Over the Christmas holidays, Swedish television broadcast a three-episode documentary about Astrid Lindgren, who is perhaps our most beloved author. She wrote several children´s books from the late 40´s until the 80´s, from "Pippi Longstocking", over "The Six Bullerby Children", "Karlsson-on-the-Roof", "Emil of Lönneberga", "Bill Bergson" ("Kalle Blomkvist" in Swedish), "Mio, my son", "The Brothers Lionheart", to "Ronia, the Robber´s Daughter". She also wrote the script to "Vi på Saltkråkan", a wonderful television series about a couple of families on an island in the Stockholm archipelago.

I didn´t know much about her life and it was really interesting to see what inspired all those stories. She said she remembered her childhood well, because she had been such a happy child, with happy parents, but that she had hardly any memories from her teens, when she was very unhappy. She was closest to her older brother, with whom she played the best, and he was the model for many of her characters, the older, kind brothers.

Little "Rusky" knows he is going to die and his older brother comforts him.
At eighteen, she became pregnant and involved in a great scandal, when the father of her child (with whom she was not in love, she said she was simply young and flattered that he was in love with her), a fifty-something newspaper man, was sued by his wife and mother of his seven children. Astrid fled to Denmark to have her son Lars and he was put in fostercare there for three years, until his fostermother became ill and Astrid, who was struggling to make a living as a typist in Stockholm, took him to her. After a few months of barely making it work, her parents decided to take the boy in, and when Astrid married soon after that, he could finally live permanently with her. This was her life trauma, and many of her books are about abandoned, lonely little boys, as well as about strong but equally alone little girls.

Happily re-united in the Cherry Valley.
She worked for Swedish intelligence during the Second World War, and spent a few years working for an internationally renowned criminologist. These experienced inspired her books about Bill Bergson, the master detective, and the Lionheart brothers, who fight in the resistance movement against the evil knight Tengil.

She had a daughter in her marriage, and was widowed in 1952. She never married again, but worked as an editor while also writing her books. She spoke English and German equally well, has readers in most countries in the world, and received sackfuls of letters every day. She even took the time to properly correspond with some of her readers, like one troubled little girl (interviewed in the documentary) to whom she wrote for almost 30 years (they never met).

After having seen the documentary yesterday, I decided to re-read "The Brothers Lionheart". I probably haven´t read it since the early 80´s, late 70´s perhaps. It´s a well-read book though, it took me a while to find it since the back is missing. It´s a sad story about leaving home and having to do brave things even though one is scared, and I see how this would have appealed to me. Unlike Astrid, I was not a happy child and can remember very little about childhood. Thanks to women like her, I could grow up to be a free (relatively) adult, and that suited me better than being a child. She wrote this book for her brother, who had a heart disease and knew he was soon going to die. It was a "consolation book" for them both. It was also a book which was inspired by her work in the Second World War and how she experienced the struggle for freedom from Nazi rule. The wonderful illustrations are by Ilon Wikland, who came to Sweden as a fourteen year-old refugee from Estonia.

Jonathan, who is all good, even rescues one of Tengil´s soldiers, when he nearly drowns. 
The story is about little Karl Lejon (Lion), called Skorpan (Rusky in English translation) by his brother (after the little biscuits he loves), almost ten years old, who is dying from tuberculosis. His thirteen-year-old brother Jonathan comforts him and tells him that they will meet again in Nangijala, the land beyond the stars that is still in the age of fairytales. After the house catches fire, Jonathan bravely saves Rusky´s life, taking him on his back and jumping from the third floor, dying from the fall. In an obituary, Jonathan´s teacher writes that he deserves the name Lionheart.

Not long after, Rusky succumbs to his coughs and suddenly finds himself standing in front of a small farmhouse with a sign on the gate: "The Brothers Lionheart". The brothers are united in the Cherry Valley in Nangijala and Rusky - who is now healthy and strong - is deliriously happy for a while, but not all is well in Nangijala. Their neighbouring valley, the Thorn Rose Valley, is enslaved by the evil knight Tengil, who has a terrible weapon called Katla, which no one wants to talk about, but the name makes Rusky shudder. Jonathan is in league with the leader of the resistance, Sofia, and he leaves on a mission for Thorn Rose Valley.

The evil Tengil terrorizes the Thorn Rose Valley folk.

After a bad dream, in which he hears Jonathan call for help, Rusky goes after him, and I am not going to spoil the story by telling you about it any further. It is sad and dark, people die in it, and Lindgren was much criticized for having written such a dark and sad children´s book. Still, it is also a very hopeful story and good prevails, even though the price is high. It is one of the most loved and important books ever written, I think. It is often quoted in obituary notices for children, and adults too: "Don´t cry mummy, we´ll see each other again in Nangijala", which is on a note Rusky leaves for his mother the night he feels he is going to die.

I cried so much reading this book - I don´t remember crying so much when I read it as a child. I guess if you are happy, you´ll read it as a tragedy, but if you are unhappy, you´ll read it as hopeful and comforting. Yes, this is a truth: happy people have no idea what unhappy people need. Happy people can be cruel, with the best intentions. We should never forget that. Astrid Lindgren certainly never did.


  1. Pippi is the series I remember best from this author. Such independence! I didn't realize at the time that independence like hers never comes if you are close to people who depend on you.

    Happy people who recover from tragedy quickly don't seem to understand how others might take longer to get past life's roadblocks. "Cheer up" isn't helpful.

    1. I have know people I admired for their independence, but they are not still in my life. They move on and they don´t think one thought about what or who they leave behind. Only one of them, a co-worker at Scania when I made my living assembling trucks, said (very honestly, I thought) that she wouldn´t take my adress when she moved away, as she wasn´t going to use it anyway. "I like you a lot", she said, "but I know what I´m like. I don´t want to make you disappointed." I was sad to see her go, but found it refreshingly honest. Personally, I tend to be loyal to friends, sometimes too long...

      No, "cheer up" isn´t helpful at all. Still, I can see where it´s coming from. I have friends who have gone thirty years or more and still haven´t moved on. Everyone must take their own time (and some never get there and don´t want to), but it can become very frustrating for those who have affection for them/us. Concern and love can, with time, turn into frustration.