Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Karlsson on the Roof

Go To
Probably the most known Animated Adaptation.

Karlsson on the Roof is a trilogy of children's books written by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. (Karlsson-on-the-roof, Karlsson Flies Again and Karlsson-on-the-Roof is Sneaking Around Again), in which the main character is "Lillebror" (literally Little Brother, named "Eric" in the English translation), the youngest of three children in an ordinary family who live in an apartment in Stockholm. His family is repeatedly described as completely ordinary, with a mum and a dad and three siblings. Big sister Bettan ("Betty" in the English translation) is boy-crazy, big brother Bosse ("Bobby" in the English translation) plays guitar and does poorly in school, and Lillebror, who is several years younger than his siblings spends a lot of time alone... at least until the day he makes an extremely extraordinary friend, namely the titular Karlsson-on-the-Roof.

Karlsson is a small, fat and highly overconfident "man in his prime" who lives a small cottage on the rooftop of the apartment building. He comes and goes as he pleases, thanks to a propeller on his back, operated by a button on his stomach, that gives him the ability to fly, and is often more than happy to show up when Lillebror feels lonely and needs a friend — though he's by no means always an easy friend to have, with his often selfish and self-centered attitude and tendency to cause trouble and then fly off to let others take the blame. Still, he does have a lot of charm and inserts a lot of fun and excitement into Lillebror's somewhat monotone life, even if Lillebror's family for the most of the first book think that Karlsson is just an imaginary friend that Lillebror invented as a convenient scapegoat.

Lillebror and Karlsson have to deal with more than disbelieving parents, though; over the course of the books they have to tangle with a strict and hysterical housekeeper named Miss Bock, Lillebror's old cranky uncle Julius, two burglars named Fille and Rulle ("Cosh" and "Ruffy" in English), who go on to become recurring antagonists, and even the risk of discovery and exposure to the general public when newspapers begin printing pictures of a flying Karlsson and speculate whether he's a UFO or some secret foreign spy satellite.

The Karlsson stories have been adapted for both the big and the small screen a number of times. The earliest adaptations are the two Russian animated featurettes from 1968 and 1970, which were based on the first two books in the series and are part of the reason why Karlsson is such a popular character in Russia that he's almost a Russian cultural icon. These were followed in 1974 by a Swedish live-action version called Världens Bästa Karlsson ("The Greatest Karlsson in the World"), which adapted the first book. Then, in 2002, another animated movie was released, this time a full-length theatrical feature based on the first and third book (primarily the third), produced in Norway and overseen by Ilon Wikland, the woman who had illustrated the original books.This movie also spawned an animated TV series.

The Karlsson on the Roof series provides examples of:

  • A Boy and His X: Lillebror wants a dog more than anything in the world but his parents aren't too keen on him getting one. At the end of the first book, however, they relent, partly because they think that with a dog Lillebror won't be so lonely anymore and won't keep thinking up stories about Karlsson. It's only after Lillebror has gotten his new puppy that they actually meet Karlsson. The dog, Bimbo, remains Lillebror's trusty pet in the two following books, even if he never becomes the replacement for Karlsson that Lillebror's parents hoped he would — though he and Karlsson get along perfectly well for the most part.
  • A Boy, a Girl, and a Baby Family: Even if Lillebror is seven or years old, so not a baby nor a toddler anymore, both his older siblings Bosse and Bettan are teenagers, so the family would have fitted into the trope just a few years earlier.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Bosse and Bettan, who are both teenagers, tend to view seven year old Lillebror as this.
  • Ascended Extra: Bettan's boyfriend Pelle appears only in one chapter in the original books, but has a larger role in the 1974 live-action adaptation.
  • Big Eater: Karlsson, who engages in a bit of Hypocritical Humor over the fact sometimes — accusing others of being gluttons.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: It would be wrong to say that Karlsson lacks morals, it's just that his sense of morality is mostly centered around what benefits him, or whoever he's feeling sorry for, at the moment.
  • Canine Companion: Bimbo to Lillebror in the second and third book, though he's often left behind (for obvious reasons) when Lillebror goes climbing on/flying over the rooftops with Karlsson.
  • Canon Foreigner: In the second Russian cartoon, Miss Bock has a cat, which does not appear in the original book and seems to be there mainly as a counterpart to Bimbo. Like Miss Bock, the cat starts out unfriendly but eventually warms to the protagonists.
  • Character Development: Weirdly enough, though Karlsson himself could have used a heavy dose of this, he more or less completely avoids it... though through his actions he inspires Character Development in other people. Most notably affected are the grouchy uncle Julius and the overly-strict Miss Bock, who largely thanks to him become better and happier people.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Karlsson occasionally comes across as this with his nearly antagonistic relationship with anything resembling common sense.
  • Crying at Your Birthday Party: Lillebror's brother and sister give him a toy dog as a joke gift for his birthday, though they know how he longs for a real puppy, and Lillebror cries inconsolably. His parents decide to get him a real dog after all.
  • Cultural Translation: The Finnish translation localizes the setting to the Kruununhaka neighborhood of Helsinki.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Karlsson, especially when interacting with Miss Bock or Uncle Julius.
    • Bosse has this as his defining character trait; he is a very minor character in the books, but whenever he does appear, trust him to at some point make a snide or sarcastic remark. The 2002 animated movie takes this trait and runs with it, turning him into a wiseguy who constantly laughs at his own jokes.
      • Even Lillebror has his moments of this, usually when talking to his siblings.
  • December–December Romance: In the third book, between Miss Bock and Uncle Julius.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Miss Bock.
  • Expy:
    • Karlsson is a rare mixture of this and Characterization Marches On for Mr. Liljonkvast, a character from the earlier Lindgren short story I Skymningslandet ("In The Land of Twilight"). Mr. Liljonkvast was also a small man who could fly and took a small boy out on adventures — though only in the hour of twilight, when the world was different. Lindgren has described how she several years later returned to this character, only to find that over the years he'd lost his "perfect friend and companion" tones and changed into a sulky, selfish Small Name, Big Ego — the character who became Karlsson-on-the-Roof.
    • It might be a coincidence, but Fille and Rulle are suspiciously similar to Blom and Dunder-Karlsson from Pippi Longstocking.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Lillebror's uncle Julius is a particularly tiresome example, at least at first.
  • Heli-Critter: Karlsson, of course. It's never explained just how his propeller works, or how he got it. He claims to have invented it himself, but you never know with him.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Karlsson seems to be completely ignorant of his own flaws, but has no problems spotting them in others.
  • Jerkass: Uncle Julius, pre-Character Development.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Karlsson. He's selfish, sulky, greedy and with an ego the size of a planet, but he's not ultimately a bad or malicious person.
    • Miss Bock is haughty, strict, temperamental, and slightly unfair — upon her introduction she seems like she's going to be a Babysitter from Hell, but it turns out she has many redeeming qualities.
  • Karma Houdini: Karlsson gets up to a lot of mischief, but never suffers any consequences. This is probably why a lot of readers tend to find him less likeable as they grow older — for younger readers, he's an Escapist Character who gets to do all the things they all wish they could get away with.
  • Lethal Chef: Miss Bock has traces of both this and Cordon Bleugh Chef, though her cooking does seem to be an acquired taste.
  • The Münchausen: Of all of Astrid Lindgren's characters, Karlsson is second only to Pippi Longstocking when it comes to telling of tall tales — though where Pippi will cheerfully admit that she's lying if called out on it, Karlsson will generally get angry or sulk if you don't believe him.
  • Non-Answer: Karlsson's answer about his age that he's a man in his prime isn't very helpful.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: Karlsson in the first book. Subverted in the second and third.
    • The first Russian cartoon leaves it ambiguous whether he's real or not, as only Lillebror ever sees him, and he vanishes without a trace at the end — though the second cartoon confirms that he is real, since Miss Bock and her cat also meet him.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Lillebror's real name is Svante, but since he's the youngest brother he's usually just called "Lillebror" (little brother) by his family and even his friends. Averted in the English translation of the book, where everyone calls him "Eric.''
  • Put on a Bus: Lillebror's two classmates, Krister and Gunilla (Christopher and Bridget in the English translation), play semi-major parts in the first book, but don't appear in the two last ones, though they are mentioned a couple of times to assure us they're still around, just not on-screen.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Karlsson has a tendency to threaten with this if things don't go his way — he usually stays, though, because Lillebror is always quick to soothe his hurt feelings.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Upon her introduction in the second book, Miss Bock quickly becomes this to Karlsson.
    • Amusingly enough, Karlsson and Miss Bock actually end up flirting a little in the Russian animated adaptation. This is completely absent in the book, where Miss Bock views Karlsson strictly as Lillebror's annoying friend from school and ends up falling in love with Uncle Julius.
  • Spoonerism: Fille is prone to these when he's frightened.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Karlsson has an unshakable faith in himself and claims to be the world champion of everything — though it's shown time and time again that he really isn't. His ability to fly does help him pull off a number of things, though.
  • The Fair Folk: There is a theory that Karlsson might be a modernized urban faerie. Indeed, some of Lindgren's other works involve the encounters between children and beings that are best described as faeries, elves and such, so this topic is most certainly not foreign to her. That would explain Karlsson's mischievous streak and Vague Age, among other things. It should be noted that while Karlsson is undoubtedly a Jerkass by human standards, he's actually rather nice for a faerie.
  • The Unseen: Miss Bock's sister Frida is constantly referred to and discussed, but never actually appears.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Although not an outright comedy, the books are easily among Lindgren's most lighthearted works, and Karlsson fits this trope quite well.
  • Vague Age: Is Karlsson a child or a very small, very childish adult? The answer is deliberately kept unclear — Karlsson when asked his age just answers that he's "a man in his prime." The 1974 live-action adaptation adds fuel to this by having a young boy play Karlsson, though dubbed over with a grown man's voice, and wearing a hairstyle that carefully hints of premature baldness.
    • In the Russian animated adaptation, he's voiced by an adult man, and Miss Bock sort of ends up perceiving him as one.
    • His indeterminable age might be related to The Fair Folk theory.
    • In a Russian theatrical play (1971), Karlsson is played by a regular-sized adult actor, while Lillebror's age is about the same as in the book. Some people find it a bit creepy.