However, his fortune changes for the better when, unwittingly, he stows away in the car of a fellow visiting the farm where he lived. Suddenly he is no longer the innocent country cat he was, but is instead, a cat-about- town, an astute observer of his new life with a family in an apartment in the city.
Each of the short 21 chapters describes a new adventure in Pelle’s life. They are not so much morality tales as a good-humoured commentary on family life at the time, seen through the eyes of the sweet-natured, but perceptive cat. His disdain for human folly makes itself known from time to time, but perhaps most fascinating is the unfolding relationship with the feline thug of the neighbourhood, Måns.
Pelle finds himself bullied by the evil-tempered cat, Måns, who, like so many bullies, is propped up by his dim-witted feline henchmen, Bill and Bull. While many agree Måns embodies Hitler or Mussolini-esque characteristics (the stories were of course written on the of eve of WWII as Sweden and the rest of the world watched the insidious rise of national socialism), there are suspicions he was based on one of the author’s Latin teachers! Many of the other characters who appear in the Pelle series were based on the author’s friends and acquaintances. The character of the delightful pussy cat with cream on her nose, Maja Grädnos, for example, was obviously drawn from Knutsson’s own wife, Erna.
The Swedish text has a lovely lightness of touch that threads its way through the chapters which Ann-Margrete and I hope to have reflected in our English translation. When reading the Swedish, we often found ourselves laughing out loud at the sentence structure, at the one hundred and one different ways you can say “Yes” in Swedish – Ja, jaså, jo, jodå to name but a few – and at the very name “Pelle Svanslös” which we think sounds so inherently comical, we felt we had to keep it! (The word “Svanslös” means “tail-less” which, we’re sure you’ll agree, simply doesn’t have the same ring to it!)
We’re certain you will fall in love with Pelle just as millions of Swedish children have fallen in love with him over the last three-quarters of a century, just as millions will continue to fall in love with him in the years to come!
Stephanie Smee and Ann-Margrete Smee
Having worked as a lawyer in Sydney and London (including as Justice Kirby’s Associate), Stephanie happily traded in a legal career for a return to her linguistic calling. After several years as a legal translator, she left the world of pleadings and contractual documents behind and made her literary translation début with a new English translation of 19th century French children’s author, the Countess de Ségur’s Fleurville Trilogy published by Simon & Schuster (Australia) in 2010
Ann-Margrete is a true polyglot. She grew up in Sweden and after many summers spent in France as an au pair, spent a year studying in Geneva before moving to Australia with my father, an Australian whom she had met while studying in Switzerland. Ann-Margrete is perfectly bilingual in Swedish and English, as well as being fluent in French and German. For many years she headed up the foreign language department of Adelaide independent school, Westminster School. Never one to be linguistically lazy, she is now on her way to mastering Italian, having just returned from a sojourn at a language school in Bologna, Italy. She has also turned her hand to learning Arabic in recent years.