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Klausmeier, R. (1994). The wonderful adventures of Nils: or Taking leave of childhood. Scand. Psychoanal. Rev., 17(2):130-144.

(1994). Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 17(2):130-144

The wonderful adventures of Nils: or Taking leave of childhood

Ruth-Gisela Klausmeier, Dr.phil

One of the best loved children's books—and like all good children's books, loved by adults quite as much as by children—is The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf.

The book was commissioned by the Swedish Ministry of Education, which wanted a book to teach children about the country they were growing up in—about its geography and its history, its people and its animals. The pedagogical intent is everywhere evident, whether we are accompanying Nils in his dream through the halls where models of ships of the past are on display or whether, as in the story of Jarro, the wild duck, and Caesar, the dog, we are shown how disastrous the influence of the human world on the environment can be, how humans, little by little, are stealing the last domains of the animals.

But this novel would never have gained its international popularity if it had been only an attractively packaged compendium of information and instruction for Swedish schoolchildren. It is, of course, in addition a marvellous adventure story with exciting battles between Nils and the geese, and their enemy the fox. It is also a Swedish Robinson Crusoe. Nils has to learn to survive in an animal world without the luxury of cooked meals from his mother's kitchen and without a comfortable bed at night.

We can understand, then, why children delight in this book. But its appeal to adults is less immediately obvious.

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