Monday, April 7, 2014

An incomparable day - the joys of Pelle the Conqueror

I do want to write a little bit about the joys of Pelle the Conqueror, not just the language but the liveliness of the book.  It has occurred to me that the movie, for all its virtues – it is superb – exaggerates the misery of the story by greatly compressing the timeframe.  Pelle is “eight or nine” (17) when the novel begins and a teen by the end, the toughest, smartest kid in town.  The film has to crowd all of horrible stuff – the infanticide, the brain damage, the, um, the castration – into a period commensurate with a lack of change in the actors, especially the boy who plays Pelle.  So in the book, these little tragedies occur over the course of years rather than months.

So how about some of the novel’s joy.

Christmas Eve came as a great disappointment.  (75)

Off to a bad start.  Pelle’s father Lasse is no longer young, so Lasse and Pelle are low ranked even among farmhands.  Farm animals do not have holidays, so someone has to stay home.

There was dried cod and rice pudding on Christmas Eve, and it tasted all right…  (76)

The normal diet is herring and porridge, so this is an improvement.  Still.

Lasse and Pelle went to bed.

“Why is there Christmas anyway?” asked Pelle.

Lasse scratched his hip reflectively.

“That’s just the way it is,” he answered hesitantly.  “Well, then it’s the time when the year turns around and goes upward, you see…  And of course it’s also the night when Baby Jesus was born!”  It took him quite a while to produce this last reason, but it also came with perfect assurance.  “One thing goes with another, you see.”  (76, ellipses in original)

One of my worries about the subsequent novels is that they presumably have much less Lasse, a loss.  Hey, look what the words did there, neato.

Let’s try another holiday.  Chapter 18, the longest in the book, covers a memorable Midsummer Eve.

There were jars of stewed gooseberries, huge piles of pancakes, one hard-boiled egg apiece, cold veal, and an endless supply of bread and butter…  In the front was placed a small cask of beer, covered with green oats to keep the sun off it; there was a whole keg of aquavit and three bottles of cold punch.  (181)

Now that’s more like it.  The farm workers visit all the local sites, like the old tower and the valley with an echo.

“What is Karl Johan’s greatest treat?”  And the echo answered right away: “Eat!”  It was extremely funny, and they all had to try it with their own names – even Pelle.  When that was exhausted, Mons made up a question that made the echo give a vulgar reply.
“You shouldn’t teach it stuff like that,” said Lasse.  “What if some fine ladies came up here, and he started calling that after them?”  They just about died laughing at the old man’s joke, and he was so delighted by the applause that he kept on repeating it to himself all the way back.  Ho, ho – he wasn’t quite ready to be thrown to the rats after all.  (189)

Yes, I will miss Lasse.

Maybe I should have just rambled in this chapter.  It is full of delights.

The music sounded so sweet in the ear  and in the mind;  memories and thoughts were purified of all that was ugly; let the day itself take its due as the holiday it was.  It had been an incomparable day for Lasse and for Pelle – making up for many years of neglect.  Too bad that it was over instead of just beginning.  (196)


  1. The infectious pessimism of these quotes brought a smile to my normally dour mug. Maybe I should read this after we take on Hamsun's Mysteries to keep that rollicking eccentric strangers/strange people vibe going out here in the land of the midday sun.

  2. Pelle has the perfect balance. A knife fight is followed by a party. The party is followed by something horrifying.

    Yeah, Hamsun, I have got to get out of Denmark.

  3. Oh, the movie just rushed back into my head from all those years ago... the barns and the captain's wife (sailor's?) and the colors of the place and the struggle. And the book sounds just as heartbreaking. "Less Lasse, a loss," yes.

  4. Hey, I figured out how to get on the internet again. The book brought back memories of many scenes form the movie, which was compressed and reordered, but essentially true to the book; the book and movie make a good pair.

  5. I'm reading it now on your recommendation. The movie was shot on the island of Bornholm, a rugged, rocky, place. Whether I will go past the first book I don't know fearing that I may run into drifts of ideology. Very good with many spooky elements and karmic balancing.

  6. I wonder about the later books, too. I will try one more and see how that goes. "[K]armic balancing" - so true!