Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Robber's Daughter

Back in 2011, I went on a writing retreat to eastern Germany. I made a lovely friend there, Lisa, who has since married and had a daughter. When she wrote to tell me, I was delighted to learn that she had named her after one of her favourite literary characters: Ronia the Robber's Daughter.

Unfamiliar with the story, I promptly ordered a copy. I've only recently had time to read it, and finished it last night.

High on a mountainside, a band of robbers live in a great fortress. 
Ronia, the daughter of the robber chieftain, roams the forest but she must beware the grey dwarfs and wild harpies. When she befriends Birk, the son of her father's greatest enemy, it causes uproar. Ronia and Birk can no longer be friends - unless they do something drastic. Like running away... 
Suddenly they are fending for themselves in the woods, but how will they survive when winter comes? And will Ronia's father ever accept her friendship with Birk, so they can go home?

What a book! I loved it.

It was written by Astrid Lindgren, who also wrote the Pippi Longstocking stories. I remember seeing those on German TV as a child, when visiting family friends, but I had never actually read any of her work.

She reminded me a lot of Diana Wynne Jones in that her characters are anything but conventional, and her chief female protagonist is strong-willed and independent of mind. Not a whiff of the 'little princess' syndrome. 

The descriptions of nature are beautiful, and the folklore is rich. I especially liked the Unearthly Ones who sing people to their deaths. Similar to the Fay Folk of Celtic legend - you get trapped in their world and cannot find your way home.

It's one of those stories for children that deals with some very adult themes. A surprising read, and a beautiful love story. I actually cried at one point! I think it was around:

Truly, there was nothing Ronia wanted to know more. She had wondered a lot why Birk was not worrying at all about winter. 'It is summer now, sister mine,' he would say, as calmly as if winter would never come. 
'We have only this summer, you and I,' said Birk, 'and the way things are with me now, I don't mind very much about living unless you are with me. And when winter comes you won't be with me.'...
Summer would not last for ever; he knew it and Ronia knew it. But now they began to live as if it would, and as far as possible they pushed away all painful thoughts of winter. They wanted to make the most of every hour from dawn to dusk and night-time and draw the sweetness from it. The days could come and go; they were living in a summer enchantment and would not be disturbed. They had just a little time left.

It's one of those books that is not really a children's book or an adult's book, but a book for everyone. I think it probably strikes up wisdom in young people and nostalgia for summers past in older people.

I enjoyed it very much indeed, and I am proud to know that there is a little Ronja in the world, with Lisa as her Lovis. 

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