Episode #2 – transcript


[Constant Reader. Fridah Jönsson, CRTV. Section 2: Malena Lagerhorn.]

F: Hi Malena!
M: Hi!
F: Who are you?
M: I’m a 43-year-old economist who has switched path, you could say, and have started to write historical novels. Otherwise, I work with marketing within skin care, cosmetics, and beauty. And now I have started to write a lot about war and violence, so it is, well, a contrast to what I normally do.
F: This is your first book, one of your books, “Ilion”, that I personally like very much. What kind of book is it?
M: “Ilion” is a historical novel about the Battle of Troy, the classic story that was once told by the mythical poet Homer in the epic “the Iliad”. Homer wrote – or sang – so to say two works, “the Iliad” and “the Odyssey”. If he was one person or several different persons, no one knows.
F: So it could be a super group?
M: Yes exactly, a super group of poets! Most people have probably encountered “the Iliad” and “the Odyssey” sometime during school, when they read something about it and thought it was really boring, long epics in hexameter. What I think most people remember is probably the movie Troy with Brad Pitt. If they think of the battle of Troy, it’s probably the movie that they think of.
F: Is it the one in which Keira Knightley was so retouched?
M: I don’t know, I don’t watch movies that much; I read books!
F: There was some kind of poster, but well, then maybe it was not that one.

2 minutes

M: But then I read a theory that some believe, it was suspected already in antiquity, that this could not have happened in Greece. There are so many things, here we have the “the Iliad” somewhere, the old classic work. There are so many things that do not match with Greece, so the plot itself has actually taken place somewhere else.
F: This is the book?
M: Yes, this is the book, and this text is in hexameter and has a very small print, very, very difficult to read, so there is no one reading it today.
F: Now, I interrupted because I was so into this. But what in the plot is it that could not have been in Greece? Is it cold?
M: Above all, what was questioned already in ancient times was that the geography – Homer mentions a lot of islands, lots of places – that it is wrong. They say that “Homer was a great poet, but he was not a geographer”. And it is indeed very cold, what you perhaps imagine is that it is a battle like the one in the movie Troy, where it is more or less a desert. But what Homer really talks about instead is a very cold and foggy landscape where the heroes wear warm clothes even in the summer, and where almost all of the heroes are fair-haired and so on. So there are many things that do not match. It may not be things that are so important to the plot, because the plot is mostly about the war, so it’s not something you think about in the first place, but everywhere, there are 16,000 lines in “the Iliad”. Here and there, there are hidden hundreds of details about the environment, the climate, what people looked like, about the battle itself. Everything is much more primitive than we imagine, too. And it is from this that the last theory has come, which I based my book on, that the battle took place in the Nordic region. That it is a battle between Danes, Swedes, Finns, and even some Norwegians, Poles, and Germans. When I read about it I thought it was so incredibly exciting, and it got me reading this [Homer’s Iliad].

4 minutes

F: The one?
M: The one again. And what happened was that instead of being some kind of dull, tedious poem in hexameter that hardly no one reads, it became, suddenly, very alive. I could see the heroes in front of me, in this more primitive world where they throw stones at each other on a battlefield, on a sort of foggy and cold field. And then I felt this was so exciting that I could not let it go of it for years. And with time what happened was that I wrote a book about it. A little easier to read, however, than this [Homer’s Iliad].
F: That’s really what I thought of when I read “Ilion”. I thought that the language was, there’s some humor in it. It was very easy, you could laugh at a few passages. That they had a kind of fun jargon.
M: Yes it is a bit like that. I have mixed it a bit, I have tried to pick up the language in “the Iliad” so that if anyone would get the idea to go through these 16,000 lines you should recognize it. That you will recognize the dynamics, because it’s a very exciting battle that disappears here [Homer’s Iliad], but the battle flows back and forth on the battlefield, lightning strikes among the fighters twice, there is a flood, a fire, a ship is burning, it’s a very exciting battle. A lot of action that you do not really notice, I think, when you read Homer’s “Iliad”, because it is so heavy, he mentions hundreds of people. So I hope that in this story [Ilion], which takes place at the time of the battle, about a fictional hero, you will feel the dynamics of war much more.
F: Yes, there are some references to characters in “the Iliad” and “the Odyssey”. Can you grasp “Ilion” even if you have not read or do not even know what the original is about?

6 minutes

M: I think the biggest mistake that you often do as a reader is that you think that you have to remember all the characters. If you let go of that and just follow the story, you can read this [Ilion] just as an exciting story. And then maybe after that you think wow this interests me so much that I want to read the original work and now I want to learn more about this story. Because it’s about the Nordic Bronze Age, that is, a time 3,600 years ago, that we do not know so much about today, but you could say it was a much richer and more powerful period than the Viking Age. So if you think that the Viking Age was an amazing and powerful and exciting time, then you will probably think that this is too – I would like to say that the Bronze Age is almost more exciting because it was much warmer then in the Nordic region. Both Denmark and Scania [a region in the south of Sweden] was practically fully cultivated, it was more populated than it was during the Viking Age. The Viking Age was not so long ago, between the years 800-1200, while this is 3,600 years ago. It differs somewhat, what people believe, if it was 3,200 years ago or 3,600 years ago.
F: I really feel that you have done extensive research into this. How did you do it?
M: I have, fortunately, a twin sister who has helped me. It is I who has written the literary text. Annika is incredibly good at research. Otherwise there would have been, or it would have taken another three years, because it took us about three years. And it is especially Annika who has compiled all the information. But I have read several translations of “the Iliad”, here we have “the Odyssey”, a book called “The Baltic Origins of Homer’s Epic Tales” about this theory, that everything played out in the Nordics, Bronze Age archeology … There are others, for example a Greek historian named Diodorus Siculus, and Pausanias, Plutarch, Tacitus, there are many who have …
F: So much name-dropping! I have no idea!
M: Yes exactly! It is terrible. It sounds awful.

8 minutes

F: No, I’m impressed.
M: I cannot brag so much myself; it is my sister who has been working.
F: Who has done the digging?
M: She has been digging and has compiled lots of documents for me. Then I have of course also read, but I have not have had to remember all the details or make the compilation. I think she enjoys it. It’s a bit like a detective mystery, to piece everything together, while for me it has been most fun to, right, here I have the puzzle. How can I make it into an exciting, beautiful, amazing text? I think that is a more enjoyable challenge.
F: It’s a very nice sister project.
M: Yes exactly. When we wrote this [Ilion], the first book, when we had to develop the process, how we write together, then we shouted at each other at a number of times. Then you learn how to work together, so the next book, “Heracles – a Psychopath Tale”…
F: Yes, it sounds very exciting.
M: Same time, same environment but about the hero Heracles that I … When we did the research for this book [Ilion] we bumped into this guy who we thought was not much of a hero, but a very nasty person. Violent, he really goes around and murders and rapes throughout his life.
Q: That seems soft …
M: It’s like it never gets any better, one would hope that a person will learn, but he never does, it’s just horrible all the time.
Q: And it was perhaps easier to write, because then you had…?
M: Yes, this [Heracles] is written in the first person, as a first-person narrative, this [Ilion] is a third-person narrative. In this [Heracles] I do not stick that much to “the Iliad”, so this is more humorous too. Because it is not possible to write about a violent, horrible person, at least not for me who has to live with him during the writing process, if you do not make it more humorous.

10 minutes

F: You’ve said before that it is expected of you as a woman to write about love and relationships and such.
M: Yes, I was asked when I was writing this [Ilion] and got questions afterwards; is it a love story? And then I thought that if I had been a man – had someone asked that question?
F: Nah
M: probably not. I think that as a woman, I could just as well write about war. And a man who is 60 could just as well write about how it is to be a teenage girl. Often, the feelings are still universal, for example anxiety or anger, revenge, wrath, or perhaps as a teenager you may feel dissatisfied with yourself, that you are not good enough. A 60-year old man has these emotions as well. So I think that by walking into other types of personalities we can probably pick up things much clearer. Perhaps see things in a different way. I can also sense from men that they think: “I have done military service, how can you write about war?” Then I feel like okay, some might have done military service, been in the military, but they have probably not been running around in a pair of sandals with a huge shield and a bronze sword in hand and thrown stones at each other. So then I feel that none of us has the experience, but that we all have imagination and can imagine what it would be like. Then it is also obvious that when it comes to the battle details, Homer has an enormous amount of descriptions of close combat, I would say. Exactly how a sword goes through your head and then out and shovels out the teeth.
F: Trigger warning.
M: Yes, there are unbelievably nasty war scenes. So I have used them, I do not pretend that I know exactly how it is to fight with Bronze Age weapons. But then, there has been so much to use, there’s line after line about close combat. So it’s very, very violent.

12 minutes

M: It is like, if you believe that we have some sort of splatter romance now or sensationalism, that novels have become more and more violent because you want to sell better, then you have to sit down and plow through this [the Iliad] because then you can really talk about incredibly unpleasant violence.
F: In the original book.
M: So it is quite fascinating, we can sit here and read about people and heroes who lived somewhere between 3,600 and 3,200 years ago.
F: Really. It is so big that it is still here.
M: The strange thing I think is that the people depicted here feel closer to us today. There are quite complicated personalities here compared to those you find in medieval novels, when reading Dante and about his hell. Then you feel that you cannot embrace it because it is so alien, whereas on the other hand this you can identify with, which is very strange as the time span is so huge.
F: I was thinking about that. Ilion, there are a lot of relationships, you said that “I’m expected to write about relationships”, but it is pretty much about relationships in this [Ilion] as there are brothers and sisters and there is a strong sense of solidarity among the warriors.
M: What I noticed was that there were so many parallel stories of brotherhood. My hero has a cousin and they become like brothers, like Achilles and his so called brother Patroclus, the hero Achilles whom Homer describes. And then I write about my hero Melas. He grows up with his uncle Ialmenus who has a twin brother named Ascalaphus [characters in Homer’s Iliad]. So somehow there are parallel destinies of brotherhood without me thinking about it. It was afterwards that I noticed, whoops, what I have written about?
F: How nice! Now it’s early for you, it is only 2016, but what books do you think 3,600 years from now will live on, which ones do you think it would be?
M: That’s a very difficult question. I think it is, if I look back on the 1900’s classics, we have George Orwell’s “1984” and such…

14 minutes

M: They have said something; there is a universal human question they have brought up. And also when talking about the “Red Room” by Strindberg, it is also the first modern Swedish novel, it is almost a contemporary read; you can still feel that it is modern. I actually cannot think of anything. I have thought often about that, but I would say a non-fiction book called “The Mind in the Cave” which is written by an archaeologist or a rather cave painting researcher named David Lewis Williams. For I think that the next thing that we will discuss and examine is the human consciousness. We have looked far away into space and we have looked down into all our cells, but something that is totally unexplored is the human mind. So I think it will be something that has to do with the human mind. The book may not have been written yet.
F: Perhaps it is for you to do.
M: Yes, I might write it myself!
Q: Your and your sister’s next project, your next digging!
M: Who knows? Perhaps.
Q: I hope it will be. I want to read it. Thank you so much Malena Lagerhorn.
M: Thank you very much.

15:08 minutes: #3 books CRTV

F: Then we have a top 3 of your favorite books by other authors, that is. And we have first Felice Vinci [The Baltic Origins of Homer’s Epic Tales].
M: This is the book, which I have based my writing on, precisely the theory that Homer’s classic ancient works actually unfold in Scandinavia and not in Greece. He is also a very nice person. I contacted him after I had written my first book and asked: is it okay if I use your theory and base my maps on your book?
F: So it is someone who is still alive and kicking?
M: Yes, it is. He’s very, very nice and very helpful too. And if there is something that I am unsure of in the different translations of “the Iliad” that I have read, then I can ask him: which translation is correct?

16 minutes

M: Because he can read Greek. He also has a philologist he can ask.
F: What is that?
M: A linguist!
F: Ha ha – I know nothing! God, how cool. So this is your go-to guy?
M: Yes, that is how it has become!

16:19 minutes: [book #2 Mika Waltari: Sinuhe the Egyptian]

M: The Finnish author who is best known internationally. His books are perhaps from the 50-60s. He has written several historical novels. It was a long time since I read “Sinuhe the Egyptian” which is about a doctor, an imperial doctor, a skull doctor, who performed surgeries on people’s skulls. But Mika Waltari, I have felt in retrospect that he might have been with me a little, as he writes historical novels, or describes life stories in a historical period, with a pinch of subtle humor. So I might have carried him along with me. He has a very beautiful language too, so Finland can be proud of him.
F: How nice! They have more than Arto Paasilinna.
M: Far more!
F: The third and last:

17:05 minutes: [book #3 George Orwell: Politics and the English Language]

F: George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”!
M: Yes, it is an essay, which I luckily read quite early when I studied English at the University of Stockholm. He writes, criticizes, the political language in England because he thinks that it is an abstract, very difficult language, more or less used to manipulate and dupe the voters, or the common people. But it is also a very good review on how to write clearly. That you shouldn’t put on airs, that you should use concrete instead of abstract words and terms. I’m very glad that I read it early, as I said, in my life. It has probably improved my writing in many different ways. It makes you very humble about how to treat the language. So it is still modern.
Q: As so much of George Orwell. Thanks so much!
M: Thank you!