Deserted Parks and Empty Swings: absent children and hybridity in Scandi-horror.
Authors: Berger, R.
Editors: McCulloch, R. and Proctor, W.
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Place of Publication: Edinburgh
This chapter describes the ways missing, murdered and abused children have become integral to the Nordic-noir crime genre in literature and their adaptations in television, theatre and film. The absent child and ruined childhood are often the lenses through which the genre’s stock themes of urban crime, political corruption and dis-functional relationships are explored. In this sense, almost all Nordic-noir texts contain a horror narrative within them, and the damaged childhoods of central characters cast long shadows: in the genre’s 1992 antecedent, Miss Smilla’s Feelings for Snow, the eponymous hero searches for a missing child; Forbrydelsen’s (The Killing) Sarah Lund investigates the murder of the teenage Nana Birk Larsen; Saga Norén negotiates a confusing adult world while dealing with her own child abuse and death of her twin sister in Broen/Bron (The Bridge), while similarly the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Lisbeth Salander seeks out her absent twin sister and takes revenge on their childhood abusers while solving the disappearance of a teenage girl.
As Nordic-noir texts gained in popularity, many were remade in other English-language media, becoming something of a transnational genre. The US remake of Forbrydelsen, (The Killing) shifted the context of the narrative to Seattle but retained the murdered teenager (here renamed Rosie Larson). Broen/Bron’s UK/French remake, The Tunnel, developed further the childhood horror of the central character (now called Elise Wassermann) in ways, which would later directly influence its progenitor text. Stylistically, David Fincher’s 2011 version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo differed markedly from the Swedish television adaptation, but Lisbeth Salander’s ruined childhood was kept intact. So, while the adaptations of Nordic-noir texts inevitably brought about alternative creative decisions, the central trope of ruined childhood almost always remained.
This chapter will argue that it this particular framing of childhood, which has most endured, as the visual expression of Nordic-noir meets, influences and merges with other genres. Examples of this will include David Lagercrantz’s further examination of Lisbeth Salander’s childhood in his anthology novel, The Girl in the Spider’s Web - in ways only hinted at by original author, the late Steig Larsson. Similarly, the Nordic-noir influenced French TV series Les Revenants (The Returned) deals explicitly with mass child abduction, while the British crime series Broadchurch (and its US remake Gracepoint) is a direct appropriation of Nordic-noir tropes (including the death of a child) set in a different national and political context. Finally, novels from an emerging Scandi-horror genre, namely John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In and Stefan Spjut’s Stallo, return to the deserted parks and empty swings of Northern Europe, but with a supernatural element which effectively meshes Nordic-noir with the horror genre’s fear of children. This hybrid genre serves to reconfigure childhood completely; children may now be present, but shifting relationship between childhood and the adult world becomes elusive, abstract, and horrifying. The narrative power of Let the Right One In and Stallo comes from directly confronting childhood in ways, until now, the Nordic-noir genre has only hinted at.