Cecil Bødker Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Cecil Bødker 1927–

Danish young adult and adult novelist, short story writer, and poet.

Bødker's importance as a writer for young people rests on the high literary quality of her adventure stories. Her works are both realistic and imaginative and are drawn from contemporary life and from the folktale tradition. She brings a keen sense of the grotesque to these latter works, reminiscent of such Eastern European writers as Franz Kafka and Jerzy Kosinski. Adult authority is largely absent from Bødker's works; when present, adults are usually untrustworthy and sometimes cruel. Bødker's landscapes are harsh and desolate, reflecting and influencing adult attitudes. Several of her books include a strong element of humor, however, often bordering on burlesque. She has been praised for her clear and poetic language, as well as for her crisp dialogue, and her books are characterized by their fast-paced action and effective use of suspense. Critics feel that both young people and adults enjoy these works because of Bødker's subtle weaving of social questions and character studies with exciting plots.

Bødker's series of Silas books are especially popular because of their engaging protagonist. Silas is particularly appealing for his independent, honest ways. Bødker, however, endows him with negative characteristics which are part of his method of survival, a technique which she uses consistently in her characterizations. This device is felt to enhance the realism of her portrayals. Most of Bødker's main characters are male; she feels this is a natural result of having spent her youth with four brothers, and several of her teenage years as a silver-smith's apprentice, the only girl among fifty boys. In 1969 Bødker and her husband were invited to live in Ethiopia in order to write about the Ethiopian lifestyle for the country's children, since at that time they did not have a literature of their own. The first book Bødker published from this experience, The Leopard, was also her first to be published in the United States. Although some critics have commented that the novel's villain is too evil and the young protagonist improbable for having a large number of adventures in a short time, the reception of the novel was generally favorable, and Bødker was complimented for capturing the essence of Ethiopian life.

Very few of Bødker's works have been translated into English. Even her poetry, called visionary by Danish critics, has yet to appear. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the Drachmann Prize in 1973 for her poetry, prose, and children's books, the Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1976, and the Mildred Batchelor Award in 1977. In 1967, Silas and the Black Mare received the only prize for children's literature ever awarded by The Danish Academy. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76, and Something About the Author, Vol. 14.)