The Wonderful Adventures of Nils
Cover art by Mary Hamilton Frye (1936)
|Original title||Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige|
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (orig. Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige, Nils Holgersson's wonderful journey across Sweden) is a work of fiction by the Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf. It was published in two books, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils in 1906 and Further Adventures of Nils in 1907. These two are usually combined into a single book called The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, although that name could also describe the first book only.
The background for publication was a commission from the National Teachers Association in 1902 to write a geography reader for the public schools. "She devoted three years to Nature study and to familiarizing herself with animal and bird life. She has sought out hitherto unpublished folklore and legends of the different provinces. These she has ingeniously woven into her story." (From translator Velma Swanston Howard's introduction.)
Selma Lagerlöf, like many leading Swedish intellectuals of her time, was an advocate of Swedish spelling reform. When published in 1906, this book was one of the first to adopt the new spelling mandated by a government resolution on April 7, 1906 (see Svenska Akademiens Ordlista).
The book is about a young lad, Nils Holgersson, whose "chief delight was to eat and sleep, and after that he liked best to make mischief". He takes great delight in hurting the animals in his family farm. Nils captures a tomte in a net while his family is at church and have left him home to memorize chapters from the Bible. The tomte proposes to Nils that if Nils frees him, the tomte will give him a huge gold coin. Nils rejects the offer and the tomte turns Nils into a tomte, which leaves him shrunken and able to talk with animals, who are thrilled to see the boy reduced to their size and are angry and hungry for revenge. While this is happening, wild geese are flying over the farm on one of their migrations, and a white farm goose attempts to join the wild ones. In an attempt to salvage something before his family returns, Nils holds on to the bird's neck as it successfully takes off and joins the wild birds.
The wild geese, who are not pleased at all to be joined by a boy and a domestic goose, eventually take him on an adventurous trip across all the historical provinces of Sweden observing in passing their natural characteristics and economic resources. At the same time the characters and situations he encounters make him a man: the domestic goose needs to prove his ability to fly like the experienced wild geese, and Nils needs to prove to the geese that he would be a useful companion, despite their initial misgivings. During the trip, Nils learns that if he proves he has changed for the better, the tomte might be disposed to change him back to his normal size.
The book also includes various subplots, concerning people whose lives are touched in one way or another by Nils and the wild geese. For example, one chapter centers on a young provincial man who feels lonely and alienated in the capital Stockholm, is befriended by a nice old gentleman who tells him (and the reader) about the city's history - and only later finds that it was none other than the King of Sweden, walking incognito in the park.
The book was criticized for the fact that the goose and boy don't make any stop in the province Halland. In chapter 53 they fly over Halland on the way back to Scania, but they aren't impressed by the sight and they don't stop. However, such a chapter has been added to some translations of the book. In depictions Nils is usually wearing a red cap, although this is erroneous as he is described in the original Swedish edition as wearing a white cap.
1955 Soviet animation
A Soviet traditionally animated feature film called The Enchanted Boy (Russian: Заколдо́ванный ма́льчик, Zakoldovannyy Malchik) was released in 1955. It was directed by Vladimir Polkovnikov and Aleksandra Snezhko-Blotskaya and produced at the Soyuzmultfilm studio in Moscow.
1962 Swedish live action
Adventures of Nils Holgersson (Nils Holgerssons underbara resa) was released in 1962. It was shot primarily from helicopters, simplifying and downplaying the drama of the plot. It was directed by Kenne Fant.
1980 Japanese animation
An anime adaptation (ニルスのふしぎな旅 Nirusu no Fushigi na Tabi) consisting of fifty-two 25-minute episodes was broadcast on NHK from January 8, 1980—March 17, 1981. The anime was also broadcast in the Arab World (as "مغامرات نيلز" Nils' Adventures), Canada (in French), France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Iran, Iceland (as "Nilli Hólmgeirsson") Belgium, Greece (as "Το θαυμαστό ταξίδι του Νίλς Χόλγκερσον" - "The wondrous journey of Nils Holgersson"), The Netherlands, Poland (as "Nils and the wild geese"), Portugal, Romania, Spain, Slovenia (as "Nils Holgerson" with one s), Hungary (as "Nils Holgersson csodálatos utazása a vadludakkal"("The Wonderful Journey of Nils Holgersson with the Wild Geese")), Czech Republic (as "Nils Holgersson"), Israel, Turkey (as "Uçan Kaz" ("The Flying Goose")), Italy, Hong Kong (dubbed into Cantonese), Mainland China, South Africa (Translated to Afrikaans as "Die wonderlike avonture van Niels Holgerson"), and Albania, but in some countries it was cut to allow for commercials. The anime was the very first production by Studio Pierrot (Mamoru Oshii was a director on the series). The anime was mostly fairly true to the original, apart from the appearance of Nils' pet hamster, and the greater role allowed to the fox Smirre.
In Germany, the animated series episodes were also combined into one full feature animated movie (~ 1h 22min in length) in 1981; the same release has also been dubbed and released in Estonia on DVD & VHS.
2011 Swedish/German two-parter
German TV broadcaster ARD premiered a live-action two-part adaptation starring Justus Kammerer as Nils and directed by Dirk Regel on Christmas 2011. Its total running time is 230 minutes. This version uses a mix of real animals, puppets, and CGI for the geese and other animals.
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils is so well known in Swedish culture that a picture of Nils Holgersson, on the back of a goose flying over the plains of Scania, is printed on the reverse side of the Swedish 20 krona banknote.
Nils is also depicted in the logo of the digital map company Tele Atlas.
The sights Nils sees as he and his goose roam the provinces of Sweden are depicted in a series of Christmas plates produced by Rörstrand Pottery. The series began in 1970 and continued until 1999, the plates illustrate the topography, architecture, industry, and wildlife of Sweden.
Notes and references
- Chapter IX. Karlskrona
- Swedish 20 krona banknote.
- Background to the commission to write The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, from The National Atlas of Sweden
- The Wonderful Adventures of Nils at Project Gutenberg (plain text and HTML) (Book 1&2)
- The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, at Internet Archive (scanned books original editions color illustrated) (Book 1&2)
- The Wonderful Adventures of Nils public domain audiobook at LibriVox
- The Wonderful Adventures of Nils at Digital.library.upenn.edu (HTML) (Book 1 only)
- Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (Swedish) available freely at Project Runeberg
- (picture) Swedish 20 krona banknote - Nils depicted on the 20 krona banknote.