Karlsson on the roof

Karlsson on the Roof – a handsome, thoroughly clever, perfectly plump man in his prime.

He was originally called Herr Liljonkvast and he was a little chap who could fly and who would come to visit Astrid’s daughter Karin in the evenings. But he didn’t want anybody else to see him, so he would hide behind the paintings. This led to the book I Skymningslandet, a fairytale that was broadcast on the radio. Herr Liljonkvast’s motto was “doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter in Skymningslandet”. The book is all about the bed-ridden boy, Göran, who by night, gets to go along with Herr Liljonkvast on his flying trips over Stockholm.

Herr Liljonkvast later returned in a new guise – a little more egocentric, grumpy and with a propeller on his back. His name is thought to have been inspired by the shoemaker, “Karlsson på fatet” (Karlsson-on-the-plate) to whom the Ericsson family took their shoes when Astrid was a child.

For ten years, Astrid lived on Vulcanusgatan in Stockholm together with her husband and children. The rooftops Karlsson is flying over are the ones in Vasastan and especially around Vulcanusgatan, Atlasområdet, even though the Lindgren family had moved to Dalagatan when the books about Karlsson were written.

Astrid had this to say to those who thought that Karlsson was merely an imaginary friend of Smidge: “Rubbish! For your information, he does so live in his little house on the roof. He does, y’know!”

In Russia Karlsson on the Roof is the most popular character of them all. With his irreverent attitude toward the establishment, he probably had a very important function to fill in the former Soviet Union. It was a place where Astrid became, more than anybody else did, “the people’s author”. Boris Pankin, the Soviet Ambassador in Stockholm for a few years at the beginning of the eighties, told her that there were two books which could be found in most Russian homes, namely the Bible and Karlsson on theRoof. “How remarkable”, said Astrid Lindgren, “I had no idea the Bible was that popular.”

© Ilon Wikland