Several years ago our family enjoyed the beautifully animated series “Ronja the Robber’s Daughter.” Upon investigating its sources I discovered it was based on a book by the same name written by Astrid Lindgren, Swedish author of Pippi Longstockings. I had read one or two of the Pippi books as a child and found them a bit disorienting. Having read mostly straight fantasy or realistic fiction, I didn’t know how to receive the intrepid Pippi with her impossible personal history.
In Selma Lagerlof I imagine I can see some of the fantastical literary threads running through to Lindgren’s writing some decades later. While my literary exposure has expanded to include magical realism, The Lowenskold Ring bears, for me, a unique stamp that is difficult to identify. Folktales infiltrate daily life, and stories from successive generations interweave to form, at last, a circuit in which the heirloom ring returns to its resting place.
The Lowenskold Ring combines elements of romance, ghost story, Christian morality tale, and episodic historical fiction. One of Lagerlof’s most successful literary devices is personification, as when she spends several rambling but picturesque pages describing the harsh country life of Varmland, where the story is set, and the comfort derived from the fire and the stories it elicited in the old days.
Perhaps because of the snow-covered northern setting, parts of The Lowenskold Ring and Lagerlof’s debut novel, Gosta Berling, conjure up scenes from Gogol’s Dead Souls as well as the Russian wolf story in My Antonia. (Full disclosure: That’s one of the few scenes I remember from Cather’s book, which I read more than fifteen years ago.)
The subsequent books in the Ring series are Charlotte Lowenskold and Anna Svard.
*Translated by Linda Schenck