Yell with Ronia
Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter is a charming coming-of-age story written in 1981, 36 years after Astrid Lindgren launched her popular Pippi Longstocking books. Ronia is born to a robber chief and his wife, growing up surrounded by the gang of robbers her father leads. The robbers’ hideout is a fortress on top of a hill, surrounded by forest, a river, lakes, and the things that live there.
You might think being raised among robbers would be tough, but that’s not the case in this story. In fact, the father-daughter relationship and their love for each other is touching and central to the story. It’s not without its sharp edges, though, for Ronia has to come to terms with what her father does for a living—robbing—and his strong hate of a rival robber gang, the Borks. Then there’s the father’s tendency to resolve conflict with high emotion and sometimes violence.
As soon as Ronia is allowed, she gets out into the forest. There she comes to spend all day wandering, taking delight in nature and being alone in it. An often repeated line goes “and she laughed silently because the forest was there.” That is, she felt lucky and joyful in being alone in such a wonderful place. Nature as a source of spiritual renewal and as a metaphor for life is a common theme in Scandinavian stories—and a major part of this book.
The forest isn’t dangerous unless you are frightened of it, her parents tell her. What if I get lost, Ronia asks? “Find a path,” says her father. What if I fall in the river? “Swim.” That’s not to say there’s no danger—there are gray dwarves, and romphobs, and harpies, and members of the rival robber gang to avoid, and they are pretty scary. But they are not the forest itself; they just live in it. And Ronia comes to believe the forest is all hers.
It’s Birk, the son of the rival robber chief, who sets Ronia straight about the ownership question. Ronia demands “Get out of my forest!” And Birk says, “You don’t own the forest, nor the trees, nor this den of newborn foxes you love so much—they belong to themselves. The trees and rocks belong to themselves. So I have every right to be here as you do.”
With this challenge, Ronia first meets Birk, who she’s supposed to hate, and that begins the second major relationship of the book. It parallels yet differs from the father-daughter relationship. It’s a purely platonic relationship that begins with Ronia and Birk saving each other’s lives.
Birk then points out that they are now bound together, just as if they had a rope tied between them. Through this bond they discover what it means to be committed to each other while struggling to remain loyal to their two robber families, whose fathers happen to hate each other.
Nature, solitude, parental and platonic love, how to live life, and how to face death are all here in this rich and lovely story. And binding up these themes are the seasons, the Grand Cycle of Life. In winter, you are snowbound and shut in, but in spring, you get back to the joy of being alive and outside. That joy is captured when Ronia says, “It’s time for my Spring Yell—are you ready?!”
So I ask you, what do you do to celebrate spring—or summer—and life in general? Let me suggest you read Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter, by Astrid Lindgren. Then get out in nature, figure out what your Seasonal Yell will sound like, and let it loose!
Eric Stavney is a graduate of the UW Scandinavian Studies Department and cohosts the Scandinavian Hour on KKNW 1150AM, Saturdays at 9 a.m. Pacific at 1150kknw.com/listen.
This article originally appeared in the July 12, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.