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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)
by Astrid Lindgren
Age Range: 9-11
Karl leaves behind the foster home where he has been unloved and neglected, to escape to Faraway Land. Here he learns that he is really a prince and that his true name is Mio. But Mio’s new home and his newfound happiness are under threat from the evil Sir Kato, and Mio may be the only one who can save his kingdom.
Currently republished in a heritage edition, this stunningly simple tale of good and evil was one of Astrid Lindgren’s earlier successes and is a children’s classic. Mio’s Kingdom is also different in style from her later work, focusing on fantasy and creating a much darker world than that inhabited by Karlson on the roof or Pippi Longstocking. Instead of bringing a little magic to the every day, Mio goes to a new world that borrows heavily from fairy tales and fantasy and is sumptuously described to conjure up lush, green fields and peaceful idylls. This kingdom then creates a stark contrast to the crueller, harder, darker world inhabited by Sir Kato, where Mio encounters death, destruction fear and loss.
Whilst Mio wins through and right is restored, the way that the story deals with death and cruelty in human nature is very powerful despite the simplistic tone of Lindgren’s narration. Lindgren also writes very apparent struggles between good and bad, light and dark into this work but also shows a battle between happiness and sadness that moves the story beyond being a simple fairy tale. Although Lindgren’s work is always thoughtfully written and is often touching, Mio’s Kingdom has an emotional depth that we perhaps do not get to see in more comic works like Pippi Longstocking, where Pippi’s optimism is almost overpowering.
It is the depth of this story and perhaps the maturity required of a young reader that makes putting an age range on this book quite difficult. The story is easy to follow and the gentle pace of narration and fairly basic vocabulary suggest that it is almost for an age range slightly younger than the actual content of the book would imply. However, Lindgren creates a rather frightening villain in the stone-hearted Sir Kato and some of the images associated with his reign of terror – such as horses crying blood and a bird falling into a lake whilst on fire- suggest that this is a book for slightly older children.
Despite these images, there is surprisingly little other blood and no long, drawn-out battle at the end. So, whilst some children might find the story overwhelming, the bloodthirsty will be left disappointed. I am not condoning violence in a story for children, but this book was written in 1954 and Mio’s final fight with Sir Kato may now seem a little sanitised for a generation brought up to relish every gory detail in Horrible Histories and the like. Similarly, Lindgren’s narration as Mio occasionally grates and his sometimes sing-song tone is perhaps more reminiscent of Andy Pandy than Harry Potter.
Overall, this is a beautiful story with much to recommend it, and it deserves to be back in print. Lindgren shows us what she can do away from the comic characters we know her best for, and delivers a beautiful and striking take on a fairy tale. This is not a book for every child though. Gadget and gore lovers will probably pass it by, but the slightly darker edge means it’s probably not one for smaller readers with an advanced reading age either.
Abby Phillips (2012)