No Dark Magic

books, Sweden, and computers, not necessarily in any order

Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige by Selma Lagerlöf

Posted at — Oct 12, 2019

The librarian told me the original, full version of this book is too long and uses hard-to-understand older version of Swedish. But nothing beats the smell of an old book, so here we are, 600+ pages later.

And it was so worth it.

From a distance, this looks like a children’s book about different regions of Sweden. But it doesn’t read like a children’s book, and it surely doesn’t read like a textbook. It’s deeper, and darker (so much death…​), and — for what I can tell, not being a native speaker — very well-written. And it’s not centered on the titular character. Sometimes he’s part of the story, vivid and believable, sometimes he’s just in one sentence at the beginning of the chapter which is a legend or an isolated story by itself. There are many of them, some with unexpected endings.

I gotta admit, recognizing some of the places or at least having an idea about them helped with being invested into the story, so I would only recommend this book to those with ties to Sweden. But I would recommend it a lot.

The "horribly outdated Swedish" is mostly exhibited by odd 'o':s at the end of some verbs, and way more approachable than any Shakespeare I’ve tried.

The library also had the audiobook in its app, narrated by Holger Calov. Reading and listening at the same time was helpful with some of the composite words. Luckily the app can speed up the speech without affecting the pitch of the voice, so it still sounded awesome.

The second trick I did to grapple with the original was to also check out a full Russian translation from the library (Sergei Shtern, 2016). While it helped immensely with things like a sentence with five name of different bird species in a row, I can’t say I was impressed by the amount of the translator’s additions.

There were added bits like "As you remember, <recap of an episode in the previous chapter>" — the absence of which I really enjoyed in the Swedish version. Selma Lagerlöf doesn’t patronize the reader and doesn’t pre-chew anything for you.

There was also something like "Women being women, the whole village knew about it in half an hour". Again, the author of the original novel didn’t make this slight stab at women, the translator did.

And the worst parts were about Bataki. In the original, Bataki is a crow. A crow very interested in science, and everything on earth. Helpful, attentive, and kind. In the translation, Bataki is still a crow, but a pretentious, petty, moronic one, who uses complicated words for the sake of using them. He irritates everyone around him. I cross-checked sentence by sentence, and Bataki just gets whole phrases out of nowhere in the translation. Poor thing.


(631 pages, ISBN: 9100478008, Worldcat, Open Library)

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