Intricate cut-paper overlays highlight the art that accompanies this abbreviated version of the travels of a peripatetic young Swede.
Being much abridged and a bit modernized (“ ‘Weird-looking bird!’ said the fisherman, tying him up and placing him in a basket”), these 22 recast chapters from the 1906 story and its sequel, Further Adventures of Nils, read as a series of partially sketched incidents with abrupt transitions. Still, the overall plot, which features a trickster lad who is transformed into an elf and flies all over Sweden on the backs of birds, remains intact, and the narrative captures the flavor of the originals, strewn with place names—Lagerlöf was commissioned to write the works as geography lessons—and narrow escapes from danger. Latyk’s illustrations look like retro screen prints, with thin layers of blue and pink the predominant colors and small, stylized figures placed against misty backdrops. On five spreads, wordless expanses of landscape flank black stencils pierced with the outlines of finely detailed buildings, creatures, and natural details (a sixth cutting fills a large window in the cover). The relationship of these special pages to the tale is, at best, tangential, but they do add a memorable element to the presentation.
An artistic showcase that also serves as a teaser for a once-popular, and not entirely dated, children’s classic. (map) (Fiction. 7-9)