Literature / The Brothers Lionheart

The Brothers Lionheart is a children's fantasy book written by Astrid Lindgren. The story touches on a number of important themes that are surprisingly deep for a book written for children, such as death, tyranny, rebellion and courage. But the main theme of the book is rebirth.

The story begins by introducing us to the brothers Lejon (Lion), the sons of a poor seamstress some time during the early 20th century. The younger brother, Karl, also known as Skorpan ("Rusky"), is dying from tuberculosis. He describes himself as a homely, foolish and scared boy. The much-admired older brother Jonatan is like a prince from a fairy tale; he is always there to comfort Skorpan, and he even dies saving him when their house burns down.

Before his death, Jonatan told Skorpan about Nangijala, a land still in the time of campfires and fairy tales, where Skorpan can have adventures from morning to evening and at night too. When Skorpan dies he wakes up in Cherry Valley in Nangijala and finds his brother there.

At first Nangijala looks like a perfect place to spend the afterlife, but that is before Skorpan learns about the evil conqueror Tengil and his soldiers, and the death that comes from the dragon Katla. The brothers (who soon become known under the name Lejonhjärta - Lionheart - in the afterlife) spend the rest of the book aiding the rebellion against these menaces.

The Brothers Lionheart contains examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Every house and farm in Briar Rose Valley had weapons hidden and forged for the approaching battle to end Tengil's tyranny over the land and its people.
    • And they are very determined on that task. The answer of a widow to why she's cutting her long hair, a few hours after her husband was executed:
    Antonia: Bowstrings.
  • The Ace: Jonatan. He's loved and admired by all in the real world and Cherry Valley alike.
  • Adjective Animal Alehouse: The Golden Cockerel, Jussi's inn.
  • Adult Fear: One wonders how the boys' mother felt...
  • All Myths Are True: Let's count the myths presented in this book:
    • Nangijala is presented as a myth but turns out to be true. Even stranger was how it was combined with a song their mother used to sing, and the myth was still true.
    • Long after Katla's introduction, we were informed that Katla was a myth herself. The myth also told about the serpent Karm. And by the end of the book Karm was a myth made true too.
    • Nangilima, the life after death in Nangijala, is proven true by Word of God.
  • Annoying Arrows: Averted. It rarely takes more than one for a person to go down for the count.
  • Badass Grandpa: Mattias, full stop. Sasses Tengil's soldiers like a pro even though they could kill him for it at any moment.
    Mattias: I don't think that Lionheart exists. It's something you've conjured up so you can go and create a mess in people's homes.
  • Behemoth Battle: In the finale, Jonathan rolls a boulder on Katla that pushes her into a waterfall. Karm, the 'lindworm' that inhabits the waterfall attacks Katla, and Jonathan and Skorpan watch in awe as the two monsters fight each other to death.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Chapter eight.
    • Skorpan finds himself in the very same cave that Veder and Kader were in. He didn't plan to, he just does.
    • Skorpan finds out who was the real traitor.
    • Skorpan learns about Katla's mark that was branded on the traitor's body, marking him as a servant of Tengil.
    • Skorpan finds out about the password to enter Briar Rose Valley, a feat not even Jonatan had managed.
    • Skorpan is captured and forced into Briar Rose Valley, which he would never have been able to do by himself.
    • Skorpan meets Mattias, who happens to be housing Jonatan at the time.
    • Also, in chapter twelve, they hide their horses in the same cave that turns out to contain the secret entrance to Katla's lair. Later in the same chapter, this and the coincidences from chapter eight are discussed and hinted that they might be the result of some form of Divine Assistance instead.
  • Chaotic Stupid: Tengil's men are repeatedly shown to be too stupid and lazy to be any real threat. So how did they invade Briar Rose Valley again? Oh right, Katla.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mattias.
    Soldier: You have two horses you don't need. Put your mark on this.
    Mattias: Why should I do that?
    Soldier: It means that you happily give Tengil your horses.
    Mattias: I feel no such happiness.
  • Disappeared Dad: No mention is ever made of the boys' father in the movie. In the book he's said to have gone to sea.
  • Do Not Go Gentle
    There are some things you have to do, even if they're dangerous. Otherwise, you're not a human being but just a little piece of dirt.
  • Downer Ending: Not only does Jonatan get burnt by Katla's poison fire, but Skorpan decides (despite being just fine himself) that he doesn't want to live without his brother and together they both "go to Nangilima", i.e. they jump off a cliff to their deaths. And the very last shot in the film version shows the "real world" tombstone of the non-nangijalic Jonatan and Karl Lejon, implying the Dying Dream interpretation of the story.
  • Dying Dream. While Astrid Lindgren has said that the brothers went to Nangilima after their jump in the end, she also said that they never went to Nangijala at all. Skorpan doesn't die at the beginning, he falls unconscious and dreams the whole adventure in Nangijala. "I see the light!" at the end is him dying for real, and apparently going to heaven.
  • Elemental Crafting: Katla is confined to a cliff by a chain made of gold. Which has less than a third of the tensile strength of iron.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Even though he is on their side, the Tengilsmen Veder and Kader openly despise Jossi for betraying Cherry Valley.
  • Evil Overlord
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Jonatan prevented Skorpan from witnessing a man getting executed on the village square by pressing Skorpan's face to his chest.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Discussed, even more in the movie than in the book. Rebel Leader Orvar seems to be quite fanatic in his cause, and Jonathan has reason to fear that he would become a new Tengil if he was given the opportunity. Jonathan calls him out on it, resolving to finish Katla himself, not risking Orvar getting his hands on any means to control Katla.
    • When you consider that the pass word is "All power to Tengil, our liberator", just consider what Tengil himself was meant to liberate them from in the first place. Orvar is, of course, another liberator (for honest this time - we believe).
  • Instant Expert: In Nangijala, Skorpan is able to ride a horse the very first time he tries.
    • In the film, upon first arriving in Nangijala, he discovers to his surprise he can swim now, to which his brother replies "of course, this is Nangijala".
  • Karmic Death: Tengil tries to extend his tyranny over all of Nangijala with his dominion over Katla. In the end he is killed by her flames.
  • Kill 'em All - Very few characters survive the end of the book. The Brothers Lionheart are not among them.
  • La Résistance
  • Most Writers Are Adults: Jonatan Lionheart is the most heroic person in the story, as well as the informal leader of the rebellion who everyone and their dogs' mothers look up to. All that while being just 13 years old.
    • The story is told by his younger brother, who admires him boundlessly.
    • Besides, he seems to have spent a lot of time in Nangijala before his brother arrives. He already got the hang of the whole rebellion thing and appears to be rather famous.
  • Mutual Kill: Katla and Karm.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Skorpan.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Katla might be a huge dragon. And if she breathes her fire on you, you will soon become paralized. But she was controlled by the evil dictator Tengil, who kept using her to keep his power. And if you only leave her alone, she won't harm anybody.
  • Oh, Crap!: Katla kommer! And this is nothing compared to how it's written in the book:
    And then came the screams. Katla's screams of hunger that we all knew so well. Then the swords fell down and the spears and arrows, and those who fought could not fight anymore. Because they knew no one could save them.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Katla. Even a touch of her flame is deadly.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: Tengil dresses in black, with red feathers on his helmet.
  • Reincarnate In Another World: Skorpan at the beginning.
  • Technical Pacifist: Jonatan refuses to kill. Siccing Katla on Tengil is a different matter.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Veder and Kader.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Whose brilliant idea was it to brand Jossi with the mark of Katla? The whole point of an infiltrator is for that person to infiltrate, which is hard to do when you're walking around with the mark of the enemy branded on your chest.
    • It's elaborated on in the film. Jossi ''wants out''. The brand is there to make sure they stay loyal because their only chance of surviving long-term is making sure Tengil wins. The chest is a body part most people cover entirely in public (it's not like Sofia was going to rip their shirt off in public if she hadn't known anything), so they probably would have been alright until after the invasion.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Mrs. Lejon. Her husband goes to sea and never returns (it's implied that he died). Her nine year-old gets tuberculosis. Her other son dies trying to save him but he only lives a short while after that. So she loses her husband and both her sons from three unrelated occurrences. Oh, and her home burns down.