Portræt af en forfatter,
Bent Haller
By Kari Sønsthagen, 2001
Bent Haller’s oeuvre started with a bang in 1976, when he won Borgen Publishers’ children’s book competition with the controversial Katamaranen (The Catamaran). The book led to a fierce debate, not least on account of its unvarnished account of the upbringing of a group of children in a North Jutland concrete jungle. The book reached the pages of the tabloid press, the philosopher K.E. Løgstrup accused Haller of trying to enlist “child soldiers in the class struggle”, and attempts were made to ban the book in schools and libraries in several parts of Denmark. It was in this way that one of the most important post-war oeuvres for children was launched.

Haller’s work is uncompromising, His novels and stories for children and young people are borne of desperation and a criticism of society that has gradually developed into a criticism of civilisation. He is merciless in his criticism of the conditions to which children are subjected. One of his novels for children indeed is entitled Forbudt for børn (Unsuitable for Children, 1989) – implying the conditions in which children live. In Man smider ikke børn i skraldespanden (You Don’t Put Children in the dustbin, 1984), two children so to speak live without any contact with grown-ups in a world filled with fear and misanthropy and almost devoid of human beings. As the title suggests, the children find a baby that the grown-ups have thrown away. The children come to represent responsibility, care and the ethic that the adults have generally speaking renounced in a hysterical striving for material goods. This is in general one of Haller’s constant themes.

The oeuvre has a very broad compass. The grim realistic novels were accompanied with and especially followed by allegorical adventure novels such as Kaskelotternes sang (The Song of the Sperm Whales, 1981) and long historical novels like Brage Kongesøns saga (The Saga of Brage the King’s Son, 1993) about the Teutons’ tempestuous expedition to the South of Europe. Then there was Lille Lucifer (Little Lucifer, 1996), portraying a child’s journey through the Danish countryside, history and cultural history, a book inspired by Selma Lagerlöf’s Niels Holgersons underbara resa genom Sverige (Niels Holgerson’s Wonderful Journey through Sweden). For adults there were novels such as Det romanske hus (The Roman House, 1990). There is also the melancholy and beautiful love story Balladen om Janne og Valde (The Ballad of Janne and Valde, 1982) and the wild, intense and ironical novels for young people, including Hjertebogen (The Heart Book, 1990).

Haller writes at once pungently and with the wry humour for which Jutland is known. And he writes gently and poetically. He is a great storyteller – a Danish Homer. His main characters are often outsiders, loners, if they are not directly redeemer figures with visions and contacts with gods and devils. One thing, however, is certain – you can never be sure of what Haller will do next.

Translated by W. Glyn Jones