Dhe wars of the future will be fought over water, which is now a commonplace. But when Sebastian Lybeck’s first children’s book appeared in 1956, the topic should not only have been new to most young readers, it was also portrayed from such an unusual perspective that “Latte Igel und der Wasserstein” has not lost its magic to this day.
The forest dries up, the leaves wither, the ground cracks. Latte Igel, one of the forest dwellers, asks the clever Raven Korp if there is nothing they can do about it. Yes, he thinks, someone has to make his way north, where the bear king Bantur jealously guarded the water stone, a magical object that makes springs gush. You have to cross the land of the wolves and that of the lynx, and of course the King Bear won’t just pull out the stone, but that’s the only chance for the forest. Good, the inexperienced hedgehog says to himself, someone has to take care of it, and goes off. There is nothing heroic about him, he falls into trap after trap on the way. But he grows with it, and Lybeck manages with a light hand to convey credibly how this innocent, lovable, but also stubborn hedgehog masters situations that seemed overwhelming. And despite all the drama, there is a soothing Scandinavian sobriety about the adventurous story.
Actually a poet
Sebastian Lybeck, born in 1929 as a member of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland, actually saw himself as a poet. The grandfather was a well-known writer, the father was a painter, who, as Lybeck said in 2012, returned from the war distraught and decimated the inherited fortune with his unreserved decision for art. All the more, his mother would have insisted on a proper education from the boy, who always wanted to write. Lybeck described the associated struggles extremely vividly from a distance of many decades. He eventually became a newspaper journalist, and in a few days a summer series about the animals in his homeland became the book by Latte Igel, an international success, awarded the German Youth Literature Prize, continuously available to this day and filmed in 2019.
Lybeck worked as a fisherman in Lofoten and published several volumes of poetry, he fought as an activist against a hydroelectric power station in Lapland and against the stationing of medium-range missiles in Mutlangen. As an author, however, he achieved his greatest impact with the book by “Latte Igel”, which has been translated into numerous languages, followed by a second volume in 1969 and by a large margin the third in 2009. They all describe a journey and a mission, only that the goals changed in a characteristic way: In the first volume Latte Igel fights for the well-being of the whole forest, in “Latte Igel travels to the Lofoten” for the rescue of a kidnapped friend, in the third But ties to the redemption of oneself from the “black shadow” that suddenly fell over the hedgehog that had grown old.
Behind all this, it is not difficult to perceive the perspective of the almost eighty-year-old author who in the previous years had cared for his wife Berthe, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and had finally lost it. And so the description of how Latte Igel finds his way out of the great gray on his own, touches him back to his friends, even if drawn, all the more. Among the numerous children’s books that now deal with the loneliness and fears of the elders, this one does not find its equal.
Sebastian Lybeck died, as it has only now become known, on November 11th at the age of 91 in Stockholm.