“A bit like panning gold.” Lena Törnqvist about the Astrid Lindgren Archives

Lena Törnqvist. Photo: Anne Sherman, the National Library of Sweden

Lena Törnqvist. Photo: Anne Scherman, the National Library of Sweden

Lena Törnqvist is a librarian and specialist of Astrid Lindgren’s works. During several years she was responsible for cataloguing the Astrid Lindgren Archives at the National library of Sweden. Today she is retired but is on the board of the Astrid Lindgren Society and was last year appointed dr honoris causa at the Linnaeus University in Växjö. The award office asked Lena to write about the unique Astrid Lindgren archives:

When I was first asked to take on the work of cataloguing Astrid Lindgren’s private archives, donated by the author (and later her estate) to Kungl. biblioteket, The National Library of Sweden, I had no idea the work would fill the rest of my professional career. It took the better part of ten years to get the several hundred boxes, sacks, envelopes and rolls of the archives sorted and catalogued. Sitting in one of the library’s underground  piles of books at a desk earlier belonging to and made by the Nobel laureate Pär Lagerkvist with his own hands, I opened box after box and sack after sack and started the sometimes both tedious and dirty work of trying to bring some order to the material. Letters in one pile, clippings in another and manuscripts in a third etc. Archive work is usually not very glamorous, more a question of patience and persistence. A bit like panning gold. And sometimes you find a gold nugget! A letter from Björn Berg, the illustrator of the Emil-books, wondering what kind of clothes Emil was wearing on Sundays, the letter illustrated with wonderful drawings in colour, or a dusty and dirty plastic folder with the original manuscript to ”The Brothers Lionheart”, or a carbon copy of a long letter to Astrid Lindgren’s Danish translator revealing Lindgren’s linguistic considerations when writing ”Ronia, the robber’s daughter” or a manuscript to a very early text I had never seen before. Those ”gold nuggets” made up for hour after hour of beggers’ letters, or uninspired letters from school classes, all beginning in the same way: ”Our teacher said we have to write to an author …”, or even one or two letters from myself years ago.

Looking back at it, the work felt like putting a giant jig saw puzzle together; some pieces I recognized at once, others filled in gaps in my previous knowledge of the author and her work and some things were completely new. Together all these pieces in the end formed a much more interesting and complex picture of the author and her work than anyone had seen before.

Photo: Anne Sherman

Photo: Anne Scherman

Astrid Lindgren’s private archives fill up more than 140 shelf meters and are the largest private archives in the library – and probably in Sweden. All kinds of documents are included, from letters and drawings from children and adult readers around the globe, business letters, royalty records, press clippings (some 100 000 from the early 1940’s up to 2007), to books from her private library in the summer house. The number of letters have been estimated to ca 75 000 – season and birth day greetings not included. Fourteen sacks of letters arrived to her 90th birthday alone! There are letters from royalty, e.g. an African King, statesmen, colleagues, publishers, translators, researchers, psychologists, entrepreneurs and other professionals but most of all from people all over the world who loved her books. One or two also from those who disliked them. There are letters from Korea, South Africa, Greenland and the Seychelles, and there are letters in Esperanto, short hand and Braille. There are letters the size of a square meter and very tiny letters. There are also about 1000 carbon copies of letters sent by Astrid Lindgren herself.

An essential part of the archives includes close to 600 typed manuscripts to most of her books and movies but also to e.g. speeches, obituaries and early stories from the 1930’s. In addition there are some 660 short hand notebooks (almost impossible to decipher). Astrid Lindgren always wrote in shorthand before she typed her manuscripts.

Lena Törnqvist

The catalogue is available here.

Most of the material is available for study without restrictions, but for letters and short hand notebooks you need a permit from the donor and copyright holder (info@saltkrakan.se). All material is under copyright. Inquiries should be mailed to the Manuscript Department of the National Library (hkb@kb.se).

In June 2005 Astrid Lindgren’s archives were included in the Unesco Memory of the World  Register, link here.

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3 Responses to ““A bit like panning gold.” Lena Törnqvist about the Astrid Lindgren Archives”

  1. Kestutis Says:

    Great work done, Dera Lena! All the best to you.

  2. Alina (literaryvittles) Says:

    what a project!! it’s wonderful that the archive is now available online.

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