Astrid Lindgren’s The Brothers Lionheart (1973)
Trans. J. Tate Illus. Ilon Wikland (1984)

Everybody knows Pippi Longstocking, but not so many readers know The Brothers Lionheart.

I read it on the advice of a reading friend, who counts it amongst her favourite children’s books.

And then I learned that it’s also one of Iris’ special favourites!

What I read of it in Vivi Blom Edström’s Astrid Lindgren: A Critical Study only made me want to read it more.

Here is how the author described her inspiration:

“I was wandering around the churchyard at Vimmerby and read on a tombsone, ‘Here rest the tender brothers Phahlén, dead 1860,’ It was then that I knew this would turn into a tale about death and about two brothers.”

And it is a story about death and two brothers. So why was it also so charming, so sweet, so un-put-downable?

I read it in only two sittings, and I’m sure, if I’d discovered it as a child, I’d have read my way through dinner that day.

The brothers’ bond, the settings, and the brilliant adventure that follows (complete with fire-breathing dragon, and somehow that’s not a cliché in Lindgren’s hands) combine into a terrifically engaging read.

“All childhoods are remarkable,” she has said, and this is certainly true of the brothers’ childhoods (although their childhoods include some elements that we tend to associate with adult experience).

It is, however, a more complex tale than it seems at first. It can be read simply as an adventure tale, but, as Edström observes about this novel, “the value system of the book is not so unambiguously black and white as may be the impression on a first reading.”

She writes: “There are cracks in the black and white, and they become particularly apparent when we look at the world through the surprised, inexperienced eyes of a child.”

In some ways, it seems a remarkably adult story, particularly in terms of the way it which it considers what happens after people die.

But don’t let that put you off. Let Edström’s words convince you…

The Brothers Lionheart is also a consoling book. Despite all the fanciful things that happen, it is basically an optimistic book, constantly pointing to fresh solutions.”

Are you convinced?