Monday, 15 January 2018

Emil of Lönneberga by Astrid Lindgren

I grew up with Astrid Lindgren's books, which are well-known and much loved in Russia. Here, in the UK, for some unfathomable reason, she is less popular. Quite a few times when I mentioned Astrid Lindgren to my British friends who have young children, they hardly recognised the name or even never heard of this brilliant Swedish writer. Some might recollect Pippi Longstocking, but that's about it.
There are so many books for young readers these days, which can only be described as dumbing down. They might be mildly amusing, but they lack in sensitivity, compassion, intelligence and learning.

Eddie and I spend every evening reading together before bedtime. I have been revisiting my childhood favourites including Karlson on the roof trilogy and recently - Emil of Lönneberga.
There are three volumes published by OUP - Emil and the Great Escape (translated by Lilian Seaton), Emil and the Sneaky Rat (translated by Susan Beard) and Emil's Clever Pig (translated by Michael Heron).
All three books are illustrated by Tony Ross. And while they are quite engaging, they lack the authentic flavour of the original Swedish illustrations by Björn Berg.

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I was disappointed with the OUP's translation of Karlson on the roof, but they did a good job with Emil's trilogy.

If you're not familiar with Emil, he is a 5-year-old boy (in the first book) who lives with his parents, younger sister Ida, farmhand Alfred and maid Lina at Katthult farm.
He "got up to more mischief than there were days in the year".

All the books are written with kind humour and compassion. Emil is truly mischievous but he's never nasty. He has a great talent of getting into trouble. To escape his father's wrath, Emil's Mum often takes him to the tool shed, where he locks the door on the inside. To pass the time, he carves wooden figures, and has acquired quite a collection.

He is smart and creative, resourceful and brave.
In one of the stories he saves Alfred by taking him in the sleigh through the snowstorm, when the adults refuse to act and say that there was nothing they could do, leaving Alfred to die of blood poisoning.
Alfred is very fond of Emil, he is like a big brother to him, and teaches him to swim and look after animals. Emil has a great affinity with animals.

For being a farmer's son, he accepts the brutal facts of life, but he also shows love and compassion to animals, like buying a lame hen that nobody wanted at the auction, or rescuing a piglet and raising it as a pet, and forbidding his father to slaughter it for Christmas.
The story about Piggy Beast - as the piglet is known in the family - is charming and endearing, and would warm the cockles of your heart.

Emil's parents have a big farm. Father Anton, is a church warden, who is portrayed as being stingy with money. He admonishes his wife Alma for wanting new shoes too often (once every ten years).
Alma, Emil's mother, is an inspirational lady, she is a fantastic cook, famous for her cooking throughout the region. She adores her children, and wouldn't hear any criticism of her darling Emil. She keeps writing journals about Emil's tricks, and always finds an explanation for his behaviour.

Then there is little Ida, who is mostly well-behaved. And there is a grumpy maid Lina who wants to marry Alfred and keeps pestering him about when they should get married She detests Emil (and the feeling is mutual). You feel sorry for her as well. Uneducated, she spends her days, working hard on the farm, getting up at 4.30am to milk the cows, and not even having a room of her own (she sleeps in the kitchen).

Reading Emil from Lönneberga trilogy is like stepping back in time, when life was moving at a slower pace, with the seasons. It has an old-fashioned feel to it.
Sharing these books with Eddie brought back fond memories. I was talking with my Mum on the phone and mentioned that I'm reading these books to Eddie, and she asked me Did you read about Lina's toothache and how they tried to help her?

These books stood the test of time, they are entertaining but also have serious themes which could be discussed with children (master-servants' relationship; poorhouses; lack of medical treatment).

Eddie loved these books, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. We were sad to say good bye to Emil, and wished there were more books in the series.

Have you read any of Emil's adventures?


  1. Maybe it's an age thing, because I know her work well and Pippi Longstocking books were my favourite as a child. We have one of the Emil books to read here, but are still heavily immersed in How to Train Your Dragon book 12 at the moment.

    1. Glad to know that you love Astrid Lindgren's books. :) I'm so happy to read these books with Eddie.