Lagerkvist’s first published novel, The Dwarf was both a commercial and a critical success. It remains, along with Barabbas (1950; English translation, 1951), published a year before he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, the best-known work of the best-known Swedish novelist. In its recognition of the power of evil, The Dwarf is as much a product of the continuing preoccupations of its author as it is of the somber Zeitgeist of World War II.
Lagerkvist has been discussed as an heir to Fyodor Dostoevski and Franz Kafka and within the context of European existentialism, though he remained aloof from organized Continental movements. His was a religious sensibility, not merely in novels such as Barabbas, Sibyllan (1956; The Sybyl, 1958), Ahasverus dod (1960; The Death of Ahasuerus, 1962), and Det heliga landet (1964; The Holy Land, 1966) that recycle biblical texts. The Dwarf explores the frailties of individual consciousness in a world bereft of the consolations of the absolute. A powerful narrative of skeptical spirituality, The Dwarf is no small achievement.