In Astrid Lindgren's The Brothers Lionheart (originally Bröderna Lejonhjärta in Swedish), Jonathan and Karl/Rusky (originally Jonatan and Karl/Skorpan) are two brothers. Jonathan tells his younger, terminally ill, brother, about the fairy-tale land of Nangiyala (originally Nangijala) where people go when they die. It might seem to us like just a story told to comfort a sick child, but it turns out to be true, and the boys go on to have adventures together in Nangiyala.

My question is: how did Jonathan know about what happens to people when they die? Obviously he hadn't died himself before. Is this just a suspend-your-disbelief thing and it doesn't really make sense in an overly pedantic reading of the story, or is there some in-universe explanation?

  • Translated names are from the English version of this story I read as a child. I don't have the book any more, so I don't know whose translation it was. I do note that the English Wikipedia page has the names differently, but I stuck with my version because it's what I'm used to :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 3 '19 at 10:18

We are never explicitly told how he knows this. Karl says that when Jonatan first tells him about Nangiyala, it is in a manner as if "everyone knows about it". Then the subject is dropped. We are also not told how he knows about the existence of Nangilima, where those that die in Nangiyala goes.

However, there is another interpretation available, which is that Nangiyala is not real, and that everything starting from chapter 3 and until the last sentence is happening inside Karl's head, a dream or a fantasy. This interpretation draws support from such things as Nagilima, which seems like a simple variation on the already existing theme, and parallels with others of Lindgren's stories, most notably Mio, My Son but also in "Junker Nils av Eka" in Sunnanäng, both of which also follows a lonely boy who is transported into another world, but which both ends with a more clear callback to the "real" world. We can also note when Jonatan reassures Karl with the idea of the white doves that carries messages from the dead, he is rather obviously inspired by La Paloma, which is quoted in the book.

So, depending on how you prefer to read the book, Jonatan's knowledge is either due to him being the generally older, wiser brother that mentors Karl, or it is a comforting lie that the grieving Karl later fills out to become an adventure he had with his older, admired brother.

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