Category Archives: History

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

If you are looking for a classic Christmas present for a child, look no further. This retelling of Selma Lagerlöf’s Nils Holgersson is rather nice, and with the illustrations by Olivier Latyk, including some intricate card cut-outs, you won’t find anything more beautiful. (Make sure the child isn’t of the destructive kind, though.)

Kochka and Olivier Latyk, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

Kochka, who has adapted Selma’s old classic, probably knows the story in French. I say probably, as there is no translator credited, nor is there one for the translation from French into English. (I’m on a translation track here, and would have liked the people who made it all possible to be present.) But apart from that, and a few of the expected misspellings of Swedish place names, it is very nice.

Snowy, even if it doesn’t all happen in snow, but it adds to the Christmassy feel. As a Swede I am also aware of the dangers to geese around this time of year. Watch out, or you are dinner.

Nils is a naughty little boy, but one who is surprisingly fast at recognising what he has to do, once an elf has shrunk him to miniature size. He needs to improve his behaviour and be kinder to all, especially animals, and he needs to help where help is wanted.

To be truthful, I no longer recall how much geography there was in the original, and how much adventure and improvement of Nils. But as Selma wrote the story to assist in teaching children about their country, I’d say the adaptation has mainly lost this part, and probably for the better. Not many small foreign children will want to hear about ancient Swedish landscapes. They will want the adventures, and – perhaps – the story of how one little boy learned a lesson.

My lesson will have to be that I had no idea the geese were given names from the Finnish one to six. But it’s sort of fun to discover now.

This is beautiful fantasy, i.e. perfectly normal stuff for today’s readers. And there is a happy ending for the dinner.

Peter in Peril

Helen Bate’s graphic novel Peter in Peril is different from many other WWII stories. For one, it’s set in Budapest, which is less common, and two, it ends reasonably well for the people we get to know in the book. I’m not saying the war passed them by, exactly, but I was expecting something much worse.

Based on a ‘real’ Peter, who must have been about two when war broke out, we come to the by now so common story of Jews finding their lives changing almost overnight. First is the yellow star to be worn, and later losing their home, having to move into more camp-like places with other Jews, eventually escaping to hide alone.

Helen Bate, Peter in Peril

Because it’s about such a young child, and because we see it from his point of view, perhaps many of the worst things are less obvious. He has time to be bored without his toys, and he seems to find new playmates in the various places where they end up. There is food, even if it’s little and bad.

And as I said, the end is nowhere as immediately tragic as I’d been afraid. That doesn’t mean the war was better for Jews in Hungary, because this is merely the story about one family.

At the end we get to meet Peter as he is today, which is nice and reassuring for a young reader; that he survived and that he leads a normal life.

Helen’s graphic illustrations are just right for this kind of book, and should go down well with quite young readers. Let’s hope, too, that they can see the similarities with what’s happening today in far too many places. If it was wrong then, it is wrong now.

Darkness Follows

And how I wish the third book in L A Weatherlys’ trilogy would hurry up and follow Darkness Follows! I know I say this often, but I feel extremely ready for the conclusion. I’ve no idea how it will all end, but I am quite anxious Lee gets the love interest right (I am available for advice). It could go either way.

I think.

Darkness Follows is as the title suggests darker than Broken Sky, but strangely enough, also lighter. In the midst of all the hardship and cruelty that former Peacefighter pilot Amity suffers in this book, there is promise. At least I hope there is.

L A Weatherly, Darkness Follows

She is in that worst of places, Harmony Five, a mining camp where the guards can, and do, treat the inmates any way they like, including shooting anyone who’s not singing ‘the right way.’

In the first book we couldn’t be totally sure of who was with the Resistance and who wasn’t; it was very much a double bluff kind of feel. Things are ironed out in Darkness Follows. At least I hope they are.

As for Kay Pierce, well. I could see from the start how important she would be and how she would change. I just didn’t see this coming. Very intriguing and exciting.

The way Lee has used a future dystopia for this, rather than try and fit in an alternate WWII, makes the story so much more powerful. The truly bad things have already happened to the world. Or so people believe. And based on past mistakes, the world will now be a better place. But of course, a new world which looks so much like ‘our’ 1940s, can’t help but repeat many of the mistakes too.

This is so good.

Another Light on Dumyat

And by that I mean a brand new edition of Rennie McOwan’s Light on Dumyat, and some extra ‘light’ on the book in the local Waterstones shop window. It’s as it should be, since Rennie is very local and so is his adventure, up in the Ochils, just above town. As I said in my review last year, this is Enid Blyton in Stirling. A bit better written, but not as well known as it deserves to be.

Light on Dumyat at Waterstones

Now is your opportunity to rectify this. If you are near me, you can buy it at Waterstones this week, whereas the rest of you need to wait another week until its general release date.

Rennie McOwan

Because he lives a few streets away, I thought I might occasionally see Rennie out and about, but that honour befell the Resident IT Consultant a few weeks ago when he discovered Mr and Mrs McOwan occupying ‘his’ table at the local library. They chatted a bit about the new Dumyat, and the window launch at Waterstones. (That should teach me for not visiting the library too.)

Rennie has kept ‘a lively interest in the run up to the publication of LOD and was able to mark up page proofs’ for the book. There has been plenty about the new edition in the local press, with one columnist reminiscing about reading Light on Dumyat as a boy. If only we were that young!

Rennie McOwan, Light on Dumyat

I quite like the new cover. It manages to look retro and up-to-date all at once. I prefer the retro, but I can see that in order to attract new readers you need to have something for them to identify with as well.

IMG_4393

(According to the Resident IT Consultant the map in the window is showing the wrong bit of the map… Only he would notice a thing like that!)

The Greatest Show of All

Jane Eagland, The Greatest Show of All

Jane Eagland’s latest book for Barrington Stoke gave me a lovely warm glow, in the middle of the night. I woke up and couldn’t sleep, and I wanted something reliably good, and also something I could read to the end, in one easy sitting. And The Greatest Show of All ticks the boxes.

Inspired by Twelfth Night it features siblings, with a girl masquerading as a boy, and she does that classic of rebellious things; she runs away to join a circus.

Crazy about horses, Kitty becomes Kit. There is a lot going on at the circus and soon it seems Kit is at the centre of a couple of conspiracies, as well as in the middle of unrequited love on several counts. An unfriendly clown (how extremely topical!), a tightrope star and more than one horsey boy make for an exciting life.

There is an unexpected, but most welcome, nod to a more modern romantic twist; one which I wouldn’t have minded being taken further.

Lovely.

Fatty and friends

Geriväg, his name was. Clear-Orf, to you English language readers. I always used to wonder what the original name might be, since at the time I read Enid Blyton’s books I didn’t know enough English to even begin guessing.

I’ve long been confused about the name of the series of books as well. (You’ll find I’m confused about quite a lot.) The Find-Outers seems to be the answer, except when I look at the book titles they are all The Mystery of… and that’s presumably why we called them Mysterie-böckerna in Sweden.

Enid Blyton, The Find-Outers - The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage

About the only thing I have really remembered all these years is the name Fatty for one of the characters. It wasn’t as unkind as it might seem. First, Fatty himself appears not to have minded too much. (Unless he did, weeping in secret every time the other children referred to him as Fatty.) Second, I didn’t speak English, so to me it was just a name. I understood it was a nickname, and there could even have been a footnote of sorts to explain what it meant. But the name wasn’t translated into anything like Tjockis. And I obviously mispronounced it.

So that’s all right…

Now he’s back, along with Larry and Daisy, Pip and Bets. Plus the charming Clear-Orf. And there are mysteries. I have in my hand The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, and even though the years have passed, I do feel some of the old Blyton thrill when holding it, and checking out how clever and polite the children are. (I used to believe this was an English thing. Apart from calling your friend Fatty, then.)

I hope a new generation of readers will discover Blyton, for better or for worse. The cover illustration is up-to-date in a way I don’t care for, but I suppose that’s what modern children require. I prefer retro.

Losing it

You repeat something so often that you come to know it as a fact, whereas it could of course turn out merely to be a myth.

My old professor Alvar Ellegård reputedly lost his PhD thesis (on the uses of the word do) down the ‘sopnedkast’ and had to re-write the whole thing.

I’m not sure whether us students were told this as an amusing fact, or if it was intended as a warning never to tidy our flats. And maybe he never did throw his thesis away. But it’s what I remember him by. That, and a textbook I actually hung on to for a surprisingly long time.

Sopnedkast is a rubbish chute. It’s what we had in the semi-olden days for getting rid of rubbish. And PhD theses, obviously. Keys were also pretty good to chuck down this hole-in-the-wall, as not infrequently you’d need the aforementioned keys both to re-enter your flat, or to gain access to the rubbish room with the bins, where the keys had ended up. (I never did this.)

What with recycling and sorting your rubbish properly, the chutes are long gone. Well, not gone gone; just firmly shut. People simply have to carry their well-separated items down all those stairs.

These days there is always the delete button. (For theses. Not so much for milk cartons and newspapers.)