The Brothers Lionheart

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This article is about the novel. For the 1977 film, see The Brothers Lionheart (1977 film).
The Brothers Lionheart
Lionheart brothers.jpg
The book cover
Author Astrid Lindgren
Original title Bröderna Lejonhjärta
Illustrator Ilon Wikland
Cover artist Ilon Wikland
Country Sweden
Language Swedish
Genre Children's literature
Publisher Rabén & Sjögren
Publication date
Pages 227 pp
ISBN 91-29-40865-2
OCLC 2012524
LC Class PZ59.L47 B7

The Brothers Lionheart (Swedish: Bröderna Lejonhjärta) is a children's fantasy novel written by Astrid Lindgren. It was published in the autumn of 1973 and has been translated into 46 languages.[1] Many of its themes are unusually dark and heavy for the children's book genre. Disease, death, tyranny, betrayal and rebellion are some of the dark themes that permeate the story. The lighter themes of the book involve platonic love, loyalty, hope, courage and pacifism.

The two main characters are two brothers; the older Jonatan and the younger Karl. The two brothers' surname was originally Lion, but they are generally known as Lionheart. Karl's nickname is Skorpan (Rusky) since Jonatan likes these typical Swedish toasts or crusts.

In Nangijala, a land in "the campfires and storytelling days", the brothers experience adventures. Together with a resistance group they lead the struggle against the evil Tengil, who rules with the aid of the fearsome fire-breathing dragon, Katla.


9-year-old Karl Lejon has found out that he is going to die for an undisclosed pulmonary disease (most likely tuberculosis). His adored big brother, 13-year-old Jonatan, calms him down and tells him that in the afterlife, all men will go to a land known as Nangijala. But Karl is not happy. Jonatan assures Karl that 90 years will only feel like a few days to Karl.

A fire erupts in their home, and Jonatan dies saving his little brother from the fire. At the funeral, his teacher dubs Jonathan "Lejonhjärta" (Lionheart) for his courage. Some times later, a white dove appears one night on Karl's window sill, and Karl interprets it as a confirmation that Nangijala is real.

Two months later, Karl dies of his illness. He leaves a message: "Don't cry mommy, we'll see each other again in Nangijala". He finds himself standing outside a small cottage. He runs down to a river, where his brother is sitting and fishing. Jonatan tells him that they will be living at the Riders farm in the Cherry Valley. They each have a horse, Grim and Fjalar. They have finally come to Nangijala, a land which seems to be reminiscent of the earlier Swedish Middle Ages.

Karl meets Sofia, whose rose garden Jonatan tends. On the other side of the mountains lies Törnrosdalen (the Thorn Rose Valley) which has been occupied by the evil Tengil. He has enslaved the original inhabitants, using his Black Riders and a mysterious beast called "Katla" (old norse meaning "the boiler") to ensure their compliance. Jonatan refuses to tell Karl about Katla.

The people of the Cherry Valley, led by Sofia, help the resistance movement in the Thorn Rose Valley, but they know someone from the Cherry Valley is helping Tengil, as Sofia's white doves, which fly with secret messages are being shot.

One day Jonatan leaves for the Thorn Rose Valley, where the resistance leader Orvar has been arrested and sits in custody in the Katla cave. Karl is left alone, and after a few days he attempts to follow his brother. Two of Tengil's men wait outside it to meet the traitor, who turns out to be Jossi the tavernkeeper and not Hubert. Jossi is branded with the "Katla mark" on his chest.

In the morning, Karl is discovered by the two soldiers. They are suspicious and bring him to the Thorn Rose Valley. Karl tells them he lives with his grandfather, and the soldiers demand that he show them his house and his grandfather. Luckily an old man is standing outside a small house with a white dove who plays along and berets Karl for missing. The soldiers are satisfied. The old man, Mattias, is also part of the resistance movement, and inside the house Karl finds Jonatan asleep.

A happy reunion ensues when the two brothers meet again. Mattias' house lies right next to the high wall, and there are constantly guards from Tengil snooping around to see if someone is doing something forbidden. Jonatan is digging an underground tunnel which will go from Mattias' house, under the high wall and end in a forest on the inside.

When Tengil himself shows up in the Thorn Rose Valley, everyone has gathered in the square. He is dressed in black, rides on a black horse and looks cruel. All the men in the village have to get in a line and Tengil picks out the ones who will be brought to Karmanjaka as slaves to build his impenetrable fort, on which they will work until they are too weak and then they are given to Katla. A married man who is chosen protests and publicly denounces Tengil, claims that he will die as well and spits on him. The man is quickly subdued and executed on the spot.

Jonatan has almost completed the underground tunnel. The brothers manage to escape the valley. As they stop to bathe in the river, they must hide from groups of soldiers. One of the soldiers rides out into the fast-flowing river to show his bravery, but almost drowns. Jonatan shows empathy with the enemy soldier by saving him and his horse from drowning.

When they sit down to camp at the Karma Falls, Karl gets to see Katla - who turns out to be a firebreathing female dragon - for the first time, the dragon that Tengil uses to terrorize and control the people. Tengil controls Katla with the help of a trumpet, which he called to rally more men to his defence when Katla woke from a near-eternal sleep and entered his castle.

The next day the brothers cross the river, using the suspension bridge that connects the Thorn Rose Valley from Karmanjaka. The entrance to the Katla cave is guarded by Tengil's soldiers, but Jonatan manages to find a second entrance. Deep in the mountain they arrive at the Katla cave where Orvar is kept. They manage to release Orvar from his wooden cage moments before he is to be collected and fed to Katla, and their escape is soon discovered. They ride back as fast as they can towards the Karma Falls and the bridge, but the pursuing soldiers start overtaking Karl and Jonatan, who are both riding on Grim. Karl throws himself off the horse and hides in a ditch so that Jonatan and Orvar can escape and start planning the rebellion.

When the pursuing soldiers have gone away, Karl moves on to the place where they went swimming, and hides in a tree. At dusk three familiar people show up: Sofia, Hubert and the traitor Jossi. When Karl tells Sofia that Jossi is the traitor, she gets angry. Once Jossi's shirt is forced off, and everyone can see the branding on his chest, they understand. Desperate, Jossi escapes by throwing himself into a small boat, but the current catches him and takes him to certain death in the waterfall, upon which Karl cannot resist crying despite his treason.

Shortly thereafter, the people of the Thorn Rose Valley rise up against Tengil and his men, and Jonatan reluctantly agrees to join the fighting despite his pledge never to take a life, even if it meant the loss of his own. Orvar mocks him, claiming that if everyone were like him evil would prevail forever, but Karl points out that if everyone were like Jonatan, evil would not exist. The battle commences and claims the lives of Veder, Kader, Mattias, Hubert and many others, before Tengil shows up with Katla, who he (being ignorant of the rebellion until this point) brought to punish the people of the Valley. All seems lost, but Jonatan manages to attack Tengil himself and pull the horn out of his hands. As Katla no longer fears Tengil, the dragon instead attacks him and his men, and incinerates the tyrant. Having turned the tide of the battle in favour of the liberators, Katla comes under the tenuous control of Jonatan.

Once the fight is won, Orvar asks Jonatan to bring Katla back to the Katla cave, and vows to kill her himself when starvation has weakened her enough to be approached safely. When Jonatan and Karl rides over the suspension bridge, their horse Grim gets frightened and Jonatan drops the trumpet down into the river. Katla then chases them up the mountain. They finally hide high up on a cliff where Jonatan pushes a big rock down on Katla. Katla falls backwards into the river, and a fight breaks out between Katla and the (male) lindworm Karm. The two beasts, who have been waiting for this battle since the beginning of times, savagely fight each other. Katla beheads Karm, but his body drags Katla down, and they die locked in deadly embrace.

Jonatan and Karl set up a camp and Jonatan explains that during the fight he was burned by Katla's fire, and that he will soon become totally paralysed. Jonatan tells Karl about the land that lies after Nangijala called Nangilima, a land of light where there are only happy adventures. Karl does not want to be separated again from his brother so he carries him on his back to a cliffdrop. Karl makes the jump, vowing never to be afraid again, but is cut off as they reach the bottom of the gorge. Exalted, he lets out : "Oh, Nangilima! Yes, Jonatan, yes - I see the light! I see the light!"

Writing process[edit]

In 1946 Astrid Lindgren released the novel Mästerdetektiven Blomkvist where the knight games between the Red and the White rose is an important element. Mio, My Son, published in 1954, is another story by Lindgren which takes place in a far away medieval land.

The origins of the book have been described by Lindgren several times. A train trip along the lake Fryken, south of Torsby, on a winterday in 1972, displayed a fantastic dawn which gave her the impulse to write of a land far away. "It was one of those fantastic mornings with pink light over the lake - yes, it was something of unearthly beauty, and I suddenly got a strong experience, a sort of vision of the dawning light of humanity, and I felt something lit inside. This may turn into something, I thought".

During a visit at a cemetery in Vimmerby, Lindgren was caught by an iron cross with the text Here rest the fragile brothers Johan Magnus and Achates Phalen, dead 1860. It gave her the inspiration to write a story with two young brothers and death: "Then I knew suddenly that my next book would be about death and about these two small brothers."

Another inspiration was when, during a press conference for the movie of Emil i Lönneberga in 1971, she saw how the young lead character actor Jan Ohlsson got in the lap of his older brother Dick.[2]


The novel was favourably reviewed, but did receive some criticism, particularly on the issue of death and suicide, and supposedly recommending suicide as a solution to all problems. Many critics, though, hailed it as a major achievement, including some of those who voiced criticism pertaining to its treatment of death.

There is only one way to become free from the illness and that is for younger brother Skorpan (Karl) to take Jonatan on his back and jump down a cliff to die. In the death land of Nangilima eternal happiness reigns. [...] Of course it would be strange for me to point a finger at her (Astrid Lindgren's) imagination, but I can not help wondering about how a handicapped child may experience Jonatan Lionheart's deathwishes. Perhaps a sense of apathy would grow like a fire around the children's heart. Pondering on life-entitlement and life-quality. - Gunnel Enby in Aftonbladet December 16th, 1973. (Originally in Swedish)
But the subjectively emotional, often ecstatic tone of Karl's first-person narrative may make young readers uneasy; the book's preoccupation with death and its hints about transmigration of souls may be confusing; and the final, cool acceptance of suicide, too shocking. - Ethel L. Heins in Horn's Book Magazine, Boston, December 1975, p. 594-595.

Other critics believed that Lindgren painted the tale in a very black and white world:

Would this world view, with its romantic-deterministic dream fit better in the Cold War era? Is not this beautiful tale about the fair freedom fighter against an unexplained metaphysical evil an insult to liberation movements around the world? - Kerstin Stjärne in the socialist paper Arbetet 26 October 1973 (Originally in Swedish)

On the other hand readers reacted largely positive: "It is clear that children had a great wish for tales and preferably these kind of exciting tales. Right now I am swamped with letters from children - from several countries - that love the Brothers Lionheart. Never before have I received such a strong and spontaneous reaction on any book." - Letter written by Lindgren in 1975.[3] The contrasts, the evocative storyline and the themes of yearning for comfort, of brotherly affection, loyalty and struggle for freedom went over well with a wide readership that was often familiar with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and with folktales, and in many ways Lindgren's novel is an example of what Tolkien described as inspiration drawn from "the deeper folktale" (in On Fairy-Stories) and the cathartic, poignant power of such stories.


In 1977, the book was made into the Swedish fantasy film The Brothers Lionheart. The film was directed by Olle Hellbom and adapted for screenplay by Astrid Lindgren herself. Since 1985, an extended version of the film has been regularly shown on Swedish television.

In 2007, the book was adapted into a musical by Bo Wastesson (music), Staffan Götestam (manuscript - coincidentally, Staffan played Jonatan in the 1977 film adaptation) and Ture Rangstrom (lyrics), directed by Elisabet Ljungar at the Gothenburg Opera House in Sweden, with the leading parts played by Hanna Brehmer (Skorpan), Alexander Lycke (Jonathan) and Annica Edstam (Sofia), orchestra conducted by Marit Strindlund, choreography created by Camilla Ekelof, costume and stage design by Mathias Clason. The musical opened on March 3, 2007.

In 2009, the book was adapted[clarification needed] by Richard Storry and Pete Gallagher. The UK Premiere of this adaptation of The Brothers Lionheart formed part of the Pleasance Theatre's Summer 2009 Programme.

In 2012, it was announced that a film adaptation would be directed by Tomas Alfredson.[4] In April 2013, the Norwegian Film Institute reported that the film's budget would be 325 million SEK, making the project the most expensive Nordic film of all time, and so requiring some foreign investors.[5][6] Alfredson was expected to work together with writer John Ajvide Lindqvist and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, with whom he previously worked on the film Let the Right One In.[7] In November 2012, it was announced that the film would be filmed in English. Shooting was at that point scheduled to begin during the summer of 2013 in Europe. Casting agent Jina Jay, previously linked to such film as The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and the Harry Potter films, announced he was looking for two boys aged eight to ten, and thirteen to fifteen, who could play the two main characters Jonatan and Skorpan, respectively.[8]

In February 2014, it was announced that the film had been postponed and that no date has been set for when the filming was to begin. According to cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, the delay was caused by "the financing being so complicated because there are a lot of countries involved".[9]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Edström, pp. 222–224
  3. ^ Edström, p. 222
  4. ^ Nicholas Wennö (May 23, 2012). "Tomas Alfredson gör storfilm av "Bröderna Lejonhjärta"" (in Swedish). Retrieved 18 January 2013. 
  5. ^ Alexander Dunerfors (April 25, 2013). ""Lejonhjärta" får rekordbudget" (in Swedish). Retrieved April 25, 2013. 
  6. ^ Eva Ban (May 23, 2012). "Tomas Alfredson gör "Bröderna Lejonhjärta"" (in Swedish). Retrieved January 18, 2013. 
  7. ^ Alexander Dunerfors (May 29, 2012). "Ajvide Lindqvist skriver manus till "Lejonhjärta"" (in Swedish). Retrieved January 18, 2013. 
  8. ^ Joni Nykänen (November 15, 2012). "Efterlysning: Pojkar till Bröderna Lejonhjärta" (in Swedish). Retrieved January 18, 2013. 
  9. ^ Mats Karlsson (February 11, 2014). "Bröderna Lejonhjärta blir försenad" (in Swedish). Moviezine. Retrieved October 21, 2014. 
  • Edström, Vivi (1992). Astrid Lindgren - Vildtoring och lägereld (in Swedish). Stockholm: Rabén & Sjögren. ISBN 91-29-59611-4. 
  • Karlsson, Petter; Erséus, Johan (2004). Från snickerboa till Villa Villekulla: Astrid Lindgrens filmvärld (in Swedish). Stockholm: Bokförlaget Forum. ISBN 91-37-12365-3.