The Dwarf, by Par Lagerkvist
Pär Fabian Lagerkvist (23 May 1891 — 11 July 1974) was one of Sweden's greatest authors. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1951.
Lagerkvist wrote poems, plays, novels, stories, and essays of considerable expressive power and influence from his early 20s to his late 70s. The central theme of his writing was the fundamental question of good and evil.
- Människor (1912)
- Motiv (1914)
- Ångest (1916)
- Sista människan, play (The Last Man, 1917)
- Himlens hemlighet, play (The Secret of Heaven, 1919)
- Kaos (1919)
- Det eviga leendet, three stories (The Eternal Smile, 1920)
- Onda Sagor (1924)
- Gäst hos verkligheten (Guest of Reality, 1925)
- Hjärtats sånger (1926)
- Det besegrade livet (1927)
- Konungen, play (The King, 1932)
- Den knutna näven (The Clenched Fist, 1934)
- I den tiden (In the Terms, 1935)
- Mannen utan själ, play (The Man Without a Soul, 1936)
- Genius (1937)
- Midsommardröm i fattighuset, play (Midsummer's Dream in the Workhouse, 1941)
- Dvärgen (The Dwarf, 1944)
- De vises sten, play (The Philosopher's Stone, 1947)
- Låt människan leva, play (Let Man Live, 1950)
- Barabbas (1950, filmed in 1953, 1962)
- Aftonland (Evening Land, 1953)
- Sibyllan (The Sibyl, 1956)
- Ahasverus död (The Death of Ahasuerus, 1960)
- Pilgrim på havet (Pilgrim at Sea, 1962)
- Det heliga landet (The Holy Land, 1964)
- Mariamne (Herod and Mariamne, 1967)
- Den svåra resan (written 1926, published 1985)
What is evil? How does it manifest itself? This outstanding and very special novel by Swedish writer Pär Lagerkvist is written from the point of view of a dwarf, 26 inches high. He is proud of being a dwarf. In his opinion, dwarfs are not humans; they are a different species, a different and detestable race. But much as he regrets it, they are forced to coexist with humans - "a pack of ingratiating cows". So he gives them what they want – if they want something bad done, he does it. If they need flattery, he will provide it:
"Human beings need flattery; otherwise they do not fulfill their purpose, not even in their own eyes."
Pär Lagerkvist's dwarf is a social outcast. He hates humans and everything about them; their smells, their pretentions, their bodies, and the assumptions they make about dwarfs.
The dwarf, Piccoline, serves at the court of an Italian City-state in the Renaissance as the servant and confidante of it’s prince. Exactly where is unclear, but since a character seemingly modeled on Leonardi da Vinci appears in the novel, it most likely is Milan (or it could be Florence – both Mona Lisa and The Last Supper are in the plot: one created in Milan, the other in Florence). Several real historical events and persons are mixed into the tale.
Piccoline becomes a confidant of the Prince and Princess, and he carries out missions for both of them – carrying secret messages, doing wicked things, keeping an eye on things. He does it willingly – he has no conscience. He doesn’t care. Humans are despicable anyway, so why would he?
"I have noticed that sometimes I frighten people; what they really fear is themselves. They think it is I who scare them, but it is the dwarf within them, the ape-faced manlike being who sticks up his head from the depths of their souls."
So what if an atrocity is committed? If a human is killed or feels compelled to commit suicide? They are only humans! When he is asked to poison some enemies of the Prince, he willingly does it and poisons a friend of the Princess on the side as well, while he is at it. He dislikes him; he deserves it. His hatred extends in all directions and includes himself:
"It fills me with satisfaction that I am hated...But I hate myself, too. I eat my own splenetic flesh. I drink my own poisoned blood. Every day I perform my solitary communion as the grim high priest of my people."
The novel – especially the thoughts and emotions of the dwarf - is shocking and thought-provoking. Hatred and evil flows freely in every direction. Swedish Nobel Prize winner Pär Lagerkvist is an exceptional writer, and The Dwarf is one of his best novels. Piccoline the dwarf is one of the most original characters in literature, a true nihilist. Pär Lagerkvist's richly philosophical novel is an exceptional exploration of individual and social identity. The Dwarf is highly unique and I recommend it to anyone liking deep and meaningful books. It is extremely well-written and very fascinating.
Praise for The Dwarf:
"Don't miss this. You will not soon find another like it. The evil in the Dwarf's nature is in ours, too--is universal." —Dorothy Canfield
The Sibyl, by Pär Lagerkvist
The Sibyl is a grand novel in the classical European tradition by the 1951 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Swedish author Par Lagerkvist. It is a poetic parable, telling a mythic tale of a wandering Jew, a man who journeys to Delphi to consult the oracle. However, arriving there, he is turned away: the question he wants to pose is one that is very often asked– one that is of little interest.
And it is true; his question is one that many want to have answered. He wants to know what his destiny is. However, the question must be viewed in its context, even if it is a common one. For this particular man has been condemned by God to an eternal life without blessing – to wander through the world to all eternity, and find no rest. Probably rightfully, he regards this as a punishment; and when the reality of life eternal dawned on him, life lost its meaning for him, and he lost everything – his wife, his child, his joy in life.
“Eternity .. It has nothing to do with life, I thought; it is the contrary to all life. It is something limitless, endless, a realm of death which the living must look into with horror. Was it here that I was to dwell? .. “To all eternity ..” That was my death sentence: the most cruel that could be devised.”
The man has lost everything, he feels. His eyes are empty – they are dried up wells. There is no life inside any more.
Having been turned away from the oracle, he learns about an old priestess, a sibyl, who lives in disgrace up in the mountains; a woman that once served the oracle and had special powers– she was close to God. So he walks up the mountain to find her and pose his question.
There, he learns that she too, has had a clash with God. Like him, she has been punished. Or that she has most likely been punished. And gradually her story is revealed story. About her love, her betrayal, her union with the divine, her punishment: she has borne God's son, a witless boy who does nothing but sit all day in their hut, smiling vacantly at nothing. Her story too is a story about a merciless and unsympathetic side which exists in the same God. Even so, she accepts God.
The Sibyl is a wonderful, often delightful book. It is a contemplation on the nature of God and the relationship of God to man. A book about joy and sorrow, hope and hopelessness. It is beautifully written, full of heavy symbolism, quite moving and a very thought-provoking and captivating read.