RONJA, THE ROBBER’S DAUGHTER. A Child’s Manifesto of Freedom [REVIEW]

The latest “Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter” is a 6-episode miniseries set in a medieval fantasy setting.

Odys Korczyński

2 April 2024


In Astrid Lindgren’s novels, even if the world was real, it seemed magical, and the process of discovering it was always an engaging adventure, something we unfortunately tend to forget as we grow older and become adults. It was an adventure free from prejudices, full of freedom, multicultural, focused on exploration rather than domination and criticism. So, it’s no wonder that a new version has been made, as societal changes in the Western world favor it, and children’s cinema should teach something good, not just entertain. Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter, is fortunate in its adaptations. In 2014, even Studio Ghibli took it up, recognizing that Astrid Lindgren’s idea is so transcultural that it’s worth animating it in manga style. Today, Netflix has brought it back, and Swedish filmmakers have done it for the second time. This time with a much more aesthetically fantastic setting, which Lindgren’s novel deserved to capture the interest of contemporary children, who no longer have childhoods as wild and free as we did, although it seems they receive much more MATERIAL THINGS, COMFORT, AND A SENSE OF SECURITY from us.

The novel was adapted shortly after its release, in 1984. A year later, the Polish translation was published, and about four years later, I could borrow this book from the neighborhood library and read it. It was a fascinating adventure with a hard, green cover that easily wore at the edges, rivaling even James Oliver Curwood’s “The Wolf Hunters” and Robert E. Howard’s Conan. I devoured it in a few evenings, not even considering that the main character was a girl, and you know how female characters are treated in our culture, even in books that try to be as strong as men. Astrid Lindgren skillfully taught the young through her texts that a well-written character has no gender – it’s interesting regardless of gender and can serve as a model of behavior applicable to everyone equally, rather than to just one group, culture, gender, etc., excluding others.

“I don’t want to be like you,” Ronja says. “But you must,” her father’s ghostly voice replies. And therein lies the Lindgrenian manifesto of children’s freedom, which adults, including the robber father Mattis, tried to crush, projecting for their children the same future as their own lives and fate. No adult has such a right, Lindgren always said. Children are as free as adults. And this message has always been present in all adaptations of Ronja, so any accusation of the show being leftist would be completely off the mark – I’m just preempting that.

The latest “Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter” is a 6-episode miniseries set in a medieval fantasy setting. There are robbers, suggestive landscapes, well-animated wietrzydła, terrifying gray dwarfs, a corrupt sheriff, and painfully delineated social divisions, along with really good editing, emphasizing suspense and the radical isolation of the two child protagonists. Viewers are meant to feel the irrationality of trust in authorities, whether good or bad. They are supposed to realize how absurd it is to instill obedience to decrees in children just because they are decrees. In the perspective of adult life, this creates a slave mentality and blocks all personality development. And this spirit of Astrid Lindgren in the latest Ronja series is maintained and wisely distributed throughout all episodes. There’s something else that completely surprised me. I watched the series right after another episode of “Shogun,” and I usually don’t use the “skip intro” button. The first thing that struck me was the graphic design idea perfectly capturing the essence of the series. And secondly, the musical setting, the one I expected from “Shogun,” but only got a set of sounds without a concept. So, I wonder and marvel that it was achievable in the Swedish Ronja, but not in the epic adaptation of a well-known literary work. Though the creators of “Game of Thrones” had a lot to say about aesthetic form.

What’s noteworthy about Ronja, besides the aforementioned suspense, special effects, and the actors’ performance, is the psychology of the relationships between parents and children, as well as the characters of the children themselves. Astrid Lindgren had a talent for creating child characters who, through their universality, could speak to both children and adults. Similarly, in this series directed by Lisa James Larsson, both Ronja and Birka engage the younger viewer in the world of magic and their problems, and adults in reflecting on their children, and above all, on their fears of releasing them into the world. We fear for our children so much because, in a sense, by fearing for them, we fear for ourselves. This is how close genetic ties work. Children are our parts, and their loss means an indirect end to us, the end of our history, dreams, and hopes, and we fear the end more than any other event in life because it is irreversible. It is therefore obvious that we find it difficult to accept the first steps of our offspring, which they must take without us. That’s why it’s so hard for us to realize that children are free because we constantly want them not to be. Only then are we sure that they will decide well, because in reality, we will be the ones deciding, and then we will feel relieved. But that cannot be, and we know it perfectly well. This dissonance between our fearful emotions and rational duty drives us mad and angry, just like Mattis when he first released Ronja into the forest. The portrayal of these parental fears in the latest version of Lindgren’s novel adaptation is very suggestive, but it was also present in the previous two films. I have no intention of complaining about them or proving that the latest Netflix series is historically better. It’s wise, more visually appealing due to CGI progress, and I will recommend it, like the novel I had the pleasure of reading when the world was still very magical to me, something I miss to this day.

Odys Korczyński

Odys Korczyński

For years he has been passionate about computer games, in particular RPG productions, film, medicine, religious studies, psychoanalysis, artificial intelligence, physics, bioethics, as well as audiovisual media. He considers the story of a film to be a means and a pretext to talk about human culture in general, whose cinematography is one of many splinters.

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