”That Church is the Most Beautiful in the World”: The Orthodox Church and Icons in the Childhood Narratives and Pictures of Ilon Wikland
Ilon Wikland (b. Pääbo, 1930), a well-known illustrator of children’s books, has depicted her childhood in Estonia and her search for refuge in Sweden in 1944 in four picturebooks (1995–2007). This article focuses on Den långa, långa resan (1995; The Long, Long Journey, with text by Rose Lagercrantz) and I min farmors hus (2005; In My Grandmother’s House, with text by Barbro Lindgren), with the aim of examining the role of Orthodox churches and icons in Ilon Wikland’s childhood narratives and pictures. Wikland’s grandfather was the leader of the choir in the local Orthodox church in Haapsalu. It is demonstrated that depictions of this church and icons from her grandparents’ home help to place the picturebooks in time and space and contribute to their autobiographical and historical accuracy. Three different themes found in the narratives are explored, since they are essential for the protagonist’s experiences of warfare and ight, and interrelated with the functions of the Orthodox church and its icons. The first is the girl’s sense of freedom and beauty at home and at the Orthodox church. The second theme is her loneliness and desolation when separated from her grandparents and her best friend during the war, situations in which the icons seem to participate in her despair. The third theme is the signi cance of the name, Ilon, for the girl’s emerging identity, as well as for the convergence of the protagonist’s identity with the illustrator’s, similar to how an Orthodox icon is identi ed by means of an inscription containing the name of the depicted person. The conclusion is, that Ilon Wikland has not only rendered the Orthodox church of her childhood and the icons of her grandparents in her pictures. Furthermore, she has recreated their importance for her early life and connected her illustrations with the theology and aesthetics of Orthodox icons.
2015. Vol. 38, 1-25 p.
Ilon Wikland; Swedish picturebooks; childhood narrative; Estonia; Orthodox Church; Orthodox icons; exile; identity; religion