Tag Archives: Selma Lagerlöf

Mårbacka

It took me a while to work out what Mårbacka was. As a child I’d read another Selma Lagerlöf autobiographical book with very nearly the same title. I was reluctant then, but as a book-starved young thing, there was no way I could ignore even a boring looking book for very long, and once I began reading I loved it.

Selma Lagerlöf, Mårbacka

This time I felt much the same, except this new translation – by Sarah Death – does not look boring. It’s very pretty with its red roses on the cover. But I thought it might go over the same ground (I suppose it does, but not so it matters), and I really don’t feel I ought to read it in anything but the original.

But once I got past that bit of snobbery, I discovered it was fun, in a quiet Swedish kind of way. Disconcerting, too, as I feel that this was more or less my life, one hundred years earlier. I wonder if this is something that many Swedes are afflicted by? I grew up in a small family with not much money, in a town. Selma was part of a larger and wealthier family in the countryside.

It could have been my life too. And the anecdotal way of telling us about her life is a good technique. It’s almost like a regular column in a magazine. And like them, entertaining and partly truthful while also being helped along with some embellishments to the truth.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help stopping every now and then to consider what the original might have said. A bit as with subtitles when you don’t need them; you still look for something. (I might have gone differently with the vörtbröd…)

It’s charming, and funny, and it shows the reader what Sweden was like before the big move to the towns, before socialism and before Ikea. It’s about building a new cowhouse, the Swedish way of celebrating birthdays when you can’t prevent the whole county from turning up uninvited, about having your old, former maid come to tea, coming face to face with a kelpie, dreaming of the King coming to visit, and how it took days to travel from Värmland to the West coast.

I can see that if I had been awarded the Nobel prize, I’d have done exactly what Selma did and done up my childhood paradise. After all, she only did what her own father worked on before her. What most of us would do if we could.

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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.

Change – the new notes

When I started moaning about change six years ago, I had no idea it would turn into my [own] favourite topic. Like when I had to go to the bank and ended up leaving all my ‘dead’ 50 öre coins on the counter, because this money institution had a slight problem with actually taking/handling money.

The bank has now moved on from such simple tricks. Literally. It has moved upstairs, so no longer has a street level presence. Where I was unable to launder money, you can now buy toiletries, in the town’s umpteenth new pharmacy (I knew there was a reason they used to be state-owned in the good old days. One or two will do nicely for any town.) where – to be fair – they actually gave the Retired Children’s Librarian a free face cleaning product last week. (No, she wasn’t dirty. She had her stuff confiscated by airport security.)

Not having ventured up, I have no idea what they don’t do, but my bet is on serving customers in general. And when no one has ventured up for a year or two, they will be free to close it down due to a lack of demand.

Anyway, Sweden has new bank notes. Daughter and I carefully spent all the first batch of old notes last August, so we wouldn’t have trouble this year. Only to find a) that the Resident IT Consultant still had his old notes and b) that shops still hand them out as change… Only 12 more days of this though. The new Astrid Lindgren twenty is very nice, but like Son said, it’s a shame she had to kick Selma Lagerlöf out.

The second batch of bank notes will be a year later, so I foresee a repeat next summer of trying to lose the money before it’s too late.

Which brings me to the loose change. The coins are going as well. The hoarder in me didn’t merely collect 50 öre coins in the past. I have a lovely collection of, mainly, one krona coins. It was topping 400 on arrival three weeks ago. And I rather despaired of going to the bank with my hoard, for obvious reasons.

Son and Dodo kindly bought ice cream with some of it; taking a bag of 50 each time they went. I forced one bag on the Resident IT Consultant to have in the car, and to park extravagantly, i.e. the right side of the river, whenever we went into town. I bought a loaf of bread (it has to be small purchases) with my last Selma and then laboriously counted up seven coins while the shop assistant fell asleep waiting. In other words, I was just like all those other old women you end up standing behind in a queue.

I’m hoping someone will come and buy more ice cream, or perhaps engage in minigolf, with the rest of my bags of money.

But what I really want to know of course, is how to go to the toilet in future. How to spend a penny, even if that penny is more poundlike. Or will there be no more public toilets?

Well, we’re here, anyway

Have safely arrived at Holiday Bookwitch Towers, and it is still standing. Every time I have this irrational thought that maybe we shouldn’t buy food on the way, in case the house, and thereby the fridge, has somehow perished while we weren’t looking. But then I tell myself it’s better to have the food, regardless. With or without a house with a fridge.

Our airline wanted us to accept payment not to fly. We said that while we could see why they were asking, we had so many commitments that we really couldn’t agree. I suppose they got someone else to sacrifice themselves.

I spent the flight reading a new book, which I’ll be telling you about soon. I always travel with at least two in my hand luggage, in case one is a dud. This one wasn’t the slightest dud-like.

We drove over The Bridge. Not a corpse in sight, but then I had my eyes closed, which might be why. The Resident IT Consultant asked if I’d never driven across in that direction before, and if I could manage. I pointed out that I was perfectly capable of shutting my eyes in either direction, and that I’d be fine.

Then we stopped and had pizza at Bjärreds Pizzeria. It was lovely! Both the place and the pizza. Just the right blend of Swedish corner/village pizzeria feel. We’d decided we needed to stop for a feed soon after The Bridge, and I had instructed the Resident IT Consultant in advance to search online for a small village just off the motorway; one that was bound to have a traditional takeaway pizza place with a few tables outside.

And when they gave me my change back on paying, they pointed out I was getting one of the lovely new twenties, featuring none other than Astrid Lindgren. So that was pretty topical too. As Son said earlier, it’s a shame Astrid gave the boot to Selma Lagerlöf, but I suppose one token female is all you get on bank notes.

Since the fridge was still operational when we turned up with milk and Turkish yoghurt (I’m investigating how it differs from Greek), all was well.

(And, erm, it’s Mother’s Day. The Resident IT Consultant pointed out I’m not his mother, so I’m guessing there will be no secret walk in the woods to pick lilies of the valley. Or a cake decorated with Turkish yoghurt and strawberries… I don’t really do Mother’s Day, and this way I get to not do it twice; once for each country I’m in.)

Darcy, death and the literary discussion

Death Comes to Pemberley sparked a literary discussion chez Bookwitch, and doesn’t that make us sound ‘intellectual?’ The Grandmother had read the book by P D James, and didn’t think much of it. She was keen to see what they’d done to it on television, though, and I am under the impression we all liked it.

That’s the thing with quality. A good book can be ruined on the screen and vice versa. You just never know. Daughter objected at first that we weren’t getting the 1995 cast from Pride and Prejudice, but warmed fairly quickly to this new Darcy. I didn’t know what to think of dear Wickham, because I need to dislike him, and I happen to like Matthew Goode…

But anyway, it made us talk books for a while (because we never ever mention the wretched things at any other time!)

Who counts as an author of classics? Jane Austen obviously does. Her books are really old. Victorians count. They too are old. But after that my ‘misguided’ companions wanted to put the classic label on all sorts of books by all sorts of recent writers!

I realise that classic-ness is a moving feast. What wasn’t a classic before, will become one at some point. My own gut measure is somewhere around the 100 years mark. If someone alive today was also alive when a novel was written, it becomes questionable. I know that the 1950s was a long time ago, but I happen to have personal experience of part of that decade and the people who wrote books then are not at all old, thank you very much!

So I’m not ready to consider Astrid Lindgren a writer of classic books, whereas I feel that Selma Lagerlöf might have been too recent fifty years ago, but is now definitely to be considered a writer of classics.

On the other hand, I see the flaws in this. Someone younger than me will share that same 100-year-old, but will also see Astrid Lindgren as dreadfully ancient. Is there a right way?