“Nils Holgersson Riding on the Back of Mårten”

In 1902, a teachers’ organization asked the prominent Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf to write a geography textbook for use in public schools. The inventive writer decided to do so in the form of a modern fairy-tale relating her nation’s history and local color in a way that would entertain as well as instruct young readers. The protagonist, a brattish, self-centered farm lad named Nils, runs afoul of a tomte or gnome, who shrinks the boy to his own diminutive size and gives him the power to understand what animals are saying. Meanwhile, a white barn goose named Mårten hears the call of a flock of wild geese and decides to join them. Nils grabs hold just in time, and the two set off on an airborne adventure that takes them over every one of Sweden’s provinces.

Lagerlöf’s book (trimmed of the textbook passages) became an international children’s classic. The anime version, produced by Studio Pierrot, was broadcast in Japan in 1980-81 and soon became the best known media adaptation. It was licensed overseas for distribution in most European countries and became especially popular in the Middle East, dubbed in Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, and Farsi. This cel shows Nils in an iconic pose, comfortably riding on the back of his goose companion.

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