Swedish Language Blog

Swedish Writers – Selma Lagerlöf Posted by on Mar 10, 2009 in Culture

I was driving from Umeå to Stockholm this past Monday. Everything was going just fine and we were happily cruising along when somewhere between Umeå and Örnsköldsvik (also known as Ö-vik) the weather got all funky. It began to snow, or rather, from the looks of the road, it had been snowing for quite some time. I saw the familiar yellow Ybuss heading towards Umeå and realized it was about an hour late. That could only mean one thing – the road conditions ahead were even worse. And they were. By the time we got to Härnösand, my hands were stiff from hanging on to the steering wheel for dear life. It did eventually get better after Sundsvall.

But all that bad weather made me think about Nils and his goose. (Why Nils? If I remember correctly, he had also started his journey in March.)

Oh how I wished for a goose to spirit me away high above the snowy countryside. Or at the very least – for a goose who could drive in the snow.

You know about Nils and his story, right? But do you know that the story is immortalized on the 20 krona bill? I am ashamed to admit that I never paid much attention to what’s on my money apart from the obvious – the denomination and what it could buy. To me, tjugo kronor simply meant two cartons of milk. Yeah, I knew it had pretty pictures on it, but who holds on to the money long enough to examine the graphics? Not me, as it turned out.

And that’s how it was until a few years ago when a French friend pointed out the goose. And since when a French person talks about geese that always makes me think about foie gras, so it took me a few seconds to realize that this was about Selma Lagerlöf’s story.

Selma Lagerlöf (1858 – 1940) is the stern-looking lady on the other side of the 20 krona bill. Her claim to fame was that she was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature for “the appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings.” That was back in 1909. But when World War II began, she sent her Nobel Prize medal (though why not the money, huh?) and her gold medal from the Swedish Academy (the body that awards the Nobel Prize) to the government of Finland to help them raise money to fight the Soviet Union. The Finns were so moved by this gesture that they managed to raise all the money by themselves and returned the medals to Selma.

What else? The lady’s old home in Mårbacka is now a museum. I haven’t been there yet.

But of course, she is most known for the book about the little fella flying on a goose across all of Sweden. Well, nearly all of Sweden, as it happens, because he skips a province. The book is of course “Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige”, which was kind of awkwardly translated into English as “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils”.

I have read the book, and sadly I must say, I’m not a huge fan. Maybe it’s because it was the first book ever that I read in Swedish. I much preferred the anime version “Nirusu no Fushigi na Tabi.” So much, in fact, that I even own the DVD box set of the animated series. And yes, “Nirusu” is “Nils” in Japanese.

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  1. Poppy:

    I’ve read some of her other stories in a collected works (I cannot remember the title of it now, though) and I really enjoyed them! I like those sorts of stories, however. I’ll need to track down that book now.

  2. Minty:

    I dont know the story of Nils! How can I find it?

    Are there other books you would recommend to an adult learning Swedish?

  3. Kenia:

    Oh dear Anna, I think we all would like to have a goose sometimes =). I had never heard about the story of Nils, must find it.
    I’m very happy you’re posting again. It felt like a month without reading anything from you.

  4. Anna:

    thanks for the tip, I will look for her other stories. Maybe I’ll like them better.

    you should be able to find the Nils book at any Swedish library, it’s a classic. 🙂 And your second question is a great one – I’ll prepare a separate blog post about it, OK?

    I tell you, I’ve had it up to here with winter driving. I want a flying goose! 😉