustrated, and in the way they act.  Mardie/Meg is much more well-off, but the discrepancy between the children is only obvious when faced with this scene with Mattie and Mia.  Mischievous Meg is weaker for losing out on this chapter.

3. How much Mardie/Meg understands. Mardie, for example, tackles the true nature of Mr. Nilsson much better than Mischievous Meg does.
Here are two translations:

Mardie: There was no sign of Mrs Nilsson, but Mr Nilsson was asleep on the kitchen sofa.  “He’s probably drunk,” said Mardie, “he usually is on Saturdays.” (page 32)

Mischievous Meg: Mrs. Nilsson wasn’t around, but Mr. Nilsson was lying on the sofa, sleeping.  “What a lazy man!” Meg said. (page 38)

I find it very interesting that although drunkenness is the topic of the Mardie translation, there is more judgment in Mischievous Meg.  In Mardie, she is aware of Mr. Nilsson’s habits but has accepted them without needing to put him down.

4. The geographical, cultural, and historical context of the book.  Often when reading the translations, I came across situations where Mischievous Meg loses a bit of context due to an omitted sentence or two that I am sure the translator thought was unnecessary or unfitting for an American audience.

Example One: “People can’t fly,” said Betsy.
“Yes, in airplanes they can,” Meg corrected her.  “Albert has told me all about airplanes.”  Meg would have given anything to see an airplane, although Ida had told her it was a sin to fly. 
“If God wanted people to fly, he would have made birds of them,” said Ida. (page 42)

Compare to Mardie’s text:
‘People can’t fly,’ said Lisbet.
‘Yes they can, in flying machines,’ said Mardie.  Abe had told her about flying machines.  There were flying machines in the war but in Sweden too they had a few.  Mardie would have given anything to see one, though Ida was sure that it was sinful to fly.
‘I tell you, I tell you, if God wanted people to fly He would have given them wings,’ said Ida. (page 36)

Including the sentence about the war and Sweden places the book firmly in a time and place, whereas Mischievous Meg is a little more open to interpretations.  I, for one, believe that the details enhance the text.  Also, notice the rhythm and character portrayed by Ida in her Mardie sentence, versus the harsh and lackluster tone of Ida in Mischievous Meg.

Example Two:  When Albert/Abe gives Meg/Mardie some money (that had supposedly been buried for ages) for her “mental anguish”/”toil and sweat,” Meg/Mardie describes the money like this:

Meg: […] it’s shiny and looks real.”  Yes, it looked exactly the way a coin should.  (page 86)

Mardie: […] yet it was so bright and looked so real.  […] And there was the king’s picture on it.  Yes, it looked just as a coin should look!” (page 97)

In this instance, Mischievous Meg’s lack of additional description is a real loss for the book, as the king’s face drives home the fact that this money was not hidden for quite as long as her friend said.  I suspect that America’s lack of a king is what killed this sentence in our translation, and that’s too bad.

5. The text coming to life. While Mardie is stuck in bed, she creates her own newspaper that, in one version, pops off the page.
In Mischievous Meg, her writings are included in the text in normal font and have been spell-checked.  In Mardie, her writings are recreated by hand with “her” misspellings and appropriate artwork “by” Mardie herself. IMG_6905 IMG_6906

Which of the following books would you rather read?  Mischievous Meg, left.  Mardie, right.

6. General translator differences.  There are so many minor differences that I can’t begin to cover them all.  In this example, compare the use of language in Chapters 4 of Mischievous Meg/Mardie (A Sad Happy Day/A Very Jolly, Sad Day).

Mischievous Meg: She just had a brain concussion, which isn’t as bad as being dead. (page 48)

Mardie: She just had [a] concussion, which is not so bad. (page 42)

In this example, I give the Whimsy Award to Mischievous Meg for the text, but the better chapter title clearly goes to Mardie.

Eva-Maria Metcalf’s opinions on the differences between the books helped spark my interest in reading all of Astrid Lindgren’s works.  There were definitely times when I would give the upper hand to Mischievous Meg – considering name changes, for example.  When it comes down to it, Mardie is a superior translation due to its inclusion of the pea chapter, its more complete translation of context, and its inclusion of Mardie’s hand-written notes.  And while Janina Domanska’s illustrations are cute and wonderful, Ilon Wikland’s absolute mastery of Lindgren characters makes this choice a no-brainer:  Mardie is better. Mischievous Meg isn’t bad – it is good.  It’s just that Mardie is excellent.

Eva-Maria Metcalf agrees in her book Astrid Lindgren: “In my estimation, Patricia Crampton’s British translation [Mardie] is far better than its American counterpart [Mischievous Meg], for it retains much of the tone and rhythm of the original.  The American version lacks much of the original’s stylistic exuberance and so does not quite reflect the original’s spirit.” (page 36)  Yup.

In closing, here is my favorite line from Mardie:
‘Mama, what would you like best of all?’
‘Two really good, sweet girls,” said Mama.
Mardie’s eyes turned shiny and her voice trembled a little.
‘But what would you do with Lisbet and me?’

Here is the same line from Mischievous Meg, because that’s how I read these books:
“Mother, what do you wish for most of all?”
“Two very good little girls,” Mother replied.
Suddenly there was a strange expression in Meg’s eyes, and her voice quivered a little.  “What will you do with Betsy and me, then?”

Happy Times in Noisy Village

Astrid_HTINVHappy Times in Noisy Village has something that many Astrid Lindgren books lack – a section at the end about the illustrator, Ilon Wikland.

I don’t focus on the illustrators very often on this blog, not because I don’t love the pictures (I do!), but because my focus is really on the writing, the stories.  Some books have had multiple illustrators (think of Pippi!  of the top of my head I know of three illustrators and I am sure there have been more!) and focusing on artwork is a whole ‘nother project entirely.  Anyway, although I don’t focus on the illustrations, Ilon Wikland has had an incredible impact on the books of Astrid Lindgren.  It was wonderful to read more about her.  The “About the Illustrator” section featured this quote by Astrid to Ilon: “…how indebted I am to you; how important you have been to my stories in helping them to reach their audience through your pictures. […] I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

It is so wonderful to know that Astrid Lindgren understood what a gem she found in Ilon Wikland.

Happy Times in Noisy Village was published in Sweden as Bullerby Boken in 1961 and translated by Florence Lamborn.  I thought I was so terribly smart when I “figured out” that The Children of Noisy Village was also translated as Cherry Time in Noisy Village, but the joke’s on me: the cherry time occurs in this book, although the cover of The Children of Noisy Village is the same as Cherry Time in Noisy Village.  My brain has splattered all over the screen at this point.

Highlights of this edition include: Kersin’s birth, starting school, Olaf’s loose tooth, the Chest of the Wizards, playing in the hay, Karl falling into the lake, April Fool’s Day, Lisa’s baby lamb Pontus, capturing musk-oxen, cherry time, and midsummer.

There seemed to be a little more tension between the boys and the girls in this collection of stories.  The Chest of the Wizards that the boys hide reminds me of the treasure box that Bill Bergson and White Roses have.  The tricks played by the Noisy Village children are reminiscent of the “wars” between the White and Red Roses in Bergson’s world.  In both series, the sparring sides all really do like each other.  This, I think, makes all the difference.

There were so many one-liners that made me laugh in this book.  Lisa’s narration always makes me smile; she sees the world from a nine-year-old’s point of view when she makes amazing statements like this:

  • So it really isn’t too bad to have brothers, but, of course, it would be better to have sisters.
  • My, how I liked Kerstin!  She was the prettiest baby in the world.  Anna and Britta and I used to run over to South Farm almost every day to watch while Aunt Lisa took care of her.  How she wiggled and kicked! — not Aunt Lisa, of course, but Kerstin.
  • You always get hungry right away when you’re outdoors, so we all thought we might as well eat.

Lisa.  She’s brilliant.

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.

The Children of Noisy Village

Astrid_CONVUp until this point, I had only ever read the picture books about Noisy Village.  While this book has tremendous artwork by Ilon Wikland, it is a short-chapter book.  It was published in Sweden under Bullerby Boken in 1961 and translated by Florence Lamborn.  I discuss the Noisy Village series in overwhelming depth here.

We experience Noisy Village through the eyes (and all senses) of Lisa, our nine-year-old friend who narrates stories about the birthday when she got her own room, reading to Grandfather, running away with Anna, walking home from school and all the adventures had while doing so, Christmas, New Year, and Easter fun, the last day of school, crayfishing, and going shopping forgetfully.

Each chapter is very short and includes pictures, making this a great book for children just beginning to read chapter books or a great book for reading aloud.  The adventures that the Noisy Village children have prove that children don’t need screens or even toys to have fun.

I love this: As we were walking along, Britta took her book out of her schoolbag and smelled it.  She let all of us smell it.  New books smell so good that you can tell how much fun it’s going to be to read them.

I love this too: I think Britta and Anna went to sleep long before I did.  I lay awake and listened to the rustling of the forest.  There was just a little rustling, and small waves lapped against the shore very quietly.  It felt strange and all of a sudden I didn’t know whether I was happy or sad.  I lay there and tried to decide, but I couldn’t.  Perhaps you get a little funny from sleeping in the woods.

True that, Lisa.  True that.

Mio, My Son

Mio, Astrid_MMMMy Son was translated by Jill Morgan from the catchy Swedish version Mio, Min Mio (1956).  It is the story of an unhappy boy who escapes the world he lives in.  In Farawayland his father is the loving king, he has a horse named Miramis, and a best friend named Pompoo (apparently Jum-Jum in Swedish).  With Miramis and Pompoo, Mio travels outside of his country to attempt to defeat the evil Sir Kato who has imprisoned many innocent children and animals.

This book reminds me of The Brothers Lionheart.  It has many of the same elements: an unhappy boy in the “real” world, a magical land that is traveled to, an evil character that needs to be defeated in a neighboring country, two boys journeying with a horse to that country, bits of magic woven into the story, and loving family members in the magical land. Mio, My Son is probably less dark than The Brothers Lionheart.  I enjoyed them both, but Mio, My Son felt a bit more whimsical and made me smile a little more.  It creates another deep and interesting fantasy world that doesn’t shy away from darkness.

This is one of many Astrid Lindgren books that ended before I wanted it to.  Sigh.  I don’t have many of her novels left to read!

Favorite line: It’s hard to explain why a house looks like it comes straight out of a fairy tale.  Maybe it’s something in the air, or the old trees standing around it, or the fairylike scent of flowers in the garden, or perhaps something entirely different.