Reviews 2013

Till en evakuerad igelkott. Festskrift till Maria Nikolajeva / Celebrating a Displaced Hedgehog. A Festschrift for Maria Nikolajeva

Till en evakuerad igelkott. Festskrift till Maria Nikolajeva / Celebrating a Displaced Hedgehog. A Festschrift for Maria Nikolajeva. Maria Lassén-Seger and Mia Österlund (eds.). Gothenburg/Stockholm: Makadam, 2012. 272 pages. (hardback).

“A Festschrift should mirror its recipient”, editors Maria Lassén-Seger and Mia Österlund write in their introduction to Till en evakuerad igelkott / Celebrating a Displaced Hedgehog, a collection of essays honouring Professor Maria Nikolajeva on her sixtieth birthday in 2012 (15). In the case of a researcher as prolific and versatile as Nikolajeva, this poses “[q]uite a challenge”, as the editors aptly put it (15). It should come as no surprise then, that this Festschrift turned out to be a melting pot comprising varied approaches and opinions. The majority of the 29 contributions are scholarly articles in which the Scandinavian perspective preponderates. The texts are written in Danish, Norwegian, Swedish or English and deal with topics from the fields Nikolajeva herself has explored: narratology, semiotics, or picture book research. These articles alternate with essays or poems by colleagues and relatives.

The collection is divided into three parts, all representing one of Maria Nikolajeva’s main fields of interest. The first is called “The Magic Code Revisited”, followed by “Aesthetic Approaches to Children’s Literature” and finally “How Picturebooks Work”. The task of summarising a book with a range of topics as wide as this is nigh on impossible. Therefore, I have chosen to point out thematic links or overlaps in subject matter which create some sense of coherence among the volume’s varied chapters, and in some cases, across the different subdivisions.

Much of Maria Nikolajeva’s research has been characterised by an interest in the design of children’s books and the different elements that shape them, regardless of genre or tradition. In keeping with Nikolajeva’s doctoral dissertation, The Magic Code (1988)1, contributions in the Festschrift deal with the central themes of children’s fantasy, such as the linguistic close-reading of Astrid Lindgren’s Mio, min Mio by Clas Zilliacus (93-96), or David Rudd’s ingenious rethinking of Nikolajeva’s concept of “fantasemes” as “mimisemes” (85-92). Both Anna Karlskov Skyggebjerg and Anna Gubergrits consider the genre in its entirety, focusing on Danish fantasy in between Nordic and Anglo-Saxon practices (37-45) and the recent emergence of the genre in Russia (47-51) respectively.

The central themes of children’s books are at the core of several of the chapters. Sara Pankenier Weld and Mare Müürsepp, for instance, discuss the popular motif of anthropomorphic animals such as hedgehogs (Pankernier Weld: 27-36) and cats (Müürsepp: 121-129). Kristin Hallberg’s article exemplifies how a story can adhere to the fairy tale tradition yet simultaneously run counter to it (243-250), and the potential of the fairy tale for experiment and innovation is pointed out by Helene Høyrup (103-112). Sigrún Klara Hannesdóttir discusses the uniqueness of Icelandic landscapes with respect to the construction of a national identity (161-170), whereas Janina Orlov looks into the shifting notions of “home” and “anti-home” central to many children’s books (181-187). Finally, Elina Druker presents a compelling analysis of different interpretations of the charged motif of the shadow in children’s books (251-261).

Also central to Nikolajeva’s research is a concern for how social relationships are expressed in children’s books. Astri Ramsfjell, for instance, elaborates on this theme by discussing the role of the narrator in the portrayal of the connection between child protagonists and their antagonists (217-229). This concern of Nikolajeva’s likewise entails an interest in gender, which is reflected by Lydia Kokkola’s convincing discussion of the depiction of complex female desires (63-72), as well as by Maria Andersson’s account of how girls have to find a way to manage the demands made on them by patriarchal society (53-62). Maria Lassén-Seger demonstrates how girls’ coming-of-age is often portrayed in a subversive way in Finno-Swedish fantasy (73-84). Problematic social situations are tackled by Jean Webb, who discusses the increasing social criticism implicit in the treatment of taboo subjects in young adult fiction (113-120), and by Harald Bache-Wiig, who considers the problematic depiction of slave traffic in the Danish weekly magazine Avis for Børn in the 1780s (149-159).

A related subject is the relationship between children and adults, which cuts across many chapters. Fading boundaries between children and adults and ensuing issues of narrative address are taken into consideration by Anette Øster, who holds that children’s books should appeal to a diversified audience in terms of age in order to be successful (141-147). Mia Franck deals with the negotiation of a position for crossover books in Finno-Swedish libraries (131-140) and Åse Marie Ommundsen shows how crossover picture books can be deployed to address societal issues on various levels (231-242). Mia Österlund observes that in Finno-Swedish picture books elderly people are slowly taking over the role of the protagonist, which was traditionally reserved for child characters (205-215).

Roger Holmström examines instances of dual address in a story about maturation, pointing at yet another connected matter, that of growing up (171-179). This is also scrutinised by Nina Christensen, who demonstrates the ways in which Dorte Karrebæk transgresses the accepted boundaries of childhood in her picture book memoirs (195-204).

To call the Festschrift an “amalgam”, in the sense of “a combination of parts that create a complete whole”,2 would not be entirely justified. The contributions are too diverse in nature and subject matter to make the volume come across as completely coherent. It does, however make for a good read because all of the chapters are bite-size and because the personal contributions are highly entertaining, resonating with affection for Maria Nikolajeva. In addition, the academically-oriented contributions are of a high quality, presenting substantial discussions of well-chosen topics. Although the contributors in some cases adopt a tentative tone and do not offer any clear theses or final conclusions, all of the essays at least encourage their readers to think about the presented ideas and perhaps to develop them further. All in all, the Festschrift provides a sample of the high-quality children’s literature research which is currently being carried out (mainly in Scandinavia) and for which Maria Nikolajeva has been a mainspring for decades – along with other influential and talented academics. That in itself is one of the biggest compliments anyone could be paid.

Sara Van den Bossche
Ghent University, Belgium

End Notes

1 The subtitle of the dissertation is The Use of Magical Patterns in Fantasy for Children.

2 Definition from Cambridge Dictionary Online: Retrieved 27 September 2013. Emphasis added.