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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Brothers Lionheart (The)
by Astrid Lindgren
Age Range: 9-11
When Jonathan and Karl Lion both die tragically, they find themselves transported to the world of Nangyala, where they can do things that they have previously only dreamed of in the seemingly safe Eden of Cherry Valley. When their idyll comes under threat, it is up to the boys to help protect it. Brave, bold Jonathan instantly steps up to the mark, but can shy, frail Karl prove himself in the ultimate fight against evil and show that he truly is a Lionheart?
This is a fantasy story from Astrid Lindgren, and it is a little different to the stories she is perhaps best known for today. The Brothers Lionheart has less emphasis on comedy and the every day, instead transporting us to a new world that is both similar and different to our own and is the site of an epic struggle between good and evil as Lindgren adds a darker edge to her writing. Beautiful descriptions of Cherry Valley and the idyllic cottage where the boys live are set against depictions of a fearful dragon and a cruel tyrant. Lindgren also proves to be the mistress of sinister suspense, really building the terrifying dragon by making us fear her name and letting us hear her dreadful scream before we eventually see her.
Good versus evil aside, the relationship between Jonathan and Karl is definitely the centrepiece of this story. Writing as the younger brother Karl, Lindgren pitches her narrative perfectly. She writes simply, with a clear vocabulary and touches her readers through what she has her characters say, rather than how they say it. In character as Karl, Lindgren shows the strength of love between the brothers, the admiration that Karl has for Jonathan and the bravery that both boys show. All the more powerful for being told simply, the story of their brotherly love is incredibly moving in places.
As with her 1954 fantasy story , Mio’s Kingdom - which is probably aimed at a slightly younger audience- the darker edge to this novel means that some children may find it a hard read. Death is dealt with sensitively and gently but those reading a bit ahead of their years might not be mature enough to fully appreciate the way Lindgren looks at this, or at the bravery and the relationship between Karl and Jonathan. As a fantasy work, The Brothers Lionheart also shows how much Astrid Lindgren had developed since she wrote Mio’s Kingdom. The later work is less of a straightforward fairy tale and although Lindgren writes as a young child in both, Karl’s narrative voice is far more sophisticated.
The Brothers Lionheart is a beautiful story, artfully told and Lindgren fans should definitely try it if only to see a different side to an author best remembered for characters like Pippi Longstocking or Karlson.
Abby Phillips (2012)