New study reveals unknown side of Astrid Lindgren’s creative process
21 February 2020
Why did Jonathan Lionheart’s pitch-black hair suddenly turn golden? And how did Master Detective Kalle Blomqvist get his proper name? In the “Astrid Lindgren Code”, literature researcher Malin Nauwerck lifts the lid on some of the literary world’s most sought-after secrets.
“Astrid Lindgren’s original manuscript opens up a previously unknown dimension of her authorship. In the drafts for The Brothers Lionheart, we see the great care Lindgren takes in describing the battle between the dragon Katla and the sea-serpent Karm. In its first guise, the scene had already appeared in her War Diaries 1939–1945; but here, more curious details were also included – such Jonathan Lionheart’s golden hair being black in an early version of the first chapter.”
Malin Nauwerck, a literary scholar, has been running the Astrid Lindgren Code project since New Year. In it, she heads the deciphering of the author’s extant notebooks: a fabled and essentially unexplored literary treasure that allows us to follow Lindgren’s creative process, from early ideas to finished novel.
“These manuscripts have long been seen as the key to new advances in research on Astrid Lindgren. The explanation for why no one has taken on the task is that Lindgren wrote in shorthand, given the well-established view that her stenography was almost impossible to decode. When we started examining the material to see whether using digital methods to interpret it was feasible, we saw that manual reading, too, was relatively simple if you know shorthand.”
The process started with The Brothers Lionheart, the book of hers that, in correspondence, Lindgren described as the hardest to complete. The dark tale of Karl, the boy with tuberculosis, and his courageous elder brother Jonathan came into being under trying personal circumstances for her, including the death of Lindgren´s own brother, Gunnar. There are a total of 52 notepads, containing huge numbers of crossings-out and insertions, but also different versions of the beginning and ending.
“The Brothers Lionheart is a highly radical book, with an ending that still shocks the reader, As Lindgren expressed it, she decided early on that Jonathan’s initial sacrifice – heroically rescuing Karl from a fire – had to be offset at the end of the story by a comparable action. How she eventually settled on the ambiguous ending is therefore especially interesting to investigate,” Nauwerck says.
Kalle Karlsson, the “Master Detective”
There is also a suggestion in one of the notepads that Master Detective Kalle by no means started off as “Blomqvist”. Instead, his creator chose to save her planned surname, Karlsson, for little Smidge, her 1949 brainchild, and especially a certain propeller-driven, “perfectly plump” man in his prime.
“In the project, we’re also going to digitally analyse a more accessible set of material, with few personal notes, that Lindgren herself donated to research. This will be a valuable indicator of how our digital transcription methods can work on Lindgren’s shorthand generally. Studying these two manuscripts may be seen as a pilot project. If it’s successful, we intend to explore Astrid Lindgren’s works further. They hold lots of mysteries waiting to be solved. As for myself, I’m very interested in the many similarities between The Lord of the Rings and Mio, My Son, which was published in the same year!”
The Astrid Lindgren Code is already arousing great interest in several fields of scholarship. The manuscripts she left behind make up one of the world’s largest collections of material written in shorthand. The hope is that the tool for digital text identification and transcription currently being devised by Anders Hast, Professor of Computerised Image Processing at Uppsala University, will pave the way for more studies of handwritten documents.
“We look forward to being able to put our results out there. Above all, we want to make transcripts of the manuscripts available for further research and, in response to the keen public interest, we’re also thinking in terms of a digital exhibition. But all that lies ahead of us. Right now, we’re grateful for the opportunity we’ve been given to solve Astrid Lindgren’s own code.”
- The Astrid Lindgren Code is an interdisciplinary collaboration between Uppsala University and the Swedish Institute for Children’s Books.
- The project will continue until 31 December 2022, with funding from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, an independent foundation that serves to promote and support research in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
- The working group’s members are: Malin Nauwerck, literature researcher, at the Swedish Institute for Children’s Books, affiliated to Uppsala University; Anders Hast, Professor of Computerised Image Processing, Uppsala University; Raphaela Heil, PhD student at the Department of Information Technology, Uppsala University; Karolina Andersdotter, librarian specialising in digital methods, Uppsala University Library and Britt Almström, Riksdag stenographer.
- Astrid Lindgren used the Melin system of shorthand, which was long used extensively in Sweden. Melin shorthand is based on sound frequency in the Swedish language, and takes the form of phonetically drawn pictograms.
- Example from the transcription image (deleted text in brackets): “... I must tell the story of my brother (yes, I want to tell it) of my brother Jonathan Lionheart I want to tell it yes I think it’s almost like a saga (although some people would think it’s like a ghost story or whatever) and a little bit like a ghost story too (anyway I’m the only one who knows the whole lot is true) although there’s probably no one but me who knows that…” (published with permission from Astrid Lindgren AB)
ERC Starting Grant for historian of ideas
31 januari 2022
The Starting Grants awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) in its 2021 call have been announced. The awardees include an Uppsala researcher: Ylva Söderfeldt, Senior Lecturer at the University’s Department of History of Science and Ideas.
Saying and doing are two different things
18 januari 2022
COLUMN. While more and more people say Yes and Amen when you ask them about the importance of living in a more environmentally conscious and sustainable way, few actually change their behaviour, writes Katarina Graffman, PhD in cultural anthropology.
Telling the story of Sweden’s Jews
11 november 2021
"There are many ways of being Swedish, and being Jewish is one of them." These words set the seal on Carl Henrik Carlsson’s history of the Jews in Sweden (Judarnas historia i Sverige). Carlsson is a researcher at Uppsala University, and his book h...
Campus Gotland students unearth Iron Age warrior
10 september 2021
Uppsala University archaeology students’ summer excavations on the island of Gotland turned up an exciting surprise: they found a warrior, with sword and spurs, in an Iron Age grave in Buttle Änge. Now the skeleton and grave goods will be analysed...
How Linnaean learning spread far and wide
07 juni 2021
An inspiring middle-school teacher sparked Linda Andersson Burnett’s interest in history. Now a researcher in the history of science and ideas at Uppsala University, she is currently studying Carl Linnaeus and his influence, which extends far beyo...
Elly Griffiths is giving this year’s Adam Helms Lecture
03 juni 2021
Each year, Uppsala University and the Swedish Publishers’ Association arrange a lecture in memory of the publisher Adam Helms. This year’s lecture will be given by the internationally renown British crime novelist Elly Griffiths on 16 September 20...
New thesis: Finery for fashionable ladies
11 maj 2021
When the first descriptions of knitting and crochet were published in Swedish, in the mid-19th century, such handiwork was described as the finest of all feminine handicrafts, for the benefit and pleasure alike of the trend-conscious, diligent mid...
Linnaeus’ complicated relationship with racism
07 maj 2021
Since June 2020, Carl Linnaeus has been a subject of debate in Sweden and around the world. What sparked it off were the actions of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Statues of slave owners have been lambasted or destroyed. In Sweden, the dis...
Conspiracy theories characterise views in and about Europe
03 maj 2021
Conspiratorial narratives of internal disintegration and external threats affect views in the European Union and Europe to an increasing extent. Our trust in society is put to the test in crises such as COVID-19 when various groups are singled out...
Nordic conspiracy theories through the ages
01 mars 2021
Conspiracy theories are becoming more common in the world, and the Nordic countries are no exception. Are some conspiracy theories unique to the Nordic countries? What typical narratives are disseminated? And when did this really start? A new book...
The plague year of 1710 was also a difficult year
24 februari 2021
As historians, it is our job to take a step back and give perspective to our current situation. For anyone looking back, it isn’t hard to find other difficult years. In Sweden’s past, 1710 was undoubtedly one such year, writes Jonas Lindström, res...
Sustainable development the focus of new graduate school at Campus Gotland
21 januari 2021
On 18 January, Uppsala University’s new multidisciplinary graduate school opened at Campus Gotland. Its focus is on sustainable development. This involves research on key societal challenges within changing energy systems, sustainable consumption,...
Archives crucial for Freemasons’ identity
22 december 2020
The Order of Freemasons’ meticulous archives are fundamental to their identity. The unique structure of the masonic archives reinforces the secrecy and mystique of the self-image that has been fashioned by the Order — and characterises it in the e...
Grants for research on the impact of AI on people and society
15 december 2020
In a major 10-year national research programme, two Wallenberg Foundations are supporting research on the impact of the ongoing technology shift, involving digitalisation and artificial intelligence, on our society and our behaviour. Two of the gr...
Linnaeus and Rudbeck medallists chosen
10 december 2020
This year the Rudbeck Medal is awarded to Professors Olle Eriksson, Inger Sundström Poromaa and Maria Ågren, while the Linnaeus Medal is awarded to Professor Kerstin Lindblad Toh and Chairman Dai-Won Yoon at Hallym University in South Korea.
Turkic cultural heritage in Uppsala
07 december 2020
Uppsala University has a rich collection of manuscripts, printed material, art objects and maps related to the Ottoman Empire and other Turkic cultures. How did they come to Uppsala? This story is told in a new book “Turcologica Upsaliensia. An Il...
Fallen in battle, these Swedish Vikings are part of a larger genetic puzzle
17 september 2020
In a recently published article in the journal Nature, 90 researchers from various countries have collaborated to develop new knowledge about the Viking-era population. Marie Allen, professor of forensic genetics at Uppsala University, has contrib...
The VR game that takes you to medieval Visby
14 augusti 2020
Using a VR helmet, you can try your hand at archery in 14th century Visby. This new VR game has been developed by the game company Disir, which was founded by a game developer and three archaeologists, of which two research at Uppsala University.
“The American dilemma is far from resolved”
15 juni 2020
The police violence in Minneapolis that resulted in the death of George Floyd has once again thrust relations between black and white Americans onto the agenda, a dilemma that will most likely play a central role in this autumn’s presidential elec...
Social graces and etiquette vital for Carl Linnaeus
04 juni 2020
What would have become of Carl Linnaeus if he had remained single? Would science have missed out on one of its major lodestars without his well-functioning household? And was his son, Carl Linnaeus the Younger, really the ne’er-do-well he was repu...