Helga Möller has sent forward four books for children; the first one was published in 1992. The first three books are Puntrófur og pottormar (Princesses and Pranksters; 1982), Leiksystur og labbakútar (Girfriends and Milksops; 1993) and Prakkarakrakkar (Pranksterkids; 1996). They all tell about Lisa who is eight in the first book and ten in the last one. Although the books form a series, they can also be read independently of each other. Helga’s fourth book is called Við enda regnbogans (By the End of the Rainbow; 1999) and here the hero is not Lisa, but the girl Villa who is nine. The first two books are illustrated by Búi Kristjánsson and the latter ones by Ólafur Pétursson, and both give a good picture of the colorful characters we get to know in these books. Búi’s illustrations are more cheerful, whereas Ólafur is more precise, both do a good job in their own way.
All the books contain short chapters, each of which depicts a certain event, and thus the plot is not made out of a specific course of events, the focus is on many eventful periods in the girls’ lives. The stories are third person narratives, and although the main characters are the ones the author follows most closely, other character’s thoughts are also revealed from time to time. The narrator’s voice is more prominent in the stories about Lisa than the one about Villa and her friends. In the first book, there are a number of chapters where the narrator talks to the reader and explains things, making the book more suitable for younger readers than the book about Villa, even it the girls are of the same age:
As you have probably noticed, Lisa doesn’t have a dad. But it hasn’t always been like that. Lisa did have a dad, a good dad, but he died. He became very ill and then he died.
Probably most children who read this book have a dad. But then there are some who don’t. Probably most children who read this book also have a mom. But some children do not have a mom. (Puntrófur og pottormar, p. 34)
The author’s tone is also sincere and childlike when describing Lisa’s affectionate relationship with her mother:
“Good morning little Lisa. Get dressed quickly sweetie,” mom says while kissing her on the head and softly patting her girl’s bottom where she is laying on her bed; (p. 9)
The second and third books in the trilogy are livelier. The author often starts the chapters with a scene where the reader is thrown into the action and the plot is more thought out and more exciting. Lisa is for instance reading a book about stowaways, and later, after various trials, she gets stuck on a ship and doesn’t dare seek help since the stowaways in the story were put in jail. Her cat also gets lost and is miraculously found again much later, making a number of threads in the story come together. Jokes are more common in the later books, which is likely to hit the spot with younger readers (or listeners). For my taste, the humor in Prakkarakrakkar and Við enda regnbogans is the best. The flow of humor is steady and the author has a way of using small events in a thoughtful way. Therefore, the ninth chapter of the book is a kind of anticlimax, it takes part in a summer camp and the pranks done there are not in line with the otherwise effortless humor of the story.
Time and Place
All the stories take place in Reykjavík, but the city still doesn’t play a big role in them. Lísa lives on Fjörugata (Beach Road) where most of the events take place, and this narrow stage reminds one of a fishing village. Fjörugata makes up an interesting frame for the stories, a small frame in stories about little children. The same can be said about the time, it’s the present and this can sometimes be seen in things like the language Lisa’s teenage sisters use. Popular songs are also sometimes mentioned.
The stories all first and foremost refer to a world of childhood memories, which we know can both move mountains and beautify weather. The society depicted here is simple; the world of the children is clearly divided from the adult one. Lísa’s mother is a widow, but this does not bring with it any financial difficulties, nor does the illness of Villa’s mother in her story. The father’s death and the mother’s illness are not explained and this can maybe be criticized, but does it really matter why Lísa’s father died? Or what is wrong with Villa’s mother? I don’t really think so. Death and sickness of course should have a place in books for children, life is not only play, but it is important that things are explained and the grieving dealt with. This Helga tries to do, especially in the books about Lísa.
Lísa (whose real name is Elísabet Sjöfn) and Villa (Vilhelmína Sigríður) are similar characters, but Villa is a bit more adventurous and in a way more mature than Lísa, although of the same age. Villa’s pranks are bigger than Lísa’s, for instance when she decides to run away from the dentist:
If she would run now, she couldn’t stop to put on her shoes and coat by the front desk because the girl would stop her. She would have to run in her socks if she would in deed run.
Still, it was better than having to endure the drill.
Villa made a decision. She quickly pushed the loose shelf with the equipment away from her and tried to sit up in the chair. Then she jumped down on the floor and ran like lightning out of the room...
Now the only thing to do was not to let anything stop her. Villa wouldn’t be safe until she got outside. She ran across the hallway, made a quick turn at the corner and jumped like a deer down the steps ... (Við enda regnbogans, p. 40-41)
As characters, the girls have few but strong characteristics and they do not change. So how are they? They are forward and strong minded (really somewhat fresh) and they are happy and sincere. Lísa is sometimes a bit vulnerable, but Villa seems to have thicker skin. Both girls have teenage sisters who are always on the phone and always chewing gum, but this stereotypical image of “teenage sickness” is a common theme in children’s books. Guðrún Helgadóttir’s books about the twins Jón Oddur and Jón Bjarni are a case in point, their sister Anna Jóna is one of these teenage siblings. Other stereotypes are cute kids such as Pétur who talks in a funny way, friendly and devoted pets, bullies and a strict aunt who takes care of Villa and the home while her mother is away. There is no such strict aunt in the books about Lisa, just a very loving one, Erna.
Some of the characters in the books about Lisa can be described as typical nerds, reminiscent of American popular movies. One is a boy in Lisa’s dancing school who goes by the name “the strange boy” and others are Lísa’s friends Róbert and Óli, who are both overweight. Lísa feels sorry for them when they are teased:
Poor Róbert. He did not feel well. When he only had on a bathing suit, everyone could see his big body. His stomach was wrinkled and his thighs so thick that they touched when he walked. Róbert splashed around. He swung his arms and legs but it didn’t look like he was making strokes. (Leiksystur og labbakútar, p. 78)
The top however is when Róbert acts as the archangel Michael at the school’s Christmas dance and is lowered on a rope from the ceiling. Two male teachers hold the thick rope in order for Róbert to be able to fly, and they need to hang on to it. When Róbert says the words: “although your burdens are heavy” the rope breaks and he falls on the stage. Róbert still finished his lines, “but his words drowned in laughter that never seemed to end.” (Leiksystur og labbakútar, p. 102.) This makes Lísa miserable.
The stories about the girls’ adventures are amusing but at the same time educational. Plays can be dangerous and it pays off to brush your teeth, go to bed early, say your prayers, go to church, be good to those who are less strong than you, and make amends for your wrongdoings. The books are clearly meant to encourage children who are afraid of different things, as Villa is afraid of the dentist, Lísa is afraid of the emergency room at the hospital and she is also nervous about her role in the school play, although at the same time happy about it. It is made clear that they are small and that they can seek guidance and help from their mothers and confide in them. Villa has a father, but he is away for most of the story, working in the countryside. The mothers are soft and understanding, and they serve as role models in the stories. Lísa for instance most of all wants to become a mom:
“Mom,” says Lísa. “I had decided to become a pilot when I grow up, but now I most of all want to become a mom.” (Puntrófur og pottormar, p. 27)
She plays woman with a hat and mother with the cat and takes active part in her Aunt Erna’s pregnancy. When the baby is born, she gets to walk it in the stroller.
Villa misses her mother when she is at the hospital and her biggest dream is to be able to make her happy by giving her a necklace. At the end of the story, she decides to spend the money she was supposed to use for a bunny on the necklace. She then writes a nice card for her mother and gives her the present. The message is clear, it’s better to give than to receive, and honor thy father and thy mother.
Gratefulness and humility are usually considered virtues and Lísa is depicted as a little angel when we first get to know her:
There is Lísa, lying on her bed. This is a pretty little girl with rosy cheeks and blond hair down to her shoulders. She is rather small for her age and thin, but this we can not see as she is lying under her cover. (Puntrófur og pottormar, p. 7)
Later, Lísa is shown making angels in the snow, one for each member of the family. She wonders if she will act as a princess or a troll in the school play and worries a lot about the latter. As it turns out, she gets the role of the Virgin Mary in the play Gullna hliðið (Golden Gate).
In romantic love stories, marriage is every girl’s ultimate goal. Lísa is not old enough for such plans, but she still has an eye for cute boys and follows her sister’s love life with interest. Instead, she finds a man for her mother, and the last book, Prakkarakrakkar, ends with their marriage. The marriage ceremony takes place at Thingvellir and there Lísa meets Davíð by chance, a boy she has already seen in a commercial and found to be the most handsome of all. Thus, she also meets her prince charming.
But even if Lísa is a typical little princess, she is also a hero who saves her friend Milla from drowning. Milla falls into a pond, where the kids have gone ice-skating, and Lísa’s brave deed even gets into the papers:
A BRAVE NINE YEAR OLD GIRL SAVES HER GIRLFRIEND
There was a picture of Lísa, another one of Milla in her bed, and the third of the man who pulled her out. (Leiksystur og labbakútar, p. 75)
The last chapter in the trilogy about Lísa and her good friends is called “Allt er gott sem endar vel” (All is good that ends well). This says more than many words about the spirit in Helga Möller’s books about girls and boys, princesses and pranksters on Fjörugata. Sometimes it feels like all these little friends were born at the end of the rainbow.
© Inga Ósk Ásgeirsdóttir, 2002.
Translated by Kristín Viðarsdóttir.