Wednesday, June 28, 2006

And then, in that light, I saw Katla

A while ago I was reading The Brothers Lionheart to the kid, and it was still as powerful a story as when it was first read to me, many years ago. I’m not ashamed to say I cried like a little girl.

This is one of the truly great children’s books, maybe the best one ever written. If you haven’t read it you should run out and buy it right now: The Brothers Lionheart, written by Astrid Lindgren and illustrated by Ilon Wiklund.

(But I don’t have any children to read it to, you say. Well, this would be a great time to think about adoption. Or you can buy an orphan on the black market.)

As children’s books come, this is a rough one: The boy Scotty is very sick. To comfort him his older brother Jonathan tells him about Nangiyala, a saga land on the other side of the stars. It’ll be much worse for me, Jonathan says, I’ll be left here on earth without you.

As it turns out it’s the other way around. Jonathan dies throwing himself out of a window to save Scotty from a fire in their tenement building. A few months later Scotty dies too, and the two brothers reunite.

Nangiyala seems like a happy fairytale land at first. The two brothers live in a small house outside the village, among the trees and blossoms of Cherry Valley. They go fishing by the creek and ride their horses through the woods. The people of the village love them.

But Scotty keeps hearing dark rumors of another valley, over the mountains, a coming danger that threatens their peaceful days. It seems the people of Wild Rose Valley have been enslaved by Tengle the usurper, and Katla, the primeval she-dragon that he has tamed.

Eventually the brothers are thrown into the battle to free Wild Rose Valley from the tyrant, the central conflict of the story. They must journey into a land of darkness and slavery to rescue Orvar, the imprisoned resistance leader.

As they return to Wild Rose Valley, Orvar, more dead than alive but burning with fury, immediately sets to work organizing his great rebellion. On the eve of battle the brothers are present at his secret war counsel:
Then he talked again of how they would quickly have to liberate the valley from every one of Tengle’s men, and Jonathan said:
"Liberate? You mean kill?"
"Yes, what else would I mean," said Orvar.
"But I can’t kill anybody," said Jonathan, "You know that, Orvar!"
"Not even if it was to save you own life?" asked Orvar.
"No, not even then," said Jonathan.
Orvar could not understand this, and neither could Matias, it seemed.
"If everyone was like that," said Orvar, "then evil would be able to rule for all eternity."
But then I told him that if everyone was like Jonathan, there wouldn’t be any evil.
This is the great riddle at the heart of this story. I have been mulling it over in my mind for years.

10 Comments:

Blogger Sexy Sadie said...

Astrid Lindgren skrev noen vidunderlige historier for barn. I Mio min Mio snakker hun om angst og barn, noe som var uhørt på den tiden den ble gitt ut.

Lagt merke til at mange av de barna hun har som hovedperson er de som ville fått diagnosen ADHD i dag.

Hun måtte ha likt slike viltre barn. Slike som meg.

2:25 pm  
Blogger Susanne said...

HUUU! BUUU! Jonathan is like ... like that other dude ... J-something ...

I read that one and Mio and the mumi trolls and Watership Down (evil dictators & brave pioneers of democracy - all in the shape of fluffy BUNNIES) once a year and I need no excuse.

4:37 pm  
Blogger Antagonous said...

I have never heard of this book.

6:18 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

"My Chief Rabbit has told me to defend this run and until he says otherwise I shall stay here."

9:57 pm  
Blogger Susanne said...

Bigwig is *so* cool.

10:34 am  
Blogger surly fag said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:05 am  
Blogger surly fag said...

a couple of months ago my flatmate's friend was over when i was rabbiting on about watership down. i was saying that i would be 'keehar'. "i think i would be either bigwig or hazel" he replied. "ha!" says i, "no no no, you're totally cowslip." a dark look passed across his face and he refrained from conversation with me for the remainder of his visit.

stupid bunnies

12:12 am  
Blogger Mikkel said...

I see myself as captain of the Black Rabbit of Inlë's shadow owsla.

12:48 am  
Blogger Susanne said...

Ah, but there aren't any good parts for girls, are there? Hyzenthlay, I'll be Hyzenthlay.

Or I'll cross-dress as Bigwig, whoa baby. He's called "Samson" in the Danish version, I guess "StorParyk" didn't quite work out.

8:10 am  
Blogger Mikkel said...

Yeah, it's all: "We need to get us some does."

9:40 am  

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