Apr 9, 2014

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils: A Boy and His Goose

Remember Leda in Greek mythology and the Yeats poem, who had a thing for swans?

14-year old Nils Holgersson had a thing for geese.

The star of The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (1906) and The Further Adventures of Nils (1907) by gay Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlof, Nils is a bad boy who torments animals, until he shrinks down to their size.  He and a domestic goose named Morton join a pack of wild geese and fly off to Lapland.

The other geese, especially cranky matriarch Akka, disapprove of the two outsiders, but Nils and Akka prove to be valuable allies during the dangerous and difficult journey.

Finally Nils matures enough to return to human form.  He is now a man, but he no longer understands the language of the geese, and he must abandon his friends (picture by Taya Strizhakova).

There's a lot of gay symbolism in the "queer" boy trying to fit in.

The books were envisioned as school texts: Nils visits every province of Sweden, and hears about their geography and economic output.  But kids -- and adults -- loved them.  They are still best-sellers in Sweden.

Nils has been immortalized in a dozen statues, on a postage stamp, and on the back of the 20 krona bill.  There have been five film versions of his adventures, in Russian, Swedish, Japanese, and German.

The 2011 German tv version starring Justus Kammerer unfortunately gives Nils a heterosexist reason for wanting to become a "real boy" again: he's got a girlfriend back home.

Otherwise Nils is wonderfully free of the girl-craziness that besets most other adolescents in children's literature.

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