Little Ghost Laban
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I like to dig into other cultures and languages, particularly when it comes to horror, folklore, and storytelling. There's so much out there that isn't readily available in English. It's the same with your native language, whatever that might be. The world is connected now in a way it never has been, and newer technology allows me to explore it using translation tools. We take these tools for granted today, but they are recent inventions.
Just think, a few decades ago, GPS didn't exist, and it was incredibly easy to get lost in your own city. And, not that long ago, if you wanted to read a book in a foreign language, you'd have to go learn the language first. While I'm all for learning other languages, there simply isn't enough time to learn them all. So, whenever I encounter a tiny thread of interest that isn't in a language I speak, I follow it to see where it leads me. I'm often surprised at what I find.
A while back, I stumbled across one of those interest threads in a children's book from Sweden: Little Ghost Laban. I'd call this one horror-adjacent, which I like to think of as a spooky gateway. (Okay, there is actually something horrific going on, but I'll get to that later.) For now, let's take a look at Little Ghost Laban from Sweden.
What is Little Ghost Laban?
Years before the moon landing, in 1965, the first Little Ghost Laban children's book hit the shelves in Sweden. The actual name in Swedish is "Lilla Spöket Laban" which translates to Little Ghost Laban in English. It was created by a husband and wife team named Inger (author) and Lasse (illustrator) Sandberg.
Laban isn't a typical ghost and doesn't perform the usual haunting you might imagine. He was born in the basement of a grand castle named Gomorronsol, where he lives with his ghost family. Laban has a little sister ghost named Labolina, a Mum Ghost, and a Dad Ghost (the King of Ghosts). Residing in the castle above them are living human inhabitants, the King and Queen, and a playful Prince Mischief, who often interacts with Laban.
The entire cast of characters creates a dynamic world ripe for storytelling and reminds me a little of what I might have seen on Nickelodeon decades ago.
When Laban is old enough, Dad Ghost encourages him to begin learning the family business...haunting. Unfortunately, Laban is timid and doesn't have the ghost instincts of his father, so when it comes to scaring people, it never goes well.
Some of Inger and Lasse Sandberg's work on Lilla spöket Laban was translated and released in English as "Little Ghost Godfrey"—a name likely chosen to feel more familiar to an English-speaking audience while retaining the friendliness.
Over a dozen books were released in Sweden, as well as four 45-minute animated films, each containing six stories. They were created and released in the span of about four and a half decades. If you think about that, it means more than one generation had the opportunity to grow up with fresh stories of Lilla spöket Laban. The adventures of Laban tend to revolve around themes of overcoming fears and being true to one's nature. Stories like this might have also taught children to look beyond stereotypes, embrace differences, and perhaps even appreciate others for their unique traits.
For many children, Laban was their introduction to the concept of a ghost, forming a positive image that laid a foundation for a more nuanced understanding of characters and themes in literature and media later in life.
So, nothing at all like what we have in America.
Of course, none of this would have existed without the creators, Inger and Lasse Sandberg.
The Creators: Inger and Lasse Sandberg
The Swedish-born Inger and Lasse Sandberg began their journey in the 1950s, marrying their creative and romantic partnerships. They created over 100 cherished children's books, including the beloved Little Anna and Little Ghost Laban series.
Their work earned international acclaim, garnering nominations and wins for prestigious awards such as the Astrid Lindgren Prize and the Elsa Beskow Plaque.
Lasse Sandberg, illustrator of Laban, passed away in Karlstad on November 11, 2008, at age 84. Inger Sandberg, author of Laban, followed her husband on May 16, 2023, at the age of 92.
The Horrors of Old Books Lost in Emerging Technology
You know what's horrific about this whole thing? It was shockingly difficult to dig up information about a series of children's books that began over forty years ago. And it's not just because they're in Swedish. The sad reality is that the older a book, the more likely it goes out of print, never gets digitized, and then falls into obscurity as the world of technology passes it by.
It's even worse when the creator(s) have passed away because it means that the likelihood of anyone taking up the torch to champion their creation shrinks every year. Sure, hugely famous books get carried along with the tide of new tech, but only because they ride on the lovingly cracked spines of lesser-known books. Those lesser-known books, collectively, massively outnumber the international bestsellers, but they are the first ones to die.
Inger and Lasse Sandberg, and other creators like them, have infused immeasurable childhoods with magic and left an indelible impression of ghosts and likely ghost-related things (ahem: horror) onto people who are now in their adulthood.
From my own English-speaking perspective, I remember encountering either Little Ghost Laban, Lilla Spöket Laban, or maybe even Little Ghost Godfrey at various points in my life. To my utter disappointment, when I started snooping around on the topic, I kept running into wall after wall of problems of older works and a foreign language that technology could have easily solved—but didn't. Dead links, no digitization, no information, the list just goes on.
Here's an example. There's a two-minute video up on YouTube of Inger Sandberg speaking about the origin of the entire idea of Laban. For most videos, YouTube has a closed captions functionality you can turn on and even have it automatically translate into your language. It works decently well, but for some reason, on some videos, closed captioning (and translation) are disabled. I could (but won't) go into an exhaustive list of reasons why it might be disabled in this particular video, but the larger point is that this is a problem all over the place with all sorts of things—not just for translations but also accessibility for people with hearing impairments. People with visual impairments or other accessibility needs face similar problems.
The result is a world where things like books end up dead, buried, and forgotten.
All of these things form walls that keep us from fully realizing the global connections that we could have. They only serve to separate us from one another, but it doesn't have to be that way. We have the means to break the walls around us.
To that end, I found and paid a Swedish-English translator to transcribe and translate Inger Sandberg's words so that I could place them up on the Internet in hopes that someone, somewhere, sometime in the future, might find what they're looking for. You'll find the transcription and translation below.
Don't let old books become ghosts.
Relevant & Related
- Check out a 1-minute animation of Lilla spöket Laban. You can enjoy this without speaking Swedish.
- Watch a trailer for Little Ghost Laban that captures the spooky ambiance but friendly feel of the series.
- If you speak Swedish, listen to an interview with Inger and Lasse Sandberg recorded in 1993. If anyone reading this wants to translate the interview, I'd happily place it up and make it available for everyone.
- Listen to a little spooky track by Einar Arvidsson: The Revenge of Spöket Laban. It even has a bouncing Laban animation. 👻
- Normally, I'd link to where you can buy one of the Little Ghost Laban (or Godfrey) or even Lilla Spöket Laban, but sadly, I wasn't able to find any. If anyone knows where to find them in print, digital, or even where to buy or stream the animated films, I'd love to know.
You might enjoy these other articles:
- Casper the Friendly Ghost
- The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde
- Ghosts of Charleville Castle in Ireland
- El Coco, El Cucuy: The Child Eater
- Ann Radcliffe, Pioneer of Gothic Fiction
- Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood
- Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu
The little ghost Laban was invented in 1958 as a consolation so that Inger and Lasse's son Niklas would not be afraid of ghosts.
"It was actually a small child who came home terrified of ghosts. I don't know, they had been to some party, and perhaps someone had gotten hold of a sheet and dressed up, coming in and saying, 'boo, I am a ghost'. So, I came up with Laban, who was a, what shall we say, medicinal ghost for this little child.
And then Lasse became very happy because he was always chasing after fun scripts, so he said to write about this one. So I did that, and then it became Little Ghost Laban. These poor children were scared stiff by everything but not by the ghost. Then I thought this might help. I believe it did for quite a few, at least. It was also fun that Little Ghost Laban became very internationally successful, too, because there were no such ghosts on the continent and in the USA and so on.
Yes, I was very amused by traveling. Lasse found it terribly disgusting and didn't like to travel. He always wanted to be at home and draw. But, he also experienced that it was very fun to meet people in other places who liked our books. Getting to work with Little Ghost Laban and Little Anna and that part is just fantastic, and hopefully, they will remain just as relevant in another 50 years.
But yes, I had never imagined a career as a writer until Lasse kicked me into it. I can say that Laban is the character that means the most to me and Lasse."
— Inger Sandberg