• LazyTown Becomes SunshineTown

    Describtion of the Latibaer Books
    Kristjánsdótter, Dagný (18 January 2011). "PART II: Filmic Translations Chapter 9: Sportacus Saves the Day!". In Weldy, Lance. Crossing Textual Boundaries in International Children's Literature. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 137.

    Áfram Latibaer!

    In the first book, Áfram Latibaer!' (1) (Go LazyTown!), "the athletic elf," a forerunner to Sportacus, comes to LazyTown. The children there are in bad shape due to lack of exercise, computer games, and watching television. They are either overweight or too skinny and are sick in body and soul. The mayor summons the elf because all villages in the country have to hold a sports festival for children, but LazyTown cannot compete in any area, and it is in a crisis. The athletic elf shows the children that they can lead a better and more enjoyable life with nutritious food and lots of exercise and games. He runs about distributing advice and reminder notes, and the children welcome these, echoing the didactic tales of the eighteenth century in which the student declares that he has now understood the error of his ways and thanks the teacher with many fair words for having shown him the proper way.

    The children in LazyTown include Siggi the Sweet (Siggi saeti), who is crazy about candy, overweight and neurotic, with brown teeth, and Maggi the Skinny (Maggi mjói), who is so undernourished that he nearly faints if he moves. Goggi Mega (Goggi Mega) is a television and computer nerd who never stands up from the computer. Halli the Heckler (Halli hrekkjusvín) finds an outlet for his need for exercise by persecuting other children, and Nenni the Stingy (Nenni níski) is spoiled and selfish. The only girl in the group is Solla the Stiff (Solla stírda), who cannot tie her shoes because she is so stiff. The children of LazyTown are one dimensional stereotypes, as encapsulated by their nicknames. They neither mature nor learn. They simply take orders from the athletic elf, who tells them what they ought to do. The athletic elf, on the other hand, is altogether good and tolerant toward the children, but behind his attitude lurks a very familiar attitude of moral improvement. The children's bodies are the battlefield, and the soul must be won.

    Latibaer á Ólympíuleikum

    The next book is called Latibaer á Ólympíuleikum (2) (LazyTown at the Olympics). The plot is almost identical to that of the first book. The mayor receives a letter saying that LazyTown, which has now recovered its former name, SunshineTown, can take part in the Olympics. However, the kids of LazyTown lack competitive spirit. They are not sufficiently disciplined or hardened, and some struggle with personality flaws with either insufficient or excessive self-confidence. The athletic elf follows along from a distance but does not intervene until it has become clear that the kids will not achieve any success on their own. At this time, some other children come to visit LazyTown. They are "different," and the children make fun of them for their appearance and dress. This persecution is not compatible with the message of the athletic elf and of the book, that no one should judge his fellow man for weakness and/or his or her choices. The story thus does something different than what it says and proselytizes, but critics did not notice or react to this at the time.

    Latibaer í vandraedum

    The third book is entitled Latibaer í vandraedum (LazyTown in Trouble). In it, the athletic elf visits his friends in Australia. The sun is not pleased with this. She asks: "Who will supervise all the practices and watch whether Siggi the Sweet eats too many caramels?" ... "The residents of LazyTown are fully capable of taking care of themselves," answered the athletic elf, with slight hesitation. (3) It of course becomes evident that the children of SunshineTown cannot take care of themselves. And now the villain Glanni the Gangster/Villain (Glanni glaepur or Robbie Rotten as he is called in the television series) enters the story in disguise. He attacks the wholesome town, steals vegetables, and establishes a factory which processes the vegetables into nutritionless canned food and vitamin pills which are sold to the inhabitants at high prices. SunshineTown becomes LazyTown again. Disaster looms, but at the last minute the athletic elf always appears and saves the day, and the children again begin to play, exercise, and get along, eating carrots, cabbage, and home-grown tomatoes and radishes.

    The Characters

    The protagonist of the books is unambiguously the adult "man," the athletic elf. In the LazyTown books, all the children represent specific characteristics, as seen in their nicknames (sweet, , stiff, prankster, fine, smart, naughty, hesitant, etc.). There is, however, no main character among the children. In the children's books, a group of children often plays the role of a main character. Each child has one prominent characteristic, and together the children form a kind of composite group character with whom the child who reads or is read to can identify. (5) The group of children in LazyTown, however, does not become a group character because the children never emerge as real characters. We seldom see them interact among themselves and almost never with their parents. The parents are absent in the books, so that most of the children appear to live alone. The athletic elf thus assumes the role of both mother and father in the lives of the children.

    Characters' gender is usually very important in books for children and young adults, but not in the LazyTown books, in which boys are in the foreground and the girls are just like the boys. The genderlessness of the books may perhaps be due to the fact that the characters stand for moral traits which can be associated with both sexes. On the other hand, many of the children have confused and distorted relationships with their bodies. Siggi the Sweet is so fat that he can't see his superman pants "because his stomach was on top of them." Maggi the Skinny is so undernourished that his socks don't stay up and his face is chalky white. Solla the Stiff stands alone and weeps because she has become crippled due to lack of exercise; her muscles have become so short that she cannot bend forward. (6) The descriptions of the children's problems are (almost) grotesque.

    The physical problems which afflict the children are easily solved when they start following the advice of the athletic elf, who by now serves the role of grandfather, father, teacher, role model, and friend to the children. Simple solutions to problems of this type appear in all areas of the book. Problems vanish like dew in the sun. The plot is simple, and there is no dual address, (7) no subtext, no intertextuality. Also, the style is very plain and flat. Metaphors are cliched, and grammatical errors are far too frequent. (8) Furthermore, the dialogue is stiff and bookish. The position of the narrator fluctuates wildly. Most often the narrator is omniscient and impersonal, but sometimes he speaks with authority and addresses the young reader directly with warnings. Readers, thus, do not know who is speaking and have even confused the narrator, the main character (the athletic elf) and the author Magnús Scheving, as can be seen in a review in which the young writer Jökull Valsson describes the characters in LazyTown ironically, saying that they are distorted embodiments of everything which Scheving abhors, stereotypes of people that he sees around him who are different from him: fat people, bookworms, hipsters etc. These people are not like Magnús. They do not look like Magnús. They do not act like Magnús. They do not hold the same opinions as Magnús. They do not dress like Magnús. These are not good people. Magnús has to change them.

    And he does! He comes to LazyTown in the form of the athletic elf, a muscular, blue-eyed, blond and poisonously energetic Aryan who decides to fix the situation, mobilize the troops, and get them to adhere to his philosophy, the one true one. The residents of LazyTown welcome the new leader and decide to follow him and heed his instructions in every regard. Long live health fascism! (9)

    The illustrations

    The artist Halldór Baldursson drew the illustrations for all the LazyTown books and thus shaped the image of both the LazyTown children and the athletic elf. The illustrations are large and rather coarse. It is clearly expected that children will color them. In the first book the image of the athletic elf is rather unclear. His body is muscular and strong and young, but the elf has a face awash in a big, bushy beard, so that he resembles a Norwegian wildcat in some illustrations. In the second book, the elf has received a more distinct countenance. The beard has become a goatee and tidy moustache, reminiscent of Asterix the Gaul by Rene Goscinny. In the third LazyTown book, the image of the athletic elf has become clearer still, becoming even more manly and more human. His nose is larger, the tidy beard is slightly wavy, and the picture has started to resemble Magnús Scheving, the author of the books. This probably relates to the fact that Magnús Scheving had, by the time that book was written, played the role of the athletic elf in the LazyTown musical (1996), staged in Reykjavík. Magnús was then 28 years old, and his costume resembled that of a wood elf or even Robin Hood: a green cloak with a broad belt and a tasseled cap. There is a little bit of folklore and a good deal of resemblance to cautionary tales in Magnus Scheving's original books and plays for children. It is a strange blend in many ways, but there is a great deal of sincerity and good intention as well.

    1. Magnús Scheving, Áfram Latibaer! (Reykjavík: AEskan, 1995).
    2. Magnús Scheving, Latibaer á Ólympíuleikum (Reykjavík: fEskan, 1996).
    3. Magnús Scheving, Latibaer í vandraedum (Reykjavík: iEsIcan, 1997), 6.
    4. Maria Nikolajeva, Barnbokens byggklossar (Lund: Studentlitteratur, 2004), 127.
    5. Dagný Kristjansdóttir, "Born burfa barkur og barkur burfa born," in Í Gudrúnarhúsi: Greinasafn um baekur Gudrúnar Helgadóttur, ed. Brynhildur Dórarinsdóttir and Dagný Kristjánsdóttir (Reykjavík: Bókmenntafraedistofnun Háskola Íslands, 2005), 9-33.
    6. Magnús Scheving, Áfram Latibaer! (Reykjavík: AEskan, 1995), 25, 38, 46.
    7. Silja Adalsteinsdóttir, "Raddir bamabókanna. Frásagnartaekni í barnabókum," in Raddir barnabókanna, ed. Silja Adalsteinsdóttir (Reykjavík: Mál og menning, 1999).
    8. This may be due to the fact that the books were not published by a major publishing house but by a small company which specializes in children's books.
    9. Jökull Valsson, "Áfram Nazibaer," Kistan, June 11, 2003
    10. Lance Weldy ( ed), Sportacus Saves the Day (Camebridge Scholars Publishing, 2011) Chapter 9

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