Nils Holgersson’s Journey Across Sweden

Nils Holgersson’s wonderful journey across Sweden (Swedish: Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige) also simply known as The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, is a 1906 novel by the Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf (18581940). The novel, originally written in order to teach school children Swedish geography, follows the young boy Nils, who is magically turned into a small “tomte” and joins a flock of wild geese on their annual migration North.

This article is an itinerary.
See also: Literary travel

Nils’ journey starts on the 20th of March 1898 and is concluded as he returns home on the 8th of November, later the same year. The journey starts in Scania in the far south of Sweden and makes a counter clock-wise route around Sweden (with some de-tours), following the eastern shore of Sweden northward to Kiruna and then the western parts of Sweden back south. During his journey Nils visits all the 25 traditional provinces of Sweden, except for Halland which is merely seen from afar and frowned upon. All in all Nils travels more than 4,000 km as the goose flies!

The novel has been translated to some 60 languages and was included among Le Monde’s 100 Books of the [20th] Century. It also earned Selma Lagerlöf the Nobel Prize in Literature 1909 The first ever awarded to a woman.

. . . Nils Holgersson’s Journey Across Sweden . . .

Nils Holgersson is a boy of 14 years of age who lives on a farm in Västra Vemmenhög, Scania on the southern tip of Sweden. His “chief delight was to eat and sleep, and after that he liked best to make mischief”, and he is a menace to the animals of the farm. One day when Nils is home alone, supposed to be learning bible passages while his family is in church, he captures a tomte (~gnome). The tomte offers Nils a gold coin if he is liberated but the mean boy refuses his offer. To punish him the tomte curses the farm and casts a spell on Nils turning him into a tomte as well. This shrinks Nils in size, but gives him the ability to talk to animals.

As this is happening one of the tame geese of the farm, Mårten, plans to escape the farm in order to join the northern wild geese, led by Akka on their annual migration North. In an attempt to stop Mårten, Nils clings around his neck, but is thereby himself accidentally brought along for the ride. The wild geese hold tame geese in contempt, and Mårten wants to prove them his worth by completing the migration. After Nils rescues Akka from the menacing fox Smirre he is also accepted as part of the pack. During his journey Nils comes to befriend his companions and eventually becomes kinder and gentler. During his travel Nils also meets and befriends several animals and spirits from Swedish folklore.

Finally Nils reaches the far northern point of Sweden by Kiruna, and on October 1 the party begins their journey back south. He also learns that if he brings Mårten back to his home farm he will regain his human shape and the tomte’s curse over his family farm will be lifted but his friend will be slaughtered! He tries to talk Mårten out of going back, but Mårten is determined to see the farm once more. When they return Mårten is captured by Nils’ mother. As Nils saves his friend the spell is broken, and he bids the geese farewell as they continue further south.

While getting a pet goose shouldn’t be too much of a haggle, shrinking to a height of a few inches and attaining the ability to talk to animals might be somewhat more difficult. Luckily there are other possible means of transportation. For the authentic bird’s view-experience flying would obviously be the optimal way to travel. However, since some of the destinations are very small (such as Nils’ home village with a population of about 50 people) they mostly lack airfields within walking distance. If you are set on visiting all destinations a car would probably be your best alternative.

The fact that several destinations are insular might also be a challenge. While Öland can be accessed by a bridge, you need to take a ferry to reach Gotland. Ferries depart from Oskarshamn on the cost of Småland and Nynäshamn just south of Stockholm. In the summer there are daily connections between Lilla Karlsö and Klintehamn on the Gotland mainland, including a guide as the area is a nature reserve. Väderöarna are most easily reached from Fjällbacka in Tanum.

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. . . Nils Holgersson’s Journey Across Sweden . . .

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