The grown ups in this house love a bit of Scandi-drama. We are currently addicted to Borgen and Arne Dahl, and if we’re ever rich enough to go to Sweden or Denmark, we will certainly be well-equipped with the words please, thank you, and you have the right to remain silent.
Meanwhile, at Bernard’s bedtime, we’ve been investigating the frankly surreal world of scandinavian children’s literature. As a child I read all the Mrs Pepperpot books, by Alf Prøysen ((that O is supposed to have a line through it. CBA)). Mrs Pepperpot is an elderly Norwegian housewife suffering from a peculiar tendency to shrink at inopportune moments. If you have ever been unlucky enough to catch cbeebies’ Grandpa In My Pocket, you’ll know the sort of thing. Unlike the awful miniature James Bolam, Mrs Pepperpot is quite cute, and only uses her powers of good, apart from when blackmailing her husband to buy her things, or else she’ll tell everyone about the shrinking. Shrinking invests her with the power to talk to animals, with the odd limitation that she is unable to speak Italian to her Italian Leghorn hen.
Also set in the world of people, and again with some bending of reality, Pippi Longstocking is a Swedish character who has recently been re-illustrated by Lauren ‘Charlie and Lola’ Child. Pippi is a bit of a superhero, clearly on the autistic spectrum, and for some reason lives alone in a big house with a lot of money. Bernard’s favourite chapter was the one where she beats up the burglars and makes them dance with her; and this is where we got the endearment ‘Sugar Pig’ from. He hates to be called Sugar Pig. Pippi has few social graces but is stronger than an ox. What are we to take from this? It’s certainly a damn sight better than Horrid Henry.
And now for the completely surreal: The Moomins. Finnish author Tove Jansson has created a world of very weird creatures and strange weather phenomena. Reading this by torchlight in a tent last summer, we met the Moomin family, the Snork and the Snorkmaiden, the miserable stamp-collecting Hemulen, Sniff, Snufkin and the Hattifatteners, amongst a whole cast of nutty little people that makes In The Night Garden seem completely sober. Bernard was much taken by Moominland (and a little bit entranced by the Snorkmaiden), and laughed himself silly at the spoonerising Thingummy and Bob:
“Milly old souse yourself!” retorted Thingummy and Bob. […]
“Oh. So they’re foreigners,” thought Sniff. “I’d better fetch Moominmamma.”
For all the weirdness, the Moomin stories are beautiful, they’re a big loving family of disparate unrelated oddballs, experiencing such strange events as their house turning into a jungle, saving the world from a comet, and having lovely parties in Moomin Valley. And unlike the daft old shrinking lady, and the mischievous uneducated little girl, there is something totally down to earth and human about the random population of these books.