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Nils Holgersson's Journey Across Sweden

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See also: Literary travel

Nils Holgersson's wonderful journey across Sweden (Swedish: Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige) also simply known as The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, is a 1906 novel by the Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf (1858–1940). The novel, originally written in order to teach school children Swedish geography, follows the young boy Nils, who is magically turned into a small "tomte" and joins a flock of wild geese on their annual migration North.

Nils' journey starts on the 20th of March 1898 and is concluded as he returns home on the 8th of November, later the same year. The journey starts in Scania in the far south of Sweden and makes a counter clock-wise route around Sweden (with some de-tours), following the eastern shore of Sweden northward to Kiruna and then the western parts of Sweden back south. During his journey Nils visits all the 25 traditional provinces of Sweden, except for Halland which is merely seen from afar and frowned upon. All in all Nils travels more than 4,000 km — as the goose flies!

The novel has been translated to some 60 languages and was included among Le Monde's 100 Books of the [20th] Century. It also earned Selma Lagerlöf the Nobel Prize in Literature 1909 — The first ever awarded to a woman.

Understand[edit]

Niels Holgersens vidunderlige Rejse omslagsillustration.jpg

Synopsis[edit]

Nils Holgersson is a boy of 14 years of age who lives on a farm in Västra Vemmenhög, Scania on the southern tip of Sweden. His "chief delight was to eat and sleep, and after that he liked best to make mischief", and he is a menace to the animals of the farm. One day when Nils is home alone, supposed to be learning bible passages while his family is in church, he captures a tomte (~gnome). The tomte offers Nils a gold coin if he is liberated but the mean boy refuses his offer. To punish him the tomte curses the farm and casts a spell on Nils turning him into a tomte as well. This shrinks Nils in size, but gives him the ability to talk to animals.

As this is happening one of the tame geese of the farm, Mårten, plans to escape the farm in order to join the northern wild geese, led by Akka on their annual migration North. In an attempt to stop Mårten, Nils clings around his neck, but is thereby himself accidentally brought along for the ride. The wild geese hold tame geese in contempt, and Mårten wants to prove them his worth by completing the migration. After Nils rescues Akka from the menacing fox Smirre he is also accepted as part of the pack. During his journey Nils comes to befriend his companions and eventually becomes kinder and gentler. During his travel Nils also meets and befriends several animals and spirits from Swedish folklore.

Finally Nils reaches the far northern point of Sweden by Kiruna, and on October 1 the party begins their journey back south. He also learns that if he brings Mårten back to his home farm he will regain his human shape and the tomte's curse over his family farm will be lifted — but his friend will be slaughtered! He tries to talk Mårten out of going back, but Mårten is determined to see the farm once more. When they return Mårten is captured by Nils' mother. As Nils saves his friend the spell is broken, and he bids the geese farewell as they continue further south.

Prepare[edit]

While getting a pet goose shouldn't be too much of a haggle, shrinking to a height of a few inches and attaining the ability to talk to animals might be somewhat more difficult. Luckily there are other possible means of transportation. For the authentic bird's view-experience flying would obviously be the optimal way to travel. However, since some of the destinations are very small (such as Nils' home village with a population of about 50 people) they mostly lack airfields within walking distance. If you are set on visiting all destinations a car would probably be your best alternative.

The fact that several destinations are insular might also be a challenge. While Öland can be accessed by a bridge, you need to take a ferry to reach Gotland. Ferries depart from Oskarshamn on the cost of Småland and Nynäshamn just south of Stockholm. In the summer there are daily connections between Lilla Karlsö and Klintehamn on the Gotland mainland, including a guide as the area is a nature reserve. Väderöarna are most easily reached from Fjällbacka in Tanum.

Get in[edit]

Nils starts his voyage at Västra Vemmenhög, Skurup, Scania, which is only a stone throw away from Malmö airport (provided that you can throw a stone 13 km). The larger Copenhagen Airport Kastrup serves more international flights and is also quite near. The village is only a kilometre off from Road 101, which connects Malmö with Ystad.

Since Nils made a full loop around Sweden you can actually start the journey at any destination. Stockholm Arlanda Airport is the largest flight traffic hub in Sweden, making the nearby destinations Uppsala and Stockholm suitable starting and finishing points.

Nils' journey[edit]

Map of Nils Holgersson's Journey Across Sweden
  • 1 Västra Vemmenhög, Skurup, Scania – Nils Holgersson's home village.
  • 2 Vittskövle Castle, Kristianstad – Nils gets an involuntary guided tour of the castle.
  • 3 Glimmingehus, Simrishamn – Nils visits the castle of Glimmingehus, which according to the book is the last holdout of the "black rats". These have been marginalized and are under occupation from the invasive "grey rats". Nils and Akka intervenes to save the black rats in a manner much like the "Rat-Catcher of Hamelin".
  • 4 Kullaberg – A natural reserve in western Scania, where Nils witnesses the spring dances of various animals, the most notable being "the dance of the cranes".
  • 5 Karlskrona – A large harbour in Blekinge where Nils meets (a statue of) the founder of Karlskrona King Carl XI of Sweden, and the poor box "Old Man Rosenbom".
  • 6 Öland – Nils visit the southern tip of the island, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage site "Alvaret". Here they also encounter "Dunfin", a wounded greylag goose who they nurse back to health and adopt into their pack.
  • 7 Gotland – In a storm the flock is blown away to Gotland. Nils visits Lilla Karlsö, a small island and natural reserve west of the main island. During a nightly escapade Nils finds the lost city of "Vineta", a prospering merchant city which due to a curse only arises from the sea once every hundred years. Nils fails to break the curse of Vineta. Later he visits Visby, once a prospering Hanseatic city now filled with ruins. Comparing Vineta's prosperity with Visby's decline Nils concludes that the curse of Vineta might be all too bad after all.
  • 8 Småland – In Småland Nils is kidnapped by a band of crows and passes by several parts of Småland, including Sunnerbo, Taberg and Jönköping. Today you can also find the theme park Nils Hogerssons Värld in Småland.
  • 9 Kolmården – A deep forest in Östergötland.
  • 10 Stora Djulö, Katrineholm, Södermanland County – During a nightly adventure Nils enters a magical garden which is kept by the gardener "Herr Karl". The garden is itself a miniature of Södermanland, which gives Nils an opportunity to study the province closer.
  • 11 Närke – Nils passes through the province during a storm caused by the wind-troll "Ysätters-Kajsa".
  • 12 Bergslagen, Västmanland – Nils passes by an unnamed ironworks. Possibly the UNESCO World Heritage Site Engelsbergs bruk in Fagersta.
  • 13 Falun – A city in Dalarna, famous for its copper mine.
  • 14 Siljansbygden – In this region, which folk culture is often percieved as an epitome of Swedishness, Nils sees a traditional Walpurgis Night celebration.
  • 15 Uppsala – In this "city ruled by wisdom" Nils meets different archetypical students and examines Swedish student culture. He is also taught a lesson about friendship from the wise raven Bataki.
  • 16 Stockholm archipelago – The pack travels to Dunfin's home island. Nils is however captured by a hunter and separated from his friends.
  • 17 Stockholm – Nils get's sold to the Skansen open-air museum in the Swedish capital. There befriends and liberates the zoo-kept eagle "Gorgo". Gorgo helps Nils to continue the journey northwards so that he can catch up with the pack.
  • 18 Delsbo, Hudiksvall – Where Nils sees "Fäboddrift" — traditional husbandry of Northern Sweden.
  • 19 Västernorrland County – Where Nils takes a look at the forestry industry and a witnesses a great forest fire.
  • 20 Gällivare – Where Nils gets acquainted with the life of the miners.
  • 21 Kiruna – In a Sami village by the lake "Luossajaure" Nils learns about Sami culture. This also marks the Northernmost point on Nils' tour before he starts his journey back home. The pack spend the summer in Laponia, and hatches their eggs.
  • 22 Härjedalen – When they pass Härjedalen the weather is foggy, wherefore Nils learns about the provinces through his companions' tales. He concludes that they are unfit for the Swedes who should leave the provinces to nature.
  • 23 Östersund – Nils spend a night in the tower at Frösö, and gets a panoramic view of the province.
  • 24 Mårbacka – Nils passes by the mansion Mårbacka in Sunne, Värmland, in which Selma Lagerlöf grew up. Here he meets an author who is struggling with writers block as she is writing a new geography book, and tell her his wonderful adventure.
  • 25 Väderöarna, Tanum – In order to thank Nils for his help the geese show him a hidden abandoned treasure in the Bohuslän archipelago.
  • 26 Nääs Slott – Nils passes by the castle Nääs in Lerum, Suburban Gothenburg, which out of charity has been reorganized into a crafts education centre. Selma Lagerlöf spent many of her summers here.

Go next[edit]

  • Astrid Lindgren tourism – In case you haven't gotten tired of Swedish children's literature.
  • Nordic Noir – In case you have gotten tired of children's literature! Nils' home province Scania is the setting of the Wallander series and The Bridge, while Stockholm is the setting of several Nordic Noir series including The Millenium Series, and Let the Right One In.
  • Halland – The only of Sweden's 25 traditional provinces which is not visited in during Nils' journey. Perhaps you can find out why?
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