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Ronja, The Robber's Daughter


“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, 
to front only the essential facts of life, 
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, 
and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. 
I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; 
nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. 
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, 
to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, 
to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, 
and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

Henry David Thoreau
Nature plays an important role in all Lindgren's books. Nature becomes a character in her stories and being in tune with nature is message that easily resonates with children's instincts and needs, which in part explains the success of all of her books.

Ronja, The Robber's Daughter is set in early-medieval Sweden and it's the last novel written by Astrid Lindgren in 1981, at the age of 74. It's a coming-of age story packed with barefoot adventures and important themes, showing no sign of tiredness: it probably represents the pinnacle of Lindgren's writing in terms of the intensity and freshness with which she depicts the need for wilderness, the enchantment of childhood and that elusive moment when it fades into adulthood.
Every child should grow up with stories like this and at least a bit of everyone's childhood should be like Ronja's.

What a fantastic story. It's been the perfect companion for our holiday in nature, we have been reading Ronja twice in a row before and during our trip to Dartmoor, Devon, and can't get tired of her. 
The pandemic has pushed many of us to spend the summer holidays close to home, reconnecting with nature after the long lockdown months. Safe, familiar, comforting nature.
So we rented a cottage near the huge Dartmoor National Park and we chose a Forest-school kinda holiday over the more classic, crowded beach holiday. We hiked to find rivers to paddle and swim in, challenged gross motor skills with plenty of stepping stones, made bows with sticks, collected leaves and pebbles, watched farm animals and wild ponies, and observed all the different types of ferns lining the hills of Dartmoor. 
We walked barefoot in the meadows of soft grass and moss whenever we could, which for us Londoners is such a grounding thing to do.
Nature helped us to ease our 'mental' lockdown, because Government decisions do not command our minds, nor our fears. 
It took us a while to adjust to having more space and freedom of movement, which is, as a friend pointed out to me, the same thing that happens when you rescue chickens from a battery farm. They stay in a tiny corner of the barn as they are scared and don't really know how and where to go.

And when we got back home, we read Ronja.
The illustrated edition was released in 2017 following the first TV series by giant anime Studio Ghibli, directed by Gorō Miyazaki, son of Studio Ghibli's figurehead Hayao Miyazaki.  
Miyazaki honestly transposed the story, characters and atmospheres from the book into 26 exciting episodes that you just can't miss after reading the book. 
In the UK version, Astrid Lindgren's words are left to Gillian Anderson's intense voice.

The Story

The book tells the story of the spirited black-haired Ronja, a 11-year old girl who is born on a stormy night in a fortress located in the woodlands of Medieval Sweden. She lives with her imperturbable mother Lovis and her stormy father Mattis, chief of a clan of robbers that's been inhabiting the fortress for over a generation.
Ronja grows up in a male world, she learns to yell and dance with the robbers, but it's the forest she longs to. As soon as she is old enough, she starts spending her days exploring the woods on her own. Here she encounters the creatures of the forest, some more dangerous than others,  as well as Birk, son of the rival Borka clan.
They become 'sister and brother' and keep meeting in secret until the families find out about their friendship. After a daring and quite dramatic clash between the parents, the two children decide to move into a cave in the forest.
They live an idyllic Summer that will stay with them in their memory for life: wild, free, adventurous.
Time is marked by the passing of the seasons and by nature that changes with the approach of autumn, when they know they will need to decide whether to choose life back in the fortress or death in nature, and of course, they decide that life isn't to be thrown away.
This is not Romeo&Juliet though, and Astrid Lindgren chooses a hopeful ending for this very modern story. 
There are many reasons why I loved Ronja.

It's a progressive story: it is set in the Middle-ages, for the pleasure of all young adventurers, however the characters and the relationships between them are not set on gender stereotypes.
Ronja is no little princess: she is a free-spirited, short-haired child who is born to be a robber chieftain, despite being a girl, inheriting Mattis's legacy.
When she finds out what her father does for a living though, she rejects the plans that were made for her.
The decision is accepted with not too much of a drama and Ronja is left free to explore her own inclinations which take her out of the fort, into the woods.

Ronja's parents, two main adult characters are also quite unconventional ones. Mattis is bed-tempered and rough whilst weepy and emotional: he is in love with his daughter since the moment she is born, he comes back from the woods to feed her when she is a baby, plays with her and cries every night when she abandons him.
Despite being physical and assertive, he is ruled by her partner Lovis, Ronja's loving yet tough mother.
Lovis is an imperturbable woman, she feeds the robbers and expects that they thank and put their bowl away when leaving the dinner table. She medicates their wounds with her homemade herbal remedies and compresses, she keeps the men at work and the life in the fort organised, she is their anchor and the one who looks more in tune with nature and its cycles as well as with her daughter inevitable growing process.

Credit: Studio Ghibli
Credit: Studio Ghibli
Credit: Studio Ghibli
Credit: Studio Ghibli
Astrid Lindgren made no secret of her love for fairy tales. She populates the novel with creatures taken from Scandinavian folklore which however are not a central presence in the story. Rumphobs, Harpies, grey dwarfs and unearthly ones inhabit the wild forest surrounding the fort and although their presence offers some challenge to the children, their survival in the wild is linked to something else: it's the relationship between humans, between the two children and the two bands of robbers that has to evolve.
The creatures of the forest somehow melt with the natural world which the children learn to know and with idea of the passing of the seasons.
Credit: Studio Ghibli
Ronja is not a gender-specific novel. It's a story for boys and for girls that will inspire both to be whatever they like to be. It's also a novel that leaves us with some vivid memories of wonderful places, with the urgent desire of soaking up into wilderness.
Astrid Lindgren said that it's the places from our childhood that stay with us for life in our memories, much more than people. I kind of agree. 
Is there enough nature in your kids childhood?
-
Ronja, the Robber's Daughter [1981]
Written by Astrid Lindgren
English-language edition published by Oxford University Press
Reading age: 6+
Themes: Growing up, Nature, Wilderness



2 comments

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    ReplyDelete
  2. A great book for my daughter. Many thanks!
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