The wonderful journey of little Nils Holgersson with the wild geese

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Nils Holgersson sculpture in Karlskrona , Blekinge

Little Nils Holgersson's wonderful journey with the wild geese is the title of a novel by the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf , first published in 1906/1907. The original Swedish title is Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige ("Nils Holgersson's wonderful journey through Sweden"). Selma Lagerlöf wrote the book as a reader for school to bring the children closer to the country of Sweden.



14-year-old Nils Holgersson lives on a small farm in the very south of Sweden, who only worries his parents because he is lazy and vicious. One day at the end of March, Nils Holgersson is turned into a little elf himself as a punishment for a nasty prank on an elf man. The tame gander Martin wants to join the wild geese that are coming over the Baltic Sea these days and want to fly to their breeding grounds in Lapland . Nils wants to prevent the gander from doing so; but he doesn't succeed because he is so small: the gander simply takes off with Nils on his back.

After Nils Holgersson helped some animals in need over the next few days, the leader of the geese, the old and venerable Akka von Kebnekaise , managed to get Nils Holgersson to return to his parents and become human again. But Nils would rather travel through Sweden with the wild geese than become human again. Nils is now traveling with the wild geese (and in the north with an eagle, with occasional voluntary and involuntary excursions on a stork, on crows, a raven and an eagle) through the whole of Sweden, taking into account the country's nature, history, culture and the Getting to know the cities of Sweden . At the same time he experiences all sorts of dangerous adventures, often has to make decisions on moral issues and has proven himself in the process.

At the same time, the story of the farm girl Åsa and her little brother Mats is told. Both are friends of Nils, who often tended geese together with Nils. Suddenly Åsa and Mats' mother and all siblings die in quick succession. Everyone believes that this is due to the curse of an old gypsy woman. Åsa's and Mats' father, grief, leaves his two surviving children and takes a job in the mining industry in Malmberget , in the far north of Sweden. One day Åsa and Mats learn from a lecture that their mother and siblings did not die of a curse, but of tuberculosis . You now set out to walk to your father and tell him what your mother and siblings really died of. On their march through Sweden they keep telling about their fate and educating people about tuberculosis and how to fight it. After an adventurous hike, they arrive in Malmberget, where Mats dies in an accident. After Åsa got him a dignified burial, she found her father: Now she has her father back and can finally be a child again.

In autumn, Nils returns from Lapland with the wild geese. Before they fly over the Baltic Sea to Pomerania, Nils and the gander Martin sneak into the yard of Nils' parents, who are marked by the grief over their missing son. They catch the gander and are relieved that their son at least didn't steal the gander when he escaped, as they had thought. Now they want to slaughter him. But Nils does not want to allow the gander, with whom he feels a deep friendship, to be killed. He overcomes his shame that he is just an elf and steps in and becomes human again in that moment.

Chapter overview and itinerary

title Described locations etc. Landskap
(Historical Province)
1 Pojken ("The Boy") Västra Vemmenhög , about seven kilometers south and now part of Skurup Gentle
2 Akka från Kebnekajse ("Akka of Kebnekajse") Vombsjön Gentle
3 Vildfågelsliv ("Wild Bird Life ") Vittskövle Castle , Castle Övedskloster Gentle
4th Glimmingehus ("Glimminge Castle") Glimminge Castle Gentle
5 Den stora trandansen på Kullaberget
("The great crane dance on Kullaberg")
Kullaberg Gentle
6th I regnväder ("In the rainy weather")   Blekinge
7th Trappan med de tre trappstegen ("The staircase with the three steps") Blekinge archipelago Blekinge
8th Vid Ronneby Å ("On the Ronneby River") Ronneby Blekinge
9 Karlskrona ("Karlskrona") Karlskrona Blekinge
10 Resa till Öland ("Journey to Öland") Kalmar Sound  
11 Ölands södra udde ("The southern tip of Öland") Southern tip of Öland Öland
12 Den stora fjärilen ("The big butterfly") Öland Öland
13 Lilla Karlsö ("Lilla Karlsö") Lilla Karlsö Gotland
14th Två städer ("Two Cities") ( Vineta ), Visby Pomerania , Gotland
15th Sagan om Småland ("The saga of Småland") Tjust Småland
16 Kråkorna ("The Crows") Sunnerbo Småland
17th Den gamla bondkvinnan ("The old farmer's wife")   Småland
18th Från Taberg till Huskvarna ("From Taberg to Huskvarna") Taberg , Jönköping , Huskvarna Småland
19th Den stora fågelsjön ("The great bird lake ") Tåkern Östergötland
20th Spådomen ("The Prophecy") Vadstena Monastery , Motala , Finspång , Norrköping , Birgitta of Sweden Östergötland
21st Vadmalsvåden ("The Loden Piece")   Östergötland
22nd Karrs och Gråfalls saga ("The story of Karr and Graufell") Kolmården Östergötland, Södermanland
23 Den sköna lustgården ("The beautiful garden") Yngaren , Båven , Eskilstuna Södermanland
24 I Närke ("In Närke") Örebro Nark
25th Islossningen ("ice drift ") Hjälmaren Nark
26th Arvskiftet ("The Legacy") Fellingsbro , Mälaren , Västerås , Norberg Vastmanland
27 I Bergslagarna ("In the mining area")   Vastmanland
28 Järnverket ("The Iron Works")   Vastmanland
29 Dalälven ("The Dalälv") Dalälv Dalarna
30th Brorslotten ("The lion's share") Falun mine Dalarna
31 Valborgsmässoafton ("Walpurgis Night") Rättvik Dalarna
32 Vid kyrkorna ("At the churches")   Dalarna
33 Översvämmningen ("The Flood") Mälaren Uppland
34 Sagan om Uppland ("The saga of Uppland")   Uppland
35 I Uppsala ("In Uppsala") Uppsala Uppland
36 Dunfin ("down fine ") Stockholm archipelago Uppland
37 Stockholm ("Stockholm") Stockholm Uppland
38 Gorgo, örnen ("Gorgo, the eagle")    
39 Fram över Gästrikland ("Forward over Gästrikland")   Gästrikland
40 En dag i Hälsingland ("One day in Hälsingland") Delsbo Hälsingland
41 I Medelpad ("In Medelpad") Sundsvall , Alnö Island Medelpad
42 En morgon i Ångermanland ("A morning in Ångermanland")   Ångermanland
43 Västerbotten och Lappland ("Västerbotten and Lapland")   Västerbotten , Lapland
44 Åsa gåsapiga och lille Mats
("The goose girl Åsa and the little Mats")
Malmberget Lapland
45 Hos lapparna ("By the lobes ")   Lapland
46 Mot söder! Mot söder! ("To the south! To the south!)" Ostersund Jämtland
47 Sägner från Härjedalen ("Stories from Härjedalen")   Harjedalen
48 Värmland och Dalsland ("Värmland and Dalsland")   Varmland , Dalsland
49 En liten herrgård ("A little manor") Mårbacka Varmland
50 Skatten på skäret ("The treasure in the archipelago") Bohuslän archipelago Bohuslan
51 Havsilver (" sea ​​silver ") Marstrand Bohuslan
52 En stor herrgård ("A great manor") Nääs Castle Västergötland
53 Resa till Vemmenhög ("The journey to Vemmenhög")   Halland
54 Hos Holger Nilssons ("At Holger Nilssons")   Gentle
55 Avsked från vildgässen ("Farewell to the wild geese") Smygehuk Gentle

History of origin

Selma Lagerlöf 1909

Around 1900 the Swedish Elementary School Teachers Association commissioned a number of new reading books for the school. Selma Lagerlöf, at that time already one of the most famous and respected writers in the country, was entrusted with the volume about the country and people of Sweden. Selma Lagerlöf was very pleased with the order and accepted without hesitation: The order was a gold mine, even better than a Nobel Prize, she wrote to her friend Sophie Elkan . In order to fulfill this assignment, she wrote to Nils Holgersson . However, she could not get to work right away because the second volume of Jerusalem still had to be written. When this was available in 1902, she began working on Nils Holgersson with great commitment .

Fundamental to the novel is the idea of depicting Sweden from a bird's eye view . This enables the author to present the whole of Sweden vividly. In order to achieve this, she has the main character transformed into a male pixy - the male pixy (Swedish tomte ) is an integral part of Swedish popular belief - and has it fly through Sweden on the back of a gander. At the same time as Nils Holgersson's flight, Selma Lagerlöf later describes the walk of the goose girl Åsa (important as a figure of identification for female readers) and her brother Mats from Skåne to Lapland .

The story of the tame gander who joins the wild geese is based on an actual event. In the first part of her autobiography, Mårbacka , published in 1922, Selma Lagerlöf reports that at the time of her paternal great-grandfather, Pastor Wennerwik, a tame white gander joined the migrating wild geese on Mårbacka in spring and returned to Mårbacka with his wife and seven children in autumn was. All nine geese were slaughtered - of course, Selma Lagerlöf changed this outcome to Nils Holgersson .

The idea of ​​letting talking animals appear was borrowed from Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book . Before she wrote the book, she made an extensive trip to northern Sweden. Her admiration for the beauty of the northern Swedish landscape is reflected in the novel. Selma Lagerlöf repeatedly read individual chapters to children to check the effects.

In line with its intended use as a school book, Selma Lagerlöf placed two “edifying” texts at the top of the book: the hymn Den kristna dagvisan (“The Christian day song”) and the patriotic poem Sveriges karta (“Sweden's map”) by Carl Snoilsky . Both texts introduce the subject of the book as it were: In the “Christian song of the day” it says that the soul rises to heaven full of joy in the heart, like the bird soaring on its wings to the height of the sky. In a sense, this alludes to Nils' journey with the birds. And when it says in Snoilsky's poem: Och prägla levande och varm / en Sveriges bild i barnets barm / som mannen skall bevara ("And emboss lively and warm / an image of Sweden in the child's chest / that it should keep as a man" ), this describes exactly the purpose that Nils Holgersson is supposed to fulfill.

Structure and meaning

In the course of the novel, all Swedish landscapes and many cities are presented, often in the form of legends and fairy tales, whereby well-known legend motifs are taken up or adapted (e.g. the fairy tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin ). In the process, motifs are cleverly introduced (such as the fox chasing the geese or various capricious weather conditions), which narrative motivate the geese's zigzag course or hide the textbook-like structure of the novel. Numerous characters appear (as animals), time and again there are new social constellations for the boy.

Selma Lagerlöf uses her typical episode technique here as well: A large literary work is composed of individual chapters, which each form completed episodes. An important story within the novel is, for example, the story of a primeval forest feared by humans, which later almost disappears, but is finally saved again by humans: Kolmården ; at the same time it is the chronicle of a lifelong vengeance and a deep friendship . Topics around 1900, such as poverty , child labor , emigration or the then immensely important struggle for public health and hygiene and against tuberculosis are also dealt with (the subject of tuberculosis later played an important role in Selma Lagerlöf's novel Der Fuhrmann des Todes ). The novel is based on an authorial narrative situation, i. H. the narrator knows more than the individual protagonists.

Boldly conceived as a writer, Selma Lagerlöf also appears in the novel when, in the chapter En liten herrgård ("A Small Manor"), she lets a visitor save Nils from fighting an owl by a visitor who is supposed to write a book about Sweden for children which she doesn't even know how to start (and by the way outlines another concept for this book, namely the description of the course of the year in the country at the time of her childhood). Nils Holgersson helps her out of this need without knowing it. In this chapter, Lagerlöf also pays homage to the parental estate Mårbacka as an ideal image of a home in which order and security prevail. ( Selma Lagerlöf already used the name liten herrgård in Gösta Berling for the Mårbacka estate - called Lövdala there .) And even the Swedish King Oskar II made his appearance: It is the king himself who anonymously told the story of the homesick violinist Clement Stockholm city tells.

Despite Sweden's major problems, Selma Lagerlöf judged the chances of a positive development to be favorable and, in line with the optimistic belief in progress of the time, and particularly hopes for increasing industrialization.

Lagerlöf often addresses ethical issues. During his journey, Nils Holgersson learns to take responsibility and respect his fellow creatures, humans and animals alike, in many situations that seem hopeless or morally controversial . Time and again, Nils Holgersson also helps to bring about reconciliations.

In a youth-friendly way, Nils Holgersson is first of all an adventure novel that appeals to young people's longing to break out and experience adventure. At the same time, the book is about the homeland : Nils Holgersson, and with it the readers, get to know people, cities and landscapes of Sweden as well as their history and customs, including their legends. In the combination of attachment to home and an adventurous escape from home, the novel also ties in with Jerusalem . Since many episodes take place at night, when the geese are sleeping, it is hardly possible to draw a clear dividing line between experienced and dreamed-of reality, especially since the nocturnal scenes often have a fabulous, sometimes surreal character.

Nils Holgersson is also a development novel . Unusual for a children's book, a main character, little Mats, dies and a chapter is about his funeral. In the course of his journey, Nils Holgersson transforms himself from an unruly, lazy and malicious useless person into a responsible, helpful, self-confident, eager to learn and polite young person. He learns the importance of friendship and love. The transformation of Nils Holgersson into a little pixie ultimately symbolizes Nils' identity crisis during puberty, his turning back into a human being means that he has found a place in the world. In contrast to classic development novels, Nils Holgersson's development does not proceed continuously, in several steps, but erratically. H. the decisive step in consciousness takes place immediately after its transformation. This shows that the novel is designed for children by teaching the readership certain values ​​- consideration, helpfulness, modesty - with educational intent.

Another feature of the novel is the repetitive structure of many episodes, for example by asking similar questions several times in a row, which is reminiscent of certain fairy tales.

Nils Holgersson (stone console by the Dutch sculptor Anton Geerlings) in Utrecht

It was novel to write for children without an overtly moralizing and instructive style. Selma Lagerlöf built in some linguistic innovations: She used simpler sentences than was customary up to then, and made Nils Holgersson the first literary work to use the modernized Swedish spelling of 1906. Lagerlöf simplified the plural forms of the verbs in dialogues and adapted them to the singular forms. This did not become generally accepted in written Swedish language until the middle of the 20th century.


Nils Holgersson was a great sales success. In the first year, 100,000 copies were sold in addition to the editions intended for school. Criticism came from the school board, which was bothered by the book's entertaining character and fairytale-like features, and from the church, which criticized the lack of explicitly Christian content.


“Det aret märkvärdigt land, som vi har. Vart jag kommer, alltid finns det något för ärniskorna att leva av. "

“This is a strange country that we have. Wherever I go, there is something that people can live on. "

- Selma Lagerlöf : Nils Holgersson - from Chapter I Medelpad.


The Norwegian composer and jazz musician Bjørn Howard Kruse composed an opera for singers, mixed choir and chamber orchestra in 1986, the libretto of which is based on the book.

Film adaptations

Soviet cartoon (1955)

A cartoon under the title "The Enchanted Boy" The Enchanted Boy ("Заколдо́ванный ма́льчик", Zakoldovannyy Malchik ) directed by Vladimir Polkownikow and Alexandra Sneschko-Blozkaja was produced in 1955 by Soyuzmultfilm in Moscow .

Swedish live action (1962)

“Nils Holgersson's wonderful journey” (Nils Holgersson's underbara resa) by Kenne Fant was mainly filmed from helicopters, the plot simplified and downplayed.

Japanese cartoon series (1980/81)

Main article: Little Nils Holgersson's wonderful journey with the wild geese (cartoon series)

This anime adaptation (original title ニ ル ス の ふ し ぎ な 旅Nirusu no Fushigi na Tabi ), consisting of 52 25-minute episodes, was broadcast by the NHK from January 8, 1980 to March 17, 1981. It was also used in the Arab world (as "مغامرات نيلز" Nils' Adventure ), Canada (in French), France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Iceland (as "Nilli Hólmgeirsson"), Belgium, Greece (as "Το θαυμαστό ταξίδι του Νίλς Χόλγκερσον "), the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Slovenia (as" Nils Holgerson "with an s), Hungary (as" Nils Holgersson csodálatos utazása a vadludakkal "), Israel, Turkey (as" Uçan Kaz "(" The Flying Goose ")), Italy, Hong Kong (dubbed Cantonese), Mainland China, South Africa (in Afrikaans) and Albania. In some of these countries the series was cut for commercials. The film was Studio Pierrot's first production ; Mamoru Oshii was one of the directors. The film adaptation was largely true to the original; however, Nils was given a hamster as a companion, which does not exist in the novel, and the role of the fox, here called Smirre, has been expanded.

In Germany, the episodes were combined into a full-length film in 1981 (about 82 minutes long); this version was also released dubbed on VHS and DVD in Estonia.

German-Swedish live action (2011)

In 2011, the film adaptation was broadcast as a two-part television film for Christmas . From mid-April 2012, the broadcast was repeated in four parts.

The film tells a whole new story; its plot has only a few echoes of the novel. In contrast to this, the film adaptation does not take place chronologically at the time of the industrialization of Sweden , in which the country was opened up with the construction of factories powered by steam engines , but about 10 to 20 years after the Second World War .

Flemish CGI new edition (2015-2017)

From 2015 to 2017, the Flemish Studio 100 produced another CGI remake of a popular anime series from the 1970s and 1980s with Nils Holgersson . The 52 episodes each last 13 minutes. The German-language broadcast has been on KiKA and ORF eins since 2017 .

useful information

Monument to the lead goose Akka from Kebnekaise in Smygehuk

The name of the lead goose Akka von Kebnekaise is composed of the names of two mountains in Lapland: Akka , sometimes also called “Queen of Lapland”, and Kebnekaise , the highest mountain in Sweden. Akka means mother in Sami ; in Sami and Finnish old and the way ; the term appears in both Sami and Finnish mythology . The names of the other geese (Yksi, Kaksi, Kolme, Neljä, Viisi, Kuusi) are the Finnish numbers from one to six.

On the back of the Swedish 20-krone note of the series issued until 2015 there was a picture of Nils Holgersson and the wild geese; the obverse showed the author Selma Lagerlöf.

In Smygehuk in the municipality of Trelleborg , on the southernmost tip of Sweden, there is a small memorial for Akka von Kebnekaise.

The pioneer of ethology, Konrad Lorenz, named his experimental goose, well-known in the specialist field, Martina after the gander of his favorite book of his childhood.

A ferry of the shipping company TT-Line is named after the figure Nils Holgersson, see z. B. the Nils Holgersson from 2001.

See also

Expenses (selection)

  • Nils Holgersson's underbara resa genom Sverige . Swedish first edition. Bonnier Förlag, Stockholm 1906.
  • The wonderful journey of little Nils Holgersson with the wild geese . First German translation by Pauline Klaiber-Gottschau , Munich 1907/1908 (in 3 volumes).
  • Nils Holgersson's wonderful journey through Sweden . Translation by Gisela Perlet, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-15-020219-7 .
  • Nils Holgersson's wonderful journey with the wild geese . Translation Mathilde Mann. Anaconda Verlag, Cologne 2011, ISBN 978-3-86647-615-8 .
  • Nils Holgersson's wonderful journey through Sweden . Translation Thomas Steinfeld . The Other Library , Berlin 2014, ISBN 978-3847703594 .


  • Vivi Edström: Selma Lagerlöf. Stockholm 1991 (Swedish).
  • Göran Hägg: Den svenska literaturhistorien. Stockholm 1996 (Swedish).
  • Sabine Schwieder, Wolfram Schwieder: Wonderful journey through Sweden. In the footsteps of Nils Holgersson. nymphenburger in the FA Herbig publishing house, Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-485-01072-6 .

Web links

Commons : Little Nils Holgersson's wonderful journey with the wild geese  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files