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Gösta (Lars August) Knutsson (1908-1973)

 

Swedish children's book writer and radio personality, who achieved fame with his series about Pelle Svanslös (Peter No-Tail), a cat with a very short tail. Knutsson also translated several children's books and juvenile novels. Knutsson's Pelle Svanslös books have appeared in some ten languages. In Sweden they have been printed nearly three million copies. It has been claimed that the characters had real-life counterparts.

Gösta Knutsson was born Gösta Lars August Johansson in Stockholm, the son of Knut Johansson, a wholesaler, and Julie Johansson. Taught by his elder sister, Knutsson learned to read at the age of four. Among his favorite books was Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which he later translater into Swedish. Knutsson studied at the University of Uppsala Nordic languages, history of religion, and Greek. In his new home town, Knutsson also participated in music and choir activities, and changed his name into Gösta Knutsson. Originally Knutsson planned to become a teacher or librarian, but in 1937 he was employed by the Radio of Sweden in Uppsala as a reporter. Knutsson worked then in radio until retiring as a program director in 1969. During his career he specialized in quiz shows. Especially Knutsson's Vem Vet Vad (who knows what) gained a large audience.

"Du har säkert hört talas om Pelle Svanslös. Han heter så för att han inte har någon svans. Den bet en råtta av när han var liten och bodde på landet."

In 1937 Knutsson made a radio program about a cat called Pelle. This led to his children's book, Pelle Svanslös på äventyr (1939), about an alley cat and his friends living in Åsgränd. In spite of a traumatic early experience – Pelle's tail was bitten off by a rat as a kitten – and constant teasing, Pelle has a positive world view. His adversary is Måns, who hates especially cats with too short tails, and in the style of Mussolini or Hitler, is is dictatorial by nature. Måns terrorises his neighbourhood with his henchmen, the twins Bill and Bull. However, the general tone of the adventures were humorous and idyllic. Pelle Svanslös på äventyr was followed with such titles as PELLE SVANSLÖS PÅ NYA ÄVENTYR (1939), PELLE SVANSLÖS OCH TAXEN MAX (1944), PELLE SVANSLÖS I SKOLAN (1945), PELLE SVANSLÖS OCH MAJA GRÄDDNOS (1947), and PELLE SVANSLÖS GER SIG INTE (1972), which was the last book in the series. Gradually Knutsson's eleven Pelle books, published by Bonniers between 1939-1951 and illustrated by Lucie Lundberg, enlarged into small industry, which included films, plays, and even a cookery book, PELLE SVANSLÖS KOKBOOK (1983). A comic book version of Pelle, drawn by Einar Norelius for 19 years, appeared in the magazine Folket i Bild. Knutsson's other animal series character, a bear called Nalle Lufs, become highly popular in the 1950s.

The background of Pelle Svanslös drew on Knutsson's childhood reminiscences from Tranås, Småland. As a young boy Knutsson had bought with one Swedish crown a tailless cat during his summer vacation on a farm, but was not allowed to take it back home in Stockholm. Knutsson supposedly modelled his animal characters on local politicians and university people. The hero of the stories, of course, was the writer himself, Måns was a latin teacher from the writer's early school days, Bill and Bull were the ambassador Rydbeck and his friend Lindberg, a director for an airline company, and Maja Gräddnor was Erna Eng, whom Knutsson married at the age of 39 – she was seventeen years his junior. Other well-known figures were Maj Gullbring, Knutsson's friend, who later married Wilhelm Odelberg, and the composer Sven Svensson.

Also current events left their mark on Knuttson's stories. Although Sweden was officially a neutral country during WW II, Knutsson himself joined those writers and intellectuals, who more or less openly expressed their sympathy to the Allied cause. In Pelle Svanslös i Amerika (1941) Pelle meets gangster cats, who lift their paws up in an ominous salute. The war reflected also in a tale that depicted symbolically the German occupation of Danmark. For a few years (1940-1942) Knutsson edited the student magazine Ergo. Because of his anti- Nazi writings, Knutsson was seen as a potential threat to the national security by the Swedish Security Police (SÄPO).

Knutsson provided with his wife Erna the Swedish text for a number of children's picture books, from Disney's publications, which appeared in FIBs Gyllene Bok series (the Little Golden Books), to Richard Scarry's books. Knutsson's marriage was childless but happy. When Erna Knutsson celebrated the 100 year anniversary of the creator of Pelle Svanslös, she recalled her husband just as nice as he seemed to be. Knutsson also planned to write a roman à clef about Uppsala and his own memoir. However, he never finished these plans. Knutsson died of cancer on April 5, 1973, in Uppsala, at the age of 65.

For further reading: 'Jag vill behandla barn som jämlikar' by Gösta Knutsson, in Min väg till barnboken, ed. by Bo Strömstedt, 1964; De läses än by Kerstin Auraldsson (second edition 1987); Ensamma Pelle och elaka Måns: Gösta Knutsson beskriver en antihjälte, en skurk och deras medhjälpare by Aili Lundmark (2004); Karl för sin katt: Gösta Knutsson som vi inte minns honom by Unn Torell (2008) - Illustrators: original black-and-white drawings by Iben Clante, coloured series by Lisbeth Holmberg; Lucie Lundberg designed the original covers for the first Pelle Svanslös book. - Note: Asteroid no. 8534 (Pellesvanslös), discovered by C.-I. Lagerkvist in 1993 at La Silla, is named after Knutsson's Peter No-tail, whose friends, the evil Måns (no. 8536), and other characters of the books are found from the asteroid maps. In 1986 Pelle was the mascot for Uppsala's seven hundredth anniversary. - Other famous Swedish children's book writers: Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002), Elsa Beskow (1874-1953), Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940). - Knutsson was a member of the literary jyry which awarded Lindgren's breakthrough novel Pippi Longstocking (1945).
"Har ni sett på katten
som inte har nån svans
löjligare kisse
väl aldring nånsin fanns
vi har fina longa svansar
därför gladu nu vi dansar
men Svanslös han får inte
vara med uti vår dans."
(Have you seen a cat without a tail...)

Selected bibliography:

  • Pelle Svanslös på äventyr, 1939 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg) - Pekka Töpöhännän seikkailut (suom. Terttu Liukko, 1948)
  • Pelle Svanslös på nya äventyr, 1940 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg) - Pekka Töpöhännän uudet seikkailut (transl. by Terttu Liukko, 1948)
  • Pelle Svanslös i Amerika, 1941 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg) - Pekka Töpöhäntä Amerikassa (transl. Terttu Liukko, 1944)
  • Pelle Svanslös Klarar sig, 1942 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg) - Pekka Töpöhäntä pääsee pälkähästä (transl. by Terttu Liukko)
  • Hur ska det gå för Pelle Svanslös?, 1943 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg) - Mitenkähän Pekka Töpöhännän käy (transl. by Terttu Liukko, 2. p. 1950)
  • Vem vet vad?: 500 fyndiga frågor, 1943
  • Pelle Svanslös och Taxen Max, 1944 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg) - Pekka Töpöhäntä ja Mauri Mäyräkoira (trans. Terttu Liukko, 1945)
  • Förlåt att jag frågar!: 500 nya frågor och svar, 1945
  • Pelle Svanslös i skolan, 1945 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg) - Pekka Töpöhäntä koulussa (transl. by Terttu Liukko, 1946)
  • translator: Alices äventyr i sagolandet och Bakom spegeln, 1945 (illustrated by Robert Högfeldt, from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass)
  • Heja, Pelle Svanslös, 1946 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg) - Kiri kiri Pekka Töpöhäntä (transl. by Terttu Liukko, 1947)
  • Pelle Svanslös för de minsta, 1947 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg) - Pekka Töpöhäntä pienokaisille (suom. 1948)
  • Pelle Svanslös och Maja Gräddnos, 1947 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg) - Pekka Töpöhäntä ja Maija Maitoparta (suom. Terttu Liukko, 1948)
  • Pelle Svanslös' nya målarbok, 1948
  • Knepiga klubben: 111 problem med lösningar, 1948
  • Elvira Nyckelpiga, 1948 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg)
  • Trillingarna Svanslös, 1948 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg) - Pekka Töpöhännän kolmoset (transl. Terttu Liukko, 1949)
  • Våga - vinn!: Frågesport för hela familjen, 1948
  • Kvällen är räddad: Frågesport och sällskapslekar för hela familjen, 1949
  • Nalle Lufs, 1949 (illustrated by Eva Alexandrowa) - Nalle Karvatassu lähtee maailmalle (suom. Terttu Liukko, 1951)
  • Pelle Svanslös köper julklappar, 1949
  • Nalle Lufs i farten, 1950 (illustrated by Eva Alexandrowa) - Nalle Karvatassu panee toimeksi (suom. Terttu Liukko, 1951)
  • Vet Ni vad?: uderhållning för hela familjen, 1950
  • Alla tiders Pelle Svanslös!, 1951 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg) - Yliveto Pekka Töpöhäntä (transl. by Terttu Liukko, 1952)
  • Pelle Svanslös på Skansen: målarbok, 1951
  • Kvistigt och listigt: frågor, gåtor och lekar för hela familjen, 1951
  • Här bor jag!, 1951 (illustrated by Marie Blair)
  • Pelle Svanslös visor, 1951 (musik av Erland von Koch)
  • Nalle Lufs och Skrutten, 1952 (illustrated by Eva Alexandrowa-Lefferts) - Nalle Karvatassu ja Ruttana (suom. Terttu Liukko, 1953)
  • Mycket nöje: frågesport och sällskapslekar, 1952
  • Tuff och Tuss på äventyr, 1953 (illustrated by Helga Henschen)
  • Tuff och Tuss: knepiga kvällar med Gösta Knutsson, 1953 (illustrated by Helga Henschen)
  • Frågekarusellen: underhållning för hela familjen, 1953
  • Tuff och Tuss på vift, 1954 (illustrated by Helga Henschen) - Tumpi ja Tassu huvittelmassa (suom. Terttu Liukko, 1955)
  • Taxen Sofi, 1954 (illustrated by Martin Lamm)
  • Pelle Svanslös och mästerkatten i stövlar, 1957
  • Pelle Svanslös och julklappstjuvarna, 1957 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg) - Pekka Töpöhäntä ja joululahjavarkaat (transl. by Terttu Liukko, 1989)
  • Skärp er!: tusen och en frågor och lekar, 1958
  • Pigge Lunk, 1958 (illustrated by Helga Henschen) - Pontus Pii: sukkelan siilin seikkailut (transl. by Terttu Liukko, 1960) - Pigge Lunke (translated by Helga Berzins, music by Lars-Erik Larson, 1961)
  • Sverige runt med Kurre Smack, 1962 (illustrated by B.O. Wennerberg)
  • Kurre Smack lär sig klockan, 1962 (illustrated by B.O. Wennerberg)
  • Året runt med Kurre Smack, 1963 (illustrated by B.O. Wennerberg)
  • Stort och smått kring Kurre Smack, 1963 (illustrated by B.O. Wennerberg)
  • 25 år: 25 x 25 frågor och svar, 1963
  • Stackars Svarten, 1964 (illustrated by Camilla Wendland)
  • Kurre Smack och alla husdjuren, 1964 (illustrated by B.O. Wennerberg)
  • Kisse Snurr, 1964 (illustrted by Camilla Wendland)
  • Jorden runt med Kurre Smack, 1964 (illustrated by B.O. Wennerberg)
  • Hasse Hare, 1964 (illustrted by Camilla Wendland)
  • Fido och hans mamma, 1964 (illustrted by Camilla Wendland)
  • Tomas och Trassel, 1967 (illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg) - Topo ja Trasseli (transl. by Terttu Liukko, 1968)
  • Pelle Svanslös och hans vänner, 1967 (illustrated by Börje Nilsson och Rolf Gohs)
  • Pelle Svanslös på skattjakt, 1968 (illustrated by Börje Nilsson)
  • En ljussaga i advent, 1968
  • Duns och Luns, 1968 (illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg)
  • Pelle Svanslös i fjärran land, 1969 (illustated by Börje Nilsson)
  • Med Sofie till månen, 1969 (illustrated by Magnus Gerne)
  • Kung Kul, 1969 (illustrated by Marianne Dombret)
  • Pelle Svanslös åker skidor, 1970 (illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg) - Pekka Töpöhäntä suksilla (transl. by Terttu Liukko)
  • Pelle Svanslös åker båt, (with Lisbeth Holmberg-Thor) - Pekka Töpöhännän laivaretki (transl. by Terttu Liukko, 1986)
  • Pelle Svanslös och spöket, 1970 (illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg) - Pekka Töpöhäntä ja kummitus (transl. by Terttu Liukko; Marja Kyrö)
  • Pelle Svanslös fiskar strömming, 1970 (illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg-Thor) - Pekka Töpöhännän silakkaretki (transl. by Terttu Liukko, 1971)
  • Pelle Svanslös på tävling, 1971 (illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg) - Pekka Töpöhäntä urheilukilpailussa (transl. by Terttu Liukko)
  • Pelle Svanslös i plugget, 1971 (illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg) - Pekka Töpöhäntä käy koulua (transl. by Terttu Liukko)
  • Nicke med luggen, 1971 (illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg)
  • Pelle Svanslös ger sig inte, 1972 (illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg-Thor) - Pekka Töpöhäntä ei anna periksi (transl. by Terttu Liukko)
  • Pelle Svanslös på tivoli, 1976 (new edition, illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg-Thor) - Pekka Töpöhäntä tivolissa (transl. by Terttu Liukko)
  • Pelle Svanslös på maskerad, 1976 (illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg-Thor) - Pekka Töpöhäntä naamiaisissa (transl. by Terttu Liukko, 1976)
  • Pelle Svanslös och snögubben, 1976 (new edition, illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg-Thor) - Pekka Töpöhäntä ja lumiukko (transl. by Terttu Liukko)
  • Pelle Svanslös får en kompis, 1976 (new edition, illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg-Thor) - Pekka Töpöhännän ystävä (transl. by Terttu Liukko)
  • Pelle Svanslös firar midsommar, 1976 (new edition, illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg-Thor) - Pekka Töpöhännän jännittävä juhannus (transl. by Terttu Liukko)
  • Pelle Svanslös fyller år, 1982 (new edition, illustrated by Lucie Lundberg)
  • Pelle Svanslös kokbok, 1983 (recipes by Britt Sandquist-Bolin, illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg-Thor) - Pekka Töpöhännän keittokirja (transl. by Terttu Liukko, 1988)
  • Pelle Svanslös på teatern, 1985 (illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg-Thor) - Pekka Töpöhäntä teatterissa (transl. by Tuula Syvänperä)
  • Pelle Svanslös och lilla Maj, 1985 (illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg-Thor) - Pekka Töpöhäntä ja Pikku-Mai (transl. by Tuula Syvänperä)
  • Pelle Svanslös i Köpenhamn, 1985 (illustrated by Lisbeth Holmberg-Thor) - Pekka Töpöhäntä Kööpenhaminassa
  • Känner du Pelle Svanslös, 1985 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg)
  • Boken om Pelle Svanslös, 1990 (illustrated by Lucie Lundberg)
  • Pelle Svanslös på landet, 2002 (illustrated by Harald Sonesson)
  • Pelle Svanslös klarar sig alltid, 2002 (illustrated by Harald Sonesson)
  • Pelle Svanslös och Majas krona, 2003 (illustrated by Harald Sonesson) - Pekka Töpöhäntä ja Maijan kruunu (transl. by Terttu Liukko, 2003)
  • Pelle Svanslös och Måns arv, 2004 (illustrated by Harald Sonesson) - Pekka Töpöhäntä ja rikas Monni (transl. by Terttu Liukko, 2004)


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