Books

'The Glassblower's Children' Explores the Existential Melancholia of the Child's World

Deep at the existentialist heart of this story there's a solemn treatise on the socially inequitable struggles between the worlds of the child and the adult.


The Glassblower's Children

Publisher: New York Review of Books
Length: 176 pages
Author: Maria Gripe
Price: $16.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2014-03
Amazon

The fabled realism of Maria Gripe’s The Glassblower’s Children (originally published in Sweden in 1964) offers a tale at once strange and all too familiar. The Swedish author made a living writing children’s novels that borrowed heavily from the fantastic lore of Nordic myth; stories which detailed the striking dynamism and power of Norse gods and the lessons learned by mere mortals.

Her stories were often deceptively plaintive. They hid a wealth of darker truths which brewed just beneath the crust of her mannered language.

The Glassblower’s Children is a story of poverty and perseverance and also of the captivating façade of wealth. In the story a poor glassblower, Albert, and his frazzled wife, Sofia, struggle arduously to make ends meet while raising their two toddler children, Klara and Klas. Though both parents deeply care for their kids, there simply isn’t enough time and energy to go around to constantly keep watch on them.

One day, during a carnival fair, when Albert and Sofia are preoccupied, a well-meaning but hopelessly ignorant Lord (ruler of All Wishes Town) abducts the children as a present for his ailing and fussy wife. Klara and Klas are now prisoners of a strange castle with endless mirrored corridors and hundreds of spacious rooms. They have since forgotten their real parents and move about the castle rather unaware of their predicament, following after the Lady of the house like little pets.

Things take an unexpected and decidedly horrible turn when, after Klas mysteriously begins acting up all of a sudden, a nanny is hired. She endeavours to make their life miserable, bullying them into submission with physical punishment.

As a children’s novel, it sounds like a real downer. But, in fact, Gripe employs a striking dynamism that straddles a balance between grim realism and mystical fantasy. Very Swedish in its approach to analyzing human behaviour (think Ingmar Bergman writing children’s stories), The Glassblower’s Children delves deep to examine a kind of existential melancholy in young children.

Throughout the story, Klara and Klaus encounter their reflections in the hallway mirrors; unbeknownst to them, these are merely reflected images of themselves, though they believe these images to be other children who, for some reason, appear always sad. Such soul-dissecting explorations are rare in children’s novels and Gripe’s simple yet articulate analysis on the emotional welfare of young children is astonishingly sharp.

Moody and atmospheric in the way that only a true Swedish fairytale can be, the narrative spans the arc of an interior monologue taking place well below the clean and polished prose. Deep at the existentialist heart of the story, there's a solemn treatise on the socially inequitable balance between the worlds of the child and the adult. Children in Gripe’s narrative (like in most fairytales) are required to discover the true nature of their abilities to survive, be they newly learned coping mechanisms or natural flight or fight instincts. It’s strangely revealing (perhaps refreshing) to see young children depicted with real emotional problems, with only their true impulses to refer to. Indeed, there's a sort magic that intervenes at some point (in the form of an elderly fortune-teller), but it doesn’t take away from the nuanced shadings of the story or negate the emotional complexities of these characters.

New York Review Books presents a nicely translated version of The Glassblower’s Children from the original Swedish. There are some old-fashioned pencil-sketched illustrations throughout that give the tale a quaint and subtle wash of old-world nostalgia. NYRB has also designed this book in the same tradition of their Children’s Classics hardbacks, with red-cloth spines and beautifully-rendered cover art.

The late author received the Hans Christian Andersen Award (the highest honour awarded a children’s author) in 1974 for her invaluable contributions to literature.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

‘The Avengers’ Offer a Lesson for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.