Aniara Being Adapted For Screen

By Hampus Eckerman: The Swedish opera Aniara never won a Hugo, but was the largest reason its author Harry Martinson won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1974. Now, 60 years after it was written, it will become a movie. From the Swedish Radio News Site:

Aniara becomes a movie in Gotland

Harry Martinson’s Science Fiction-epos Aniara will for the first time become a movie for the cinemas.

Behind the team are the movie debutants Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja, that has earlier on made short films about hooligans and zombies.

In 1960, a TV-version of Aniara was made, but this is the first time it has been filmed for the cinemas.

The movie will be filmed in Gotland with the start in December and the project has got eight million Swedish crowns in production support from the Swedish Film Institute.

The story takes place on the space ship Aniara, large enough to shuttle 8000 people from Earth to Mars or Venus on a regular basis. The earth has been hurt by nuclear war and environmental destruction and people want to leave. On its way, the ship is damaged by a meteor storm, losses its maneuverability and continues out into space without able to steer or slow down. The story is about how the passengers react when they understand that they are trapped on the ship forever – or until the ships stores run out.

Harry Martinson was a famous poet long before Aniara and had already won most Swedish literary prices. This makes Aniara hard to translate, as the English translation loses a bit of the rhythm and can sometimes feel a bit flat for those that have read the original version. Also, references to Nordic nature and culture are somewhat lost for those that haven’t experienced it and do not feel the same nostalgia. But the beauty is still there: Most beautiful among beautiful glimpses is seen the glimmer of Karelia,

as a waterglint among the trees, as a lightened summer water,
in the June-light time when an evening hardly has time to get dark
before the wooden-flute-clear cuckoo shouts to sweet Aino.

Other parts are more universal, perhaps only enjoyed by Science Fiction fans that are used to unknown terms being entered without explanations:

We listen daily to the sonic coins
provided every one of us and played
through the Finger-singer worn on the left hand.
We trade coins of diverse denominations:
and all of them play all that they contain
and though a dyma scarcely weighs one grain
it plays out like a cricket on each hand
blanching here in this distraction-land.

Aniara has been translated to several languages, even into Chinese. Aniara is briefly mentioned in Vernon Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep. It was also featured on the second side of one release of the soundtrack to 2001. If you want to track it down, it was the 1985 Caprice 2-CD set (CAP 22016 1-2).

10 thoughts on “Aniara Being Adapted For Screen

  1. I think the article actually mentions “Harry Martinsons science fiction-epos Aniara” – “Harry Martinson’s epic science fiction poem Aniara”; i.e., it sounds more like the original poem, rather than Karl-Birger Blomdahl’s opera that is based on the poem.

    Another report states:

    Aniara är en filmatisering av Harry Martinsons bok med samma namn […]

    which again refers to the book (the poem) rather than the opera.

    This will be interesting!

  2. The article from Swedish Radio stops after “… and the project has got eight million Swedish crowns in production support from the Swedish Film Institute.”

    The rest were my additions.

  3. To be honest, I might have mixed poem and opera up. I’ve only seen the opera and that was more than 30 years ago.

  4. It will be interesting to see how the movie comes out; I remember Kingsley Amis expressing considerable disappointment (in one of the Spectrum introductions, ~50 years ago) when the translation did not (he felt) match the hype — it sounded like the usual a-litterateur-discovers-SF mess.

  5. @Chip: Harry Martinson’s original Swedish poem holds up very well as science fiction (at least it did when I read the entire poem fifteen years ago). There was also a new (and complete compleat) English translation made in 1998 by Stephen Klass and Leif Sjöberg, that I understand was very well-received.

  6. I found an interesting blog post about Aniara that mentions some of the differences between the poem and the opera:

    Harry Martinsons versepos Aniara med 103 sånger, omfattar sammanlagt 218 trycksidor. Librettots text ryms på 16 sidor.

    which translates approximately into

    Harry Martinson’s epic poem Aniara with 103 songs needs 218 printed pages. The text of the libretto fits on 16 pages.

    The blog post references a thesis on the subject, Johan Stenström’s Aniara – från versepos till opera (Aniara – from epic poem to opera) which is actually available to read in an online facsimile edition here – in Swedish, of course. This seems to contain a lot of very interesting material.

  7. @Ahrvid Engholm

    Thank you for sharing that! The blog post mentions a PDF that includes pictures as well – do you still have that?

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