Blott ett 20-tal kunde gå själva

Det är EU-val snart, och högerextremister och renodlade nazister är på väg in. Därför har jag här ett brev från min morfar, som beskriver de yttersta konsekvenserna när sådana krafter får härja fritt. Och det är därför jag vill att den som ens bryr sig det minsta om mänskliga rättigheter röstar. Ja, vi pratar om den: nazismen. Vi pratar om Förintelsen. Men för de av oss som inte har personlig erfarenhet av ett folkmord, av förföljelser, så är det ändå långt borta. Det är så långt borta att det inte är ett riktigt minne; det är rader i historieböcker, det är sorgliga Hollywood-filmer, det är Adolf Hitler-utbrott på Youtube. Inte på riktigt riktigt. Nassar i EU-parlamentet? Vad har jag att göra med det?

Jag har inga personliga erfarenheter av förföljelse och folkmord, och för det är jag oändligt tacksam. Vad jag dock har är en morfar som var sjukvårdskonstapel i svenska flottan, och som skrev brev hem under andra världskriget. I slutet av juni 1945 skickades han ned till Lübeck för att hämta flyktingar från Auschwitz. Han skrev om det i hjärtskärande detalj. Tonen blir från och till nonchalant, men det var hans sätt att hantera det han såg.

Det här är vad som hände. Det här är vad som kan hända igen. Men som Özz Nûjen skriver i sin kolumn här: vi kan välja vilka tjugo personer som ska representera vårt land i ett parlament där mörka, kalla krafter tar allt större makt.

Varning: brevet innehåller beskrivningar som kan upplevas som extremt obehagliga och skrämmande. Men det är nödvändig läsning.

H M Prins Carl, Trelleborg d 3/7 1945

Hejsan! Nu har jag litet bättre om tid, men du må tro, det har varit de mest hektiska dagar, jag har varit med om inom sjukvård. Jag hade i alla fall brev från dig i Norrköping. Fick det vid 10-tiden på kvällen, när jag låg i badkaret. Det hade kommit med bland Appelquists post, så han fann det, när han gick igenom den.

Och nu till historien. Vi gick ju från Sverige midsommarafton. Hade en lugn och skön överfart till Tyskland varpå vi anlände till Lübeck på kvällen midsommardagen. Sedan fick vi ligga där ända till torsdagen, ty engelsmännen skulle montera på s.k. bullerparavaner, skydd mot akustiska minor. Vi låg innanför avspärrat område och fick inte gå i land i staden, utan fick stå och ”skaka galler” som andra fångar. En del av grabbarna talade med tyskar, vilket var förbjudet. Då blev det med ens förbjudet att gå ned på kajen, så det var riktigt trevligt i den sta'n. Engelsmännen uppehåller det s.k. fraterniseringsförbudet mycket strängt. Utegångsförbud efter kl. 2100 och ej större folksamlingar än 5 personer.

Så äntligen på torsdag e.m. fick vi vår last! 178 arma människor, de flesta judinnor, ty vi hade 158 kvinnor och 20 män med oss. Blott ett 20-tal kunde gå själva, de övriga låg som skelett överdragna med skinn alldeles apatiska på sina bårar. Det var det så kallade herrefolket som bar. Engelska soldater stod vid landgången och dirigerade trafiken medan löjtnanter och kaptener från S.S. bar sina offer ombord till oss. Hälften hade tyfus och andra hälften tuberculos, så det var rena dynamiten i bakteriehänseende, som lades ned i våra sängar. Jag har ju bara 135 sängar ombord, men det kom order från Röda Korset att vi måste ta 180 (vi fick 178, ty två dog innan de kom ombord). Själv hade jag bara 25 tagelmadrasser extra ombord, varför jag fick 20 st. pappersmadrasser med träull från ett annat fartyg. De där 45 madrasserna fick vi placera ut mellan sängarna på golvet samt i gångarna och på sky-lighten. Det blev ganska trångt om saligheten på P.C. Genast de kom ombord började skitandet, ty diarré hade de alla. Sjukvårdarna ilade som vita streck med bäcken. Det var en skit- och lysolstank som var överväldigande. Varmt var det också, så det var ett rent helvete att vistas under däck, men det måste man ju.

Vi lämnade Lübeck på kvällen och gick ned till Trawemünde och lade oss. När det ljusnade kom en tysk minsvepare och gick före oss genom minbältena mot Sverige. Läkarna och jag började gå rond på morgonen kl ½ 9 och höll sedan på med det till 9 på kvällen med avbrott för att slänga i oss litet käk. Och vilka människor vi fingo se. Avmagrade till oigenkännlighet. Armar och ben som stickor. En del såg man ryggraden på tvärs genom bukskinnet. Stora liggsår, bölder och abscesser. Jag begrep ej, hur en del kunde leva. En kvinna dog också på natten, så vid 1-tiden fick man låsa upp likboden. Det såg ut som bara ett lakan låg på båren så tunn var hon. 38 år men såg ut som 98.

Jag intervjuade en del, och det var gräsliga öden man fick höra. Vi hade bl. a. en judinna från Wien. Hon hade varit operationssjuksköterska i 8 år, dels i Wien dels i Köln. I oktober förra året, just när hon skulle ut och handla kom ett par SS-män och kommenderade henne med. Två barn hade hon, en flicka på 3 år och en pojke på knappt 1 år. Det var bara att under hugg och slag följa med. Man och barn vet hon fortfarande ej, vad det blivit av. Alla fick ställa upp på ett torg och sedan fick de marschera 30 mil till Auschitz, ett arbetsläger. Ingen var ju utrustad för en sådan promenad och resultatet blev därefter. Man fick rasta 3 timmar varje natt, fick knappt någon mat. Mer än hälften dog eller blev ihjälslagna på vägen.

I Auschitz fick de ett slavnummer intatuerat på ena underarmen, varpå de sattes i arbete i olika fabriker. När ryssarna kom flyttades de i smällkalla vintern, dåligt klädda, gående från Auschitz till Belsen, där det största helvetet började. Tyfus och fläckfeber härjade, alla blev sjuka. Ingen vård ingen mat. De fick ligga i baracker för 150 personer på bara golvet utan andra kläder än de stod och gick i, men det värsta var att i barackerna kördes in 400 personer, så ingen kunde sträcka ut sig på golvet. Tyfussjuka låg och yrade, kräktes och sket ned sig, dog som flugor. Ingen tog ut liken, utan de låg bland de levande i 3-4 dagar, tills någon som själv var frisk nog kunde släpa ut dem utanför baracken, där lik låg vid lik. Där bland liken fick de levande själva laga sin mat i det fria i gamla bleckburkar, om de nu fick något att laga av. De levde värre än djur. T.o.m. kannibalism förekom, ty ibland var stora stycken skurna ur låren på dem som blevo arkebuserade. 2000-3000 personer dog varje dygn. Jag visade henne bilder från SE från Belsen-lägret. Vi ha ju själva tyckt de varit gräsliga. Hon kände igen varje ställe från lägret. En bild …

Här saknas en sida. Sista delen av brevet består av avskedshälsningar och ömhetsbetygelser, och är inte relevant. Jag vet inte vad som står i sidan som saknas, om det blir värre. Hitintills är det redan outhärdlig läsning. Det är beskrivning nog.

Manusdoktorn tar emot

Nu tar jag emot manus för coachning. Jag har just nu plats för ett längre manus eller ett par noveller, så det är först till kvarn som gäller. Den som vill få manushjälp av en prisbelönt fantastikförfattare och skrivpedagog har alltså chansen nu!

Jag tar alltså emot alla sorters prosa från noveller till romaner. Genremässigt tar jag uteslutande emot fantastik. Fyll i kontaktformuläret på den här sidan och berätta lite om ditt projekt: hur långt det är, vad det handlar om, och vad du behöver hjälp med. Manus tas endast emot enligt överenskommelse.

Vad gör jag? Jag går igenom ditt manus utefter dess egna förutsättningar och tittar på struktur, dramaturgi, personbeskrivningar, dialog, språk, gestaltning, världsbygge, inre logik och tematik, samt klichéer och fallgropar. Om du har några särskilda frågeställningar får du gärna säga till, så kan jag fokusera extra på det. Jag gör också noteringar i manuset under läsningen, både reaktioner från mig som läsare och anmärkningar/förslag vad gäller formuleringar och kontinuitet etc., dock inte korrektur.  Du får ett utlåtande på minst fyra sidor med en analys av ovan nämnda områden, styrkor och svagheter i texten, eventuella problemområden och konkreta förslag på förbättringar.

En manusläsning garanterar på intet sätt att ditt manus senare blir utgivet, utan ska ses som en vägledning till hur du kan fortsätta jobba med ditt manus för att det ska uppnå sin fulla potential.

Vad kostar det? Roman: Startavgift 2.000 kr + 6 kr/sida från sidan 21 och framåt om sidantalet överstiger 20.

Novell: Startavgift 500 kr, sedan 6 kr/påbörjad sida från sidan 10 och framåt.

Avgiften beräknas på text med dubbelt radavstånd, 12 punkter, och marginaler på ca 2,5 cm. Moms tillkommer med 25 %. Betalning sker i förskott.

Hur lång tid tar det?

Arbetstiden för en roman kan ligga på sex till åtta veckor, men kan gå fortare beroende på arbetsbelastning. Arbetstid för novell är ca tre veckor.

Read all the books

IMG_0483 Having had a bit of a reading hiatus, I'm digging into my to read-pile. This is not actually my whole to-read pile. The main mass is about a meter and a half. This is the read it now for fuck's sake or you'll regret it - pile. And it's delicious:

I started out with Neil Williamson's The Moon King yesterday, and two chapters in I'm sold. Not too clear on what's going on just yet in the strange city of Glassholme, but very much enjoying Williamson's gradual reveal of the story and the world. On the reader is also Amos Tutuola's Don't Pay Bad for Bad and Haruki Murakami's The Elephant Vanishes, both of which I'm dipping into every now and then.

Then there's the stack. From the top, three books in Swedish: Din tjänare hör (Thy Servant Listens) by Sara Lidman, one of Sweden's greats. Several of her books have been translated into English, and I heartily recommend them to anyone interested in rural Sweden and proletarian literature. I'm also aiming to re-read Norrländsk folktradition, a book of stories, anecdotes and folklore collected in northern Sweden by the ethnologist Ella Odstedt during the first half of the 20th century. Odstedt remains one of the most important sources of folklore, and this book is a treasure trove. Next is the literary vampire novel Svulten (Starved) by Finnish writer Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo, which I've wanted to read ever since last summer when I met Hannele and her book at Finncon in Helsinki. I've so far only flipped through the book, but I'm glimpsing lyrical prose. And there's the pull of Finland Swedish, which to my ears always sounds at the same time poetic, cool and stately.

For some more research (and because I love Middle Eastern folklore in general), I picked up Robert Lebling's Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies From Arabia to Zanzibar. It's certainly a fact-packed and in-depth study, but I'm also aware of the potential problems with studies of cultures and folklore from a non-native's perspective. I'll need to find out what readers with an insider perspective think of Lebling's work.

Next up is Serbian-Maltese author Teodor Reljic's debut novel Two, which I just got in the mail. I don't know much about it, but Reljic shares my love for all things weird, which means I'll probably enjoy it. The cover is gorgeous and the edges are dyed blood red. Very happy to see that dyed edges are coming back in fashion. Just like Swedish writer Kristina Hård's latest novel Kleptomania, in fact, which is edged in black. The last novel I read by Hård was Alba,  a melancholy and philosophical science fiction story on a colonized planet, and I wish someone would translate it into English soon. Kleptomania is the first installment of an urban fantasy series. And there be airships in it. And I already know that I love her prose.

The two books at the bottom are of the type that you put off reading because you don't want to have finished reading them. Karen Joy Fowler's Sarah Canary I first encountered through Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward's Writing the Other, which apart from being an extremely important work also contains a truckload of book tips. And then there's Liz Hand's Errantry, which I really don't want to end. I'll probably read some this week and then put it away so it'll last longer.

Now, off I go to Glassholme.

Och så lite info om årets sommarkurs

Just nu är det undervisning på tapeten. Igår var jag på Andra Världar för att prata om problem fantastikförfattare får, och hur man kan lösa dem. På onsdag ska jag prata med en dansk gymnasieklass i Köpenhamn om vad författare håller på med hela dagarna. Och så händer det i sommar igen! Vecka 31 håller jag en kurs i att skriva SF och fantasy på Skurups folkhögskola. Mer info finns här.

Andra världar 26-27/4

Nu i helgen är det dags för Andra världar i Jönköping. Det kommer att hända en massa kul grejer, med gäster som Maria Friedner, Jakkin Wiss, Karin Waller, Susanna Nissinen och Fredrik Persson. Programmet finns här. Jag kommer att vara på plats på söndagen och hålla ett snack och en liten workshop om skrivande kl 11.30. Jag kommer även att ha med böcker till försäljning. Mässan till ära kommer jag och några andra av författarna på plats donera en summa till Naturarvet för varje såld bok!

Vi ses där.

This year's Hugo short story nominees

I was very happy to see so many friends and works I love on the Hugo ballot. Since short stories are my thing, I looked up the nominees I hadn't read in that category and discovered that all of the nominated stories are available online. They're also all brilliant, so I kind of wish they could have an award each. Here you go, have some quality short fiction. "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" by John Chu

"The Ink Readers of Doi Saket" by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

"Selkie Stories are for Losers" by Sofia Samatar

"If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" by Rachel Swirsky

Culture Crowdfunding Tuesday!

This week, there are two crowdfunding projects I'd like to direct your attention to. One is a puppetry show, and one is a Bulgarian writer. Both are in need of financial aid in order to go out there and bring wonderful things into the world.

Opportunity 1: Help a puppetry show go on the road

franz

As you may know, the puppetry troupe Tidsrum (DK/UK) is staging an adaptation of my short story "Beatrice". It will premiere in June this year, and they're working on a tour of the Nordic countries - and after that, hopefully, the world!

In order to make all of this happen, they need funding. You can help an amazing, beautiful, heart-wrenching puppetry show go on tour. Click here for detailed info about the project and find out how your contribution will help.

You can also visit Beatrice's facebook page here.

 

Opportunity 2: Help a writer attend Clarion

"I want to be a voice for my culture. I want to represent LGBTQ writers. I want to bring more diversity into speculative fiction and I believe Clarion can give my voice power."

HarryMarkov

Harry Markov is a Bulgarian author who just got accepted into Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Workshop. The problem is he's in dire financial straits: even with the scholarship he received, he still can't afford to go.

Going to Clarion is one of the best things one can do as a SF/F writer in the English-speaking field - for me, it was how I broke through to the English-speaking market. It has made all the difference. Harry, too, writes in English as a second language and is trying to get his stuff out there.

I've been where Harry is right now, and I really really want to see him attend Clarion. This is the chance to help a new voice forward. You can find his homepage, and his donation fund, here.

"Moonstruck" to excellent weirdo antho

Very pleased to announce that my story "Moonstruck" (first published in Shadows & Tall Trees #5) is included in the The Year's Best Weird Fiction, Volume One, edited by Michael Kelly and Laird Barron and planned for publication in August. Contributors include Sofia Samatar, Jeff Vandermeer, John Langan, Anna Taborska - the complete TOC is in the link above. YBWF-lowres

Oh come on just play it once

English, sometimes it's like you're a DJ and I'm that person standing at the booth yelling for my favorite song, even though I know you'll only play it when you're good and ready or perhaps never because I'm at the wrong party. "No! We don't play Backpfeifengesicht here, that's over at the German place!"

In my dreams, you'll be playing songs like

Herbal Verbal's Here's a Single Verb For Saying Hello To Someone (Not Greet) and their slightly less known A Verb That Describes Having The Strength To Do Something

and I'd be dancing my ass off to The Composite Wordbitches' Fuck You Spacebar

and then late at night you'd be playing The The's B-side classic We Killed and Ate Definite Article

and then finally, as a last song, we'll have a sing-along to I Won't Conjugate My Verb Just 'Cause We Is Plural Now

Writer tics

An editor once asked me, without a trace of sarcasm, if the characters in my story had Parkinson's. That's how often people were shaking their heads. People whisper a lot, too. And say "but". (that's a Swedish tic. We tend to start a sentence with "but" whenever there's something we don't agree with, or are outraged by, or dubious about, or think is stupid, or are unsure about ... you get the idea. My native dialect has about five or six ways of saying "but". If something is extra idiotic, there are at least three ways of expressing it just by saying "but"*. Sadly, the word for "but" is not a homonym of the word for "butt".)

*Ah-MEN, Men-ÅÅÅÅÅH, [click]meh

 

Scary monsters and super creeps

I like stuff that falls between categories, and creatures with motivations difficult to comprehend.Here are four of my favorites. This is not the list of Comprehensible Scary Humanoid Monsters. It's the list of Holy Shit What Does It Want-Humanoids, which is not quite the same thing.

Without further ado:

1. The Grinning Man, a.k.a. Indrid Cold

Indrid

 

“He was strangest guy we’ve ever seen… He was standing behind that fence. I don’t know how he got there. He was the biggest man I ever saw. Jimmy nudged me and said, ‘Who’s that guy standing behind you?’ I looked around and there he was… behind that fence.  Just standing there. He pivoted around and looked right at us… then he grinned a big old grin.”

- The Mothman Prophecies, John A. Keel

I first encountered this figure through Fortean journalist extraordinaire John A. Keel. A large man, usually unremarkable except for the fact that he has a wide, inhuman grin plastered across his face. Known alternately as Indrid Cold and the Grinning Man, he was said to be either an alien, the Mothman or some other entity. Good rundown of the legend here.  Keel believed, among other things, that our planet is populated and visited by entities whose motivations we are incapable of understanding. This is why aliens, fairies and weird strangers seem to do things that make absolutely no sense: they are so different from us that we can't grasp their logic. The grinning man's smile is terrifying because we have no idea what he's grinning at.

Other dapper gentlemen of note: The Smiling Man, The Gentlemen, Men in Black

Recommended reading: John A. Keel's books The Mothman Prophecies and Strange Creatures From Time and Space

2. Lamassu (well, it has a human head)

Maybe it's because of that time when I was fifteen and read H P Lovecraft and Zecharia Sitchin back-to-back with Fields of the Nephilim playing on repeat in the background -  but Mesopotamian gods in general unnerve me. The lamassu, who are really supposed to be protective deities - good guys, in other words - creep me out most of all. Is it the square beard? The hat? The image of them striding across the plain with a noise like thunder? I don't know, but something about them is just profoundly alien.

The staring lamassu at the British Museum.

Once, when I visited British Museum, I was looking for a specific room but couldn't find it. Instead I kept ending up in front of the two enormous lamassu. As soon as I turned a corner - BAM. Lamassu, staring at me. It was the kind of terrible that makes people claw at their chests and faint.

(Later finding out that carved into the base of one of these beasts was the oldest board game in the world helped a little. The image of a winged bull patiently letting bored guard play games on its plinth is less than frightening.)

3. Slender Man

Gah.

The Slender Man is a work of fiction, of course. The awesome thing about the figure is that it pushes enough buttons to feel like old mythology, and it's a group effort: people all over the world keep adding to the mythos. A creature both alien and vaguely familiar, something that's been around for a very long time ... and whose motivations humans can't comprehend. I first encountered the Slender Man through the Youtube found-footage series Marble Hornets, and then fell down the creepypasta rabbit hole. At the moment I'm going through the archives of the SCP Foundation, pleasantly scared half to death. (It helps if you scare easily. I do. I'm a wimp.)

4. BOB

If you look at BOB's backstory, it's pretty straightforward: evil spirit from the evil realm of evil possesses humans to make them do evil stuff. However, that's not what it was like when you first saw BOB on screen. It looked human, but was fundamentally not. That was my first meeting with this sort of entity. The clip below is the scariest thing I have ever seen on film or TV. It's not quite as heart-stoppingly frightening now that I'm a grownup, but keep in mind that I was twelve years old when I saw it. It is, of course, the scene where Bob crawls over a sofa.

You'll note that these are are male (or male-coded). I've been wondering why that is. It might be because most female humanoids I've found seem to have a clear motivation. For example, demon women from Japanese folklore such as Kuchisake-Onna and Oshiroibaba are scary as all hell, but you can still sort of understand why they do what they do. The category of humanoid monsters with motivations extremely difficult or impossible to fathom, is very often occupied by figures that are male-coded. It seems that female-coded monsters almost invariably come with one or more of a set of qualities associated with "womanhood", while male monsters can also embody qualities that aren't tied to classical gendered issues. Buuut I haven't quite processed those thoughts yet so I'll get back to you on that one.

Okay, that's all for today. Sleep well.

Antiscampidagen 22:a mars

Bara en påminnelse om vad som händer på lördag, nämligen Naturskyddsföreningens satsning Antiscampi-dagen. Odling av jätteräkor är ett jävla otyg som förstör den lokala miljön och ödelägger viktiga naturområden. Som tur är så går det faktiskt att göra en praktisk insats, och det har fungerat: många restauranger och matbutiker har slutat sälja dem. Men många fortsätter, särskilt restauranger. I länken ovan finns allt material du behöver för att göra dig besvärlig hos restauranger som envisas med att servera jätteräkor: flajers, information, filmer, argument och motargument. Och små lappar till den som är blyg. Så, grattis till dig som sitter med miljöångest och inte vet vad du ska göra: på lördag har du en uppgift.

The Time Traveler's Almanac & Schlock

Item one: The Time Traveler's Almanac is here! Watch the trailer.

So, this book is the definitive collection of time travel stories. It's got the classics, by Ray Bradbury and H G Wells and Ursula Le Guin and the other greats, but there are also some possibly lesser-known stories, old and new. It's a huge spectrum. The Vandermeers have outdone themselves again. I was fortunate enough to get an ARC, and it is gorgeous in every sense of the word. What I really love about it, aside from the very wide variety of authors, is that it's divided into sections according to theme. We have Experiments, Reactionaries and Revolutionaries, Mazes and Traps, and Communiqués. And interspersed with that, some awesome non-fiction (such as Genevieve Valentine's Trousseau: Fashion For Time-Travellers). And, I'm proud to say, my short story "Augusta Prima". It's some very fancy company.

This is an anthology that fills a hole. You probably need it.

Item two: New interview with Teodor Reljic of Schlock Magazine.

Open rehearsal of Beatrice, March 15

Yesterday, I visited Det blå hus in Roskilde to watch an open rehearsal of Tidsrum's adaptation of Beatrice. So I brought back a report and some pics!

Tidsrum treated us to the play's intro and a few scenes. The play is completely wordless, accompanied by music written specially for the play and performed on instruments partly built from junk. I got to meet Anna and Hercules, Franz and Beatrice and of course little Josephine; I got to see them interact with each other. Contrary to some other puppet shows I've seen, the puppeteers, Karina Nielsen and Ida Marie Tjalve, aren't trying to be invisible; instead there's a subtle interplay between them, the puppets and each other that add an extra dimension to the story. It was the kind of amazing where it's hard to put into words. I also had the pleasure to meet the director, Stephen Tiplady, who usually works with puppetry in the U.K.

And here are some pictures. They're kind of crappy and don't do the puppeteers or the scenery justice at all, but they might give you a hint. I didn't manage to capture Anna on camera, because she was the first character to appear and I was busy trying not to burst into tears (that's how exciting this is). And keep in mind that these are rehearsals, so everything you see on stage is still under construction. The set design and puppets are the work of Sarah Piyannah Cederstrand.

Tidsrum's homepage (in Danish) can be found here, and the Facebook page for Beatrice is over here. Keep an eye out, because they continually post cool pictures and updates.

Some more about the music for Beatrice: here's composer Andreas Busk demonstrating the "Bornholm violin", an instrument he built out of an old clock specially for the play. Crank the volume up to get the eerie overtones.

Let's all go to the famine of 1867

I was listening to this song this morning, and got hit with the sledgehammer of vemod, and that's how I ended up writing a long post about a famine.

"Nu haver denna dag" is a Swedish hymn first printed in 1674, here performed by Triakel (a folk group from Jämtland, the county where some of the stories in Jagannath take place). It is a paean to night and sleep, asking God for rest from the day's hard work. You can find the lyrics and an English translation here (no. 10). It's a lovely translation, but it doesn't quite carry the enormous melancholy that the Swedish words do. I can't quite put my finger on why; perhaps it's because I'm programmed in Swedish. I don't know. You listen to it and read the lyrics, and let me know if you get a lump in your throat. So, anyway. It made me want to write about Swedish stuff again. Last year, I got so fed up with media's constant MUCH SWEDISH. SO ABBA. WOW. that I ended up writing stories set anywhere but rural Sweden or with Swedish folklore elements. But, sometimes the need comes back. And there's such rich soil to dig in.

"Nu haver denna dag" made me think back to the last great famine in Sweden, which hit Norrland in 1867. I've mentioned it in passing before, in the short story "Pyret". Sweden in the mid-1800s was a poor country. Norrland, the northernmost part, had been hit severely by failed crops during the last decade, so the situation was already strained. In 1867, spring didn't show up until June. In some places, farmers couldn't sow their crops until Midsummer. Then, in late July, the frost came back. In September, winter. To give an idea of the situation, here's a rough translation of the notes of Zakarias Wallmark from the village Kvarnriset in Burträsk, in the summer of 1867:

May 22, 11.30. At 11.30 AM it was 1 degree below freezing and a north-easterly wind. The trail markers* still stand bolt upright in the marsh, and the snow is 1 1/2 ells deep.

May 25: Cold wind and no thaw, the snow good for sleighing, snow depth 1 1/4 ells. On May 24 we drove on landfast ice and no trail marker had thawed loose.

June 1: Drove across the ice, good sleighing.

On June 17 the marsh was free of ice and in the evening a hard storm blew up and heavy rain.

June 19: Let the cows out. Snow in the forest, no leaves, no bilberry sprigs, nor grass.

Then there's an account by Josefina Eliasson, chilling in its murderous beauty. I can't make the Swedish original justice, but I'll try. It happened during what was later called "Halshuggarnatten", or Beheading Night, on the 17th of July.

We woke at around three, and it was so cold. The whole forest and all the bushes were thick with hoarfrost, and the hay pasture was white as snow. But when the sun rose high enough over the tree tops that it spread some light and warmth, then a gust of wind came and set everything in rocking motion. Then all the hoarfrost on the grass became as thousands of quivering diamonds, and icicles came loose from the tree branches. They fell on top of each other and they shimmered and jingled like the sound of unearthly strings. But when the sun had acted on everything for a while, then nothing was green but the pine forest and some thick-stalked flowers with their flower cups hanging toward the ground. All else was as a grey and broken net.**

People froze and starved. They slaughtered their livestock if they had any, boiled the tar from their boots and ate the leather, made bread from chopped hay and tree bark, their bellies swelling because they couldn't digest it. When people died, however, it wasn't usually from starvation itself but the diseases that their bodies could no longer fight off. Especially the one they called black fever, or hunger typhus. Some people killed themselves in desperation.

Help eventually came, from the southern part of Sweden and from other, richer countries, and the next year was slightly better. People moved on with their lives as best they could. Many emigrated, joining the thousands who had already left (1,3 million Swedes ended up going, most to the USA. That's a lot. A good chunk of my ancestors in the northern parts went, too; according to the fat ancestry book next to me, I have about 600 living relatives in the States now.)

In reality, there was no food shortage - the problem was shitty distribution (sound familiar?). In the southern part of the country, the production of grain was at an all-time high. Sweden exported more grain that it ever had before in history. Even up in the north, the bigger farms were doing alright. Buuuut none of that reached the many poor farmers, those who saw their livelihood wither away in the frost on Beheading Night. That was as it should be, of course. It was as God had made it.

Some must be poor and some rich. It could never be otherwise. Should one even these differences out, it would be unjust, since many thousands would be bereft of that which they have toiled to earn, and their property thrown into the hands of unfit, lazy and wanton men, who did not deserve that gift. So would the earth before long become a wasteland and all men unhappy, destitute and more wretched than ever before. Consider this, you poor, and be content! If you are content, you are also rich.

- Reflections for confirmation candidates, 1861 (my translation)

I haven't found out how my own ancestors in Norrland fared during that time. Jämtland, where they lived, was stricken by the famine, too, but the ancestry tome I mentioned is a bit messy. Will have to investigate further.

And now I have an urge to write something about that time Sweden spearheaded eugenics. It's one of those things we didn't get to read about in school, that's for sure.

Notes

*The Swedish word is "stickbuskar", which were young trees or sticks set upright into the snow to mark trails or roads. Couldn't find a good translation.

** The Swedish word, "not", can either mean "note", "seine (a net used for seine fishing", or has a third use I'm not familiar with. I'll go with "net" because she might be referring to tangled branches and grass, like a tangled fishing net.

The main sources of information for this text are the books Ett satans år by Olle Häger, Carl Torell and Hans Villius and Norrländsk folktradition by Ella Odstedt (ed. Bengt af Klintberg)

 

Fillyjonk, oh Fillyjonk

Tove Jansson has been important to me ever since I was a child. BBC published a lovely article about her today, which I would recommend to anyone who thinks she was just about pudgy Moomin trolls.

grokeI was terrified of the Groke. My grandmother made me a plush Groke to help me make friends with her. I didn't. It could have been the bright orange button eyes, of course.

hemuler

 

I was also terrified of the hemulens in Who Will Comfort Toffle?, because they were huge and alien and although they were smiling, they were quite obviously smiling about things a mere human couldn't understand.

Now that I think about it, most of Jansson's stuff was terrifying and unsettling to the young child that I was. On the other hand, it was the kind of darkness a kid needs, but so few children's book authors talk about. And reading Jansson's book made the world a different place, more scary but more understandable at the same time.

I still read her books. It's another experience to read them as an adult, but just as rich, and still both scary and comforting at the same time. They tell me that the world is indeed a scary place, but it's also beautiful and marvelous, and all of these things must exist at the same time - often within the same person and place. Not that I read them as allegories, because reducing a fantastical world to mere allegory is idiotic and insulting to the creator. But they hold very important truths, both harsh and hopeful, frightening and comforting, told in the best way they could ever be told.

(Who do I identify with? Why, the fillyjonk, of course. The story "The Fillyjonk Who Believed In Disaster" is an extremely therapeutic read for anxious people, by the way.)

fillyjonk