DCIB Book Club: Ronia the Robber’s Daughter! A Childhood Favorite of Mine

I just reread this whole book in, like, 3 hours. It’s SO GOOD! And I just can’t put it down because stuff keeps happening. Also, we have MUCH to discuss.

Watch Ronja, the Robber's Daughter | Prime Video
Hey! The anime is on Amazon! Make your children watch it!

Matt: Good father or bad father?

On the one hand, he is very involved and loving and understands what his daughter needs (freedom, encouragement, pinecones to play with when she is a baby). But on the other hand, he kind of makes his daughter the protector of his emotions, which is the opposite of how things should be.

Ronia and Birk: Realistic relationship at their age?

I say, YES!!!! They have a really strong bond, but kids can have really strong bonds like that. And there is no romance nonsense, they say “I love you”, but they never talk about kissing or marriage or any of that yuchy stuff. The book hints about the adults seeing a possible romance later on, but the kids aren’t thinking about stuff like that at all at their age.

Lovis: The Best or Not the Best?

I like the way she knows what her daughter wants and sensibly gives it to her without fussing. I like the way she doesn’t let her emotions get the best of her. But I am going to say not quite “The Best” just because she could do more to put her daughter’s needs above her husband’s needs.

Birk’s Parents: What’s Up With Them?

Birk says he just needs Ronia, that he is always hers and does not miss his parents. Is that posturing? Or is it that he doesn’t have the kind of relationship with his parents that Ronia has with Matt? And is that a good thing maybe, that he can pull away? Or a bad thing, that he doesn’t feel as loved?

Scariest Creature in the Forest: The Unearthly Ones, The Harpy’s, the Trolls, or Gnomes?

I think the gnomes. They are just so DUMB. They could ruin your life without even knowing they are ruining it. Ronia comes closest to death when her foot goes into a gnome hole and they don’t realize she is freezing to death.

Best Hell’s Gap Leap: First or Second?

The visual of this moment is so amazing! Ronia and Birk leaping back and forth without stopping, driven by a crazed frenzy. And then later, Ronia leaping from one side to the other, leaving Matt’s gang to join Borka’s. It’s the thing that most makes me want to see the anime or live movie version. But if I had to pick, I think I like the first one the most. The weird emotional journey of being happy to meet another kid, then hating the enemy, then this chase, and then the immediate switch to saving Birk’s life when she has to.

Okay, what did you think?

18 thoughts on “DCIB Book Club: Ronia the Robber’s Daughter! A Childhood Favorite of Mine

  1. We’re at my parents’ right now, so I got to re-skim the book. Some of it hits a lot closer to home when you have your own kids. Like the way Mattis immediately and almost painfully loves his daughter. And their parenting seems almost wise, telling her all the things she needs to beware of, but also what to do if they happen anyways. And then by children’s logic, she goes and practices bewaring of all those things. 😉

    I do think all the human relationships in the book are pretty realistic. Ronja’s parents obviously love her a lot, but they are only humans with their own set of faults. Her relationship with Birk always read as almost a marriage to me. There’s no kissing or stuff, but even as a kid I think I wondered why Undis’ hint about the future was even needed. Ronja and Birk definitely fight like a married couple, over misplaced stuff and in-laws. Just like her parents lead a realistically happy but not perfect marriage. And I think Birk is just the kind of “romantic” who likes to over-dramatise. His parents may simply not have known where to find him, having just moved to that part of the forest.

    I was always most scared of the Harpies, for their immediate threat of ripping you apart. I guess I don’t take the threat of freezing seriously.

    The episode with the gnomes still seems mostly funny, what with their funny speech. “Wiesu tut sie su?” How is that rendered in other languages, by the way? In German, the creatures are called Unterirdische, Druden, Dunkeltrolle and Rumpelwichte. And the robbers’ favorite curse is “zum Donnerdrummel”. Some of the narrative language is also pretty old-fashioned, which I’m guessing was present in the Swedish original, too. I also think Ronja was named Robbersdaughter in the vein of Scandinavian last names like Svenson or Holgerson. Does that scan with other translations?

    Rereading, I also noticed how much the illustrations shaped my mental image of the characters and creatures. Like, the text doesn’t state anywhere that the Druden look like birds of prey with human faces, but that’s what they look like in my mind. And did anyone else also color in the pictures?

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    • Yea, the last name of Robbersdaughter (Ryövärintytär in Finnish) are right in a Scandinavian sense ala Sweden, Norway and Denmark – Finland is Fennoscandia, so not part of that particular Nordic group.

      And the Finnish version for the bad spirits (Harpies) was Ajattar, which is a kind of a blanket term for bad things related to women in different forms (sometimes they were ghosts or witches). They come from Finnish folklore, so the translation definitely made sure to localize the wood creatures. The little creatures (gnomes for you I guess) were called männiäinen in Finnish.

      And YES to Birk’s and Ronja’s interactions. I watched the movie and I was like, “Yeah, give it a few years and you will have the awkward teenage romance phase”. I mean, Birk caressed Ronja’s cheek!!! I shipped them so hard. On another note, the Finnish Dub for the movie is like Top Notch. It is definitely one of the best, and they left the Swedish songs as they were, but it was a seamless transition and just the PERFECT live-action kid’s movie dub.

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      • I should clarify the last name thing. We do have it, but it’s more common in those other countries. Finland has gotten that same last name system, but now-a-days, it’s more common for someone’s last name be associated with something belonging to nature rather than “name of father or mother or dead relative + son or daughter”. Plus, we have the “name + nen” form, which is more common than the above.

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      • I love the Birk-Ronia romance! That isn’t really a romance! Someone else mentioned that it feels more like a marriage. I agree with that, and part of it is that they don’t fight about dumb stuff like Birk insulting Ronia’s looks, or Ronia wanting him to say something romantic. All of that stupidity and pressure that comes with puberty, just not part of their interactions yet. Although it was also confusing reading after all the Indian movies where calling someone “brother” and “sister” is a no takes back kind of thing and means any romance is automatically impossible.

        On Sun, Mar 28, 2021 at 11:29 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • One thing I really loved was making the father the more out of control and emotional parent. I don’t think that is necessarily more “realistic”, but I think it is realistic that sometimes it is the mother and sometimes it is the father who is the more emotional one, and the other parent then becomes the stable one who sweeps up the pieces. We hear all this dumb stuff about the mother-child bond and blah blah blah, while the father’s are supposed to be the “sensible” ones.

      Yes! Ronia and Birk definitely are established to have a bond which will be lifelong. I suppose there is a possibliity it won’t turn into marriage, but it will be a lifelong best friend partnership at the very least. Beyond simple romance.

      The English translation is really REALLY good. The names and curses are old-fashioned and kind of nonsense, which is so much better than trying to make them into modern stuff. It’s all kind of the same as “Ronia”, they changed it from “Ronja”, but they didn’t try to make it, like, “Rachel”. It’s still this strange otherworldly sounding name. And Lovis and Undis and Borka and Birk and all the rest. I didn’t notice it as a kid, I assumed it was an American book in which the author threw in some fun old-timey names and ideas. But knowing it is a translation, I appreciate how they kept enough stuff to make it still feel old and strange. With the gnomes, they had a similar double-talk way of writing it, “Woffer did un want to do that?” And I think the translation of the swear is “dirty devil” which has a nice hearty old-fashioned sound. In English, it’s just “Robber’s Daughter”, as in, her father is a robber. But “Robbersdaughter” makes more sense, since Birk’s name is “Birk Borkason”.

      On Sun, Mar 28, 2021 at 10:17 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Matt: Good father or a bad father?

    Matias is more on the Good side. A complicated emotional man, but who says he is sorry, and clearly loves Ronja and Loviisa. He just needs to grow as much as anyone and learn from his faults. He is stubborn and pigheaded, which are his faults. And he needs to learn to calm down just a tad and not be so damn pigheaded.

    Ronia and Birk: Realistic relationship at their age?

    Eh…probably? But just give it a couple of years and they will be planning a wedding. The movie ships them HARD!

    Lovis: The Best or Not the Best?

    YES! The best. Lovisa doesn’t take crap from her husband or any of the men. She rules the roost, as one could say. She has that but is also gentle and caring.

    Scariest Creature in the Forest: The Unearthly Ones, The Harpy’s, the Trolls, or Gnomes?

    The Harpies or Ajattaret in Finnish. They are from some nightmare even in the movie.

    Best Hell’s Gap Leap: First or Second?

    The second. Since the moment is so tense and is really a kind of emotional climax for the book and movie.

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    • I agree, not necessarily the best father, but probably more good than bad. He gets mad at his daughter, and acts out of impulse, but he also understands her and is generally a kind involved parent.

      Oh yeah! I also feel like part of the old-timeyness of it all is that we are supposed to understand marriage ages are gonna be a lot younger? They are 11-12 now, but they are growing up fast, and there’s no high school to finish or career to start or anything like that. So it really is just a few years until marriage.

      Okay, I will give you Lovis being the best! I do like how she runs all the men, and how the book respects her responsibilities (taking care of the goats and chickens, providing food, all the things the men would starve without).

      But the Harpies forget about you if they can’t see you! It seems so easy to avoid them.

      It is an emotional climax, for sure, with Ronia publicly choosing both Birk, and her own moral standards, versus what her father has taught her. A leap into independence and adulthood.

      On Sun, Mar 28, 2021 at 11:46 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I think I’d still go with the first jump. Maybe because that depends more on the gap itself. Jumping across is scary risky, and doing it just for the sake of showing off fits really well with that sense of urgency they display during that encounter. The impact of the second jump is more about changing sides, it wouldn’t have to be about a chasm quite that deep.

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    • I love how fast that first leap happens! It really does feel like a “leap” into this huge move forward in life and love and relationships. He leaps to her, she leaps away, back and forth, and then suddenly she is saving his life, and he is declaring his love (essentially).

      On Sun, Mar 28, 2021 at 11:58 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. Odds and ends:

    Did the “rope’s length” make you wonder, too, whether it was at least two meters long? You know, as in minimum safe distance?

    And I definitely thought it was old-fashioned when Lovis was chewing out Mattis for neglecting his work just because he had a new daughter. He was just being a progressive parent.

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    • I did think about that with ropes length!!! Actually, I thought about it in terms of how long we have kind of known these things. That 6 feet is just basic distance that tends to help prevent infection. So it is kind of an instinctive distance for two strangers who don’t trust each other.

      I liked Matt bringing pinecones and things back for Ronia to play with, that was progressive too, bringing toys home from work trips for the kid.

      On Sun, Mar 28, 2021 at 2:18 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. Ronia & Birk = totally realistic. Lonely children need friends (just ask all the kids and parents stuck at home over the last year), and some kids just click more than others.

    Matt = terrible father His redeeming quality is that he loves his daughter, but that is his only redeeming quality.

    Lovis = Good but… She loves and clothes and mentally cares for her daughter. However she willingly pushes her out into the forest full of things that she knows can kill the kid, and almost do kill the kid numerous times. Neglect at best. Also, I’m sorry they live with a bunch of outlaws who actually do hurt people, not a great childhood environment.

    Birk’s Parents = seem pretty terrible, like Ronia’s without the love.

    Scariest creature = HARPIES – singing about how they want to claw and tear you while they chase you, terrifying!

    Best Leap = First Leaps. The second one you could see coming.

    What I thought. I thought the author wrote lovingly about nature without perhaps having experienced it. I mean she wrote about spring multiple times WITHOUT mentioning mud. When the snow melts, you have mud. SOOOO MUCH MUD. In cities with concrete and stuff you may not notice it so much, but trails and dirt tracks, and generally wandering around forests, boots covered with mud, giant mud puddles, surprisingly getting stuck in mud… Sometimes it can feel like a month of mud. So the waxing poetical about nature without mentioning mud (mud can be funny even, mud can be fun) made me distrust the author, however perhaps she wanted to put all the negative aspects of nature into the harpies. I also don’t remember her mentioning mosquitoes.

    And the ending left me flat. But I LOVED the middle when she met Birk and they had all their near death experiences (again, BAD PARENTS).

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    • No, Lindgren definitely knows mud. She grew up in rural Sweden very early in the 20th century. And in one of her other books, there’s a whole episode of the kid’s new boots getting muddy at the Easter bonfire. So I think it was a very deliberate choice to emphasize the purely positive sides of spring here.

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    • Yeah, the ending was kind of a “well, this always was what had to happen so it did” sort of ending. Matt wouldn’t be able to hold out forever from forgiving his daughter, the bandit bands were already moving towards a truce (there’s a throw away comment about them breaking out Pelle along with two of Borka’s robbers, indicating they were looking at the Sheriff’s men as the enemy now), and I find the fight scene boring and always skim it. But I don’t find it unsatisfying, as in, it doesn’t feel unrealistic or too happy or too unhappy or anything. Just a bit of an anti-climax after the excitement of Birk and Ronia together in the forest.

      I’m glad the Ronia-Birk relationship rang true to you! I feel like the author, for once, wrote a relationship between children instead of a relationship between small adults (the way authors often do). It’s intense, but also impulsive and moody and full of fights and making up and not needing to talk about things or think of the future.

      Matt and Lovis: REading this book as a child, I loved this version of parents! Yes, that is what I want! I want to go off all day and have secret adventures and then come home and have someone feed me. Almost no rules, lots of fun, lots of freedom, and lots of warmth and food and love at the end of the day. So maybe not great parents from the perspective of a parent, but as a kid, this is what I wanted.

      Harpies: I liked the tie between Harpies and Ronia. Harpies really are mad and crazed and joyful in destruction. Ronia presents that face to the world, but then saves Birk’s life over and over again, and can be captured by the unearthly ones, and misses her mother, and so on.

      On Sun, Mar 28, 2021 at 11:12 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I think many parents today could stand to be a little bit more like Mattis and Lovis: Trust your children that they’re going to listen to your warnings (if in their own way) and that they know what they can and cannot do. At one point, I remember Ronja even stopped at a pond or something her parents had set her as a border.
        Only make sure to fetch the kids home before they freeze themselves to death out of stupid stubbornness.

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        • Oh, but my husband grew up in a house with little parental oversight. And that isn’t what he wants for his kids, although I must say I love my in-laws.

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