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Dossier : Mythes et réalités de l'Arctique

Adventures in a Borderless Land: Myth, Modernity and the Environment in Máret Ánne Sara’s In Between Worlds (2014)

Silje Solheim Karlsen
p. 95-130


La littérature fictive sami s’est construite traditionnellement par rapport à la tradition narrative et la mythologie sami, où la relation entre l’homme et la nature est un thème central. Récemment, la littérature sami a interrogé également des thèmes comme les conflits sur le lieu et l’identité, la propriété des ressources naturelles et le changement climatique. Dans cet article, le roman fantastique Ilmmiid gaskkas (Entre les mondes, 2013) de Máret Ánne Sara servira de point de départ pour une analyse de ces conflits ainsi que pour une discussion s’inspirant de la décolonisation et de l’écocritique sur le dépassement des frontières, les mythes et la modernité dans le Sápmi.

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  • 1 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, transl. Laura A. Janda, Guovdageaidnu, DAT, 2016, p. 7.

They say you can find eahpáraččat, mylings, everywhere. Haunted souls once left in the forests or the mountains to die. Alone. Sentenced to eternal suffering. They say that eahpáraččat live between worlds. […] They also say we share land and water with more beings than we know. They say the ulddat, the subterraneans, wander among us here on earth, that they live like us and look like us. They wander with flocks of white reindeer, and only reveal themselves to the eyes of the select. Can this be true ?1

  • 2 The novel was originally published in Northern Sámi in 2013, by the Sámi publisher DAT. A Norwegian (...)

1This passage, from the ending of the prologue to Máret Ánne Sara’s novel for young readers Mellom verdener2 (In Between Worlds, Ilmmiid gaskkas in Sámi), refers to ancient Sámi myths about eahpáraččat, mylings, and ulddat, the nether- world people, and queries whether those stories can really be true. Despite the mythical opening, the novel’s world is contemporary; the protagonists are the two teenagers Sánne and Lemme, a pair of Sámi siblings who live in a village in northern Sápmi with their mother Rijá, father Joha Joansu and the dog Čorre. However, while modernity is manifest in their life world – in cellphones, TV shows, fashion as well as their interests, such as shopping and riding motocross bikes – the family lives on traditional reindeer husbandry, which constitutes a central part of their life. By ignorance, or accident, the youth end up in the nether- world, and here they face some trials they must overcome to be able to return to the real world.

2Sápmi is a border area, or an area without borders. Likewise, Máret Ánne Sara’s novel establishes a space where borders are challenged and transcended. In Between Worlds is a fantasy novel drawing on old Sámi oral sources, while set in a distinctly modern society. In fact, the intersections of tradition and modernity is one of its key topics – as the novel explores how past, present and future are intertwined. The novel inscribes itself into a particular political conversation, dealing with both the climate crisis and the difficult situation of the Sámi as a nature people living in close contact with nature, and this raises some questions: Does the novel sign up in a traditional discourse of civilization critique where Sámi culture are presented as an idyllic state of nature based living? How are the motifs of border-crossing related to disputes about tradition and modernity, place and identity and to the issue of ownership of land, natural resources and culture? In the following, this article will attempt to answer these questions through a close reading of the novel drawing on perspectives derived from eco-criticism and decolonization. However, before immersing in the novel, a historical, cultural and thematic contextualization will be fruitful.

Sápmi, sámi literature and environmental perspectives in literature

3The novel takes place in the subarctic border area Sápmi. Sápmi is located in Northern Europe, and stretches over four countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. On the north it is bounded by the Barents Sea, on the west by the Norwegian Sea and the eastern part includes the Kola Peninsula. The largest part of Sápmi lies north of the Arctic Circle, and the region is inhabited by Sámi, Kven, Swedes, Finns, Russians and Norwegians, as well as many other people of different nationalities, and thus comprises a multitude of identities, histories, cultures and experiences. Just as the physical aspect of Sápmi has changed and still changes as a result of time and modernization, prevailing conceptions of the area are reinterpreted and amplified as well – by people, other places, in myth and literary representation. Every place has a personal and subjective content, at the same time as it carries forms of collective memory. So has the region of Sápmi, and this can also be mirrored in the Sámi literature.

  • 3 Vuokko Hirvonen, “Samisk barnelitteratur – mellom lokal og global kultur”, 2014, [http://utstilling (...)
  • 4 Beret Wicklund, Sámisk litteratur i norskfaget. I Norsk 5-10. Litteraturboka, Oslo, Universitetsfor (...)
  • 5 Ibid., p. 171.
  • 6 Ibid., p. 172.

4Written Sámi literature is a recent phenomenon. The first Sámi novel (Beaiveálgu, in English: Dawn), written by Anders Larsen was published in 1912, but Sámi writing was not published regularly until the end of the 1970s, alongside a growing awareness of Sámi culture and the Sámi people’s own development of a cultural, linguistic and social awareness. With a new pedagogical comprehension of the value of reading in one’s mother tongue, Sámi women used the Sámi stories they told their children as a primary inspiration in writing children´s books. This includes the first children’s book in the Sámi language, Ámmul ja alit oarbmálli (Ámmul and the Blue Cousin) by Marry Aslaksdatter Somby, published in 19763. Despite the Sámi revitalization process that started in the 1970s, not more than about 200 titles of children´s literature in Sámi had been published up to 2014, 70% of these written by female authors4. Thematically, the majority of Sámi children’s literature revolves around some main perspectives. It brings forward Sámi culture and show upbringing in traditional Sámi culture in books about reindeer herding and life in Sápmi; it underlines the importance of balance between nature and humans, showing a deep respect for nature and knowledge of how to live off nature without destroying its ability to reproduce resources5. Myths and collective memory are typical elements of Sámi literature, often building on ancient storytelling traditions with muitals, legends that could be true, and maínnas, fictional fairy tales6.

  • 7 Vuokko Hirvonen, “Sámisk barnelitteratur”, op. cit., p. 4.

5Even though most Sámi literature still draws on oral sources, incorporating Sámi tradition and culture with reference to the Sámi ontology, the recent years have also witnessed a new literary output for children and young adults which integrates the real world and fantasy7. One of the contemporary Sámi authors that integrates Sámi mythology with the fantasy genre is Máret Ánne Sara (born 1983). She is a Sámi artist, author and journalist from a reindeer herding family in Kautokeino, in Norwegian Sápmi. She has published two novels, the debut book In Between Worlds was nominated for the Nordic Council’s Children’s and Young Literature Prize in 2014. The sequel, Doaresbealde doalim, was published in Sámi language in 2014 and has not yet been translated into other languages. In her art, Máret Ánne Sara often deals with political and social issues, as in In Between Worlds, where environmental issues are connected to decolonization and indigenous people’s rights.

  • 8 Nina Goga, “I begynnelsen var treet. Økokritisk lesning av omformingen fra et stykke tre til gutt i (...)
  • 9 Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism, London – New York, Routledge, 2012, p. 13.

6In the Norwegian literature for children and young adults we find a good deal of the new environmental and ecological orientation in fantasy, dystopias and futuristic novels, as well as in the so-called cli-fi (climate fiction) genre8. This may be because the most important narrative devices in this literature lend themselves particularly well for thematizing the climate crisis and other problems of man and nature. Typical features for fantasy literature such as playing out stories in parallel worlds, offer a flexibility that allows authors to approach ecological issues in unique ways – for instance by exploring predicted catastrophes. In Greg Garrard’s view, pastoral and apocalyptic writing are the two most important genres for ecological literature9. Pastoral, or pastoral ecology, tends to display nostalgia for pristine nature, and set countryside idylls above civilization. Apocalyptic fiction, however, is born from crises, staging doomsday scenarios in a fictive future. In simple terms, we might say that the pastoral is nostalgic and romanticizes time past, while the apocalypse is proleptic, warning of the consequences of failing to take action to take care of nature.

  • 10 Carolyn L. Burke, Joby G. Copenhaver, “Animals as People in Children’s Literature”, Language Arts, (...)
  • 11 Nina Goga, “I begynnelsen var treet”, op. cit., p. 19.

7According to Burke and Copenhaver, the fantasy genre allows us to “critically explore that which we would not be comfortable exploring directly”10. Fantasy fiction authors can use this flexibility to criticize or comment on elements in contemporary society, as in In Between Worlds where the author is introducing elements in a parallel world to shed light over this world. Sara is clearly trying to raise awareness of the climate crisis and the exploitation of both people and nature, and hence this novel indulge in a recent perspectival shift in Norwegian literature for children and adolescents from an anthropocentric to an ecocentric literary perspective, moving from a human-centered outlook to a more holistic idea of life11. Nevertheless, the novel also presents some ideas that assume a critical and pragmatic perspective on the relationship between humans and nature.

8Entering between worlds in the borderless Sápmi, the article will first examine how conflicts between tradition and modernity concerns landscape, environment and relationship between people; secondly, it will address the relationship between nature and culture, humans and non-humans. As an overall backdrop, the analyses will relate to questions concerning exploitation of nature and people from a perspective of decolonization.

Conflicts between tradition and modernity

Land – for reindeer herding or motocross?

9Part I of In Between Worlds moves right away from the mythical world of the prologue to an ordinary day in a modern Sámi community, with Lemme riding his motocross bike and Sánne with her friends on a shopping spree. Then, in the afternoon, the whole family go to the slaughter pen to stock up on reindeer produce for the winter. This part is structured in its entirety around motifs related to tradition and modernity. On one side, there is the work in the enclosure, the slaughter of reindeer and traditional work afterward, as well as the expectation that the children should participate in tradition in the future:

  • 12 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 26.

The kitchen was a chaotic mess. Intestines and their contents, blood and meat, were scattered everywhere. Yesterday nobody had the energy either to rinse the intestines, clear out or boil the meat. So they had to do it all today. No rest, even on a Sunday […] Of course, Sánne would soon have to start preparing blood sausages herself. Squeezing out all the innards and rinsing the intestines. Tasting the raw blood to measure its saltiness, and the worst thing : clean up after this grimy work. But not yet. In a few years, perhaps…12

10But Sánne and Lemme are also occupied with their hobbies – motocross riding, shopping, arguing on the sofa about cell phone chargers and what to watch on TV. Early in part I we encounter two motifs that are intimately bound up with the novel’s exploration of tradition and modernity: the motocross track and the mythical “devil child”. The first chapter opens with a spine-chilling episode:

  • 13 Ibid., p. 10.

Come on ! Scream your lungs out ! Just like that ! The cry cut through the air and Lemme twisted even harder. He loved this. The feeling of holding all the power in your own hands. It was he, alone, who called the shots now. He squeezed hard. Used his whole body […] It was essential to know when you had to loosen the grip and when to tighten it again. He was the kind of person who could handle power, and now he felt almost possessed. […] Now he heard someone approaching from behind. He had to get away. They must not be allowed to catch me !13

  • 14 Ibid., p. 30.

11However, what first appears to be brutal violence turns out to be Lemme riding his bike on the motocross track. Motocross is a passion for him, and he cannot wait to ride the new track between the town and the family home. For Lemme and Sánne, the cross track is a milestone in the development of their hometown – alongside a new mall with a bowling hall, a McDonald´s and a cinema. But for their father Joha Joansu it is a disaster for the Sámi way of living, and he cannot believe that his own children are captured in this urban development: “Have you become idiots? Are you completely insane? […] And where do you think we should move the reindeer nowadays, when the pastures are coated with ice?”14

12For Joha the motocross track is a serious menace against the family’s livelihood and the future of reindeer husbandry. Thus, although the deceptively narrated scene merely turned out to be motocross riding, its mimicry of aggression can be said to enact symbolic violence against the Sámi as a nature people. This sense is deepened when we learn that the intervention in nature to build a motocross track has awakened an eahpáraš or myling: the spirit of a dead child abandoned in the forest, longing for peace. In an ominous proleptic passage early on, Sánne is obliquely warned about the eahpáraš by a crazed man in the village. He

  • 15 Ibid., p. 14.

… stared at her with round, wide-open eyes. Blinking frenetically. He pulled at his dark brown hair that was tangled up in a single large tuft on his head, and then he started brandishing his arms in the air. – God our Father ! Devil’s spawn, troll child, all around ! Our faaaaather… ! Thrice, thrice. Amen, backward ! Amen !15

  • 16 Ibid., p. 37.

13Initially, the man’s babbling about the troll child is explained by the fact of the man staying at a nearby mental hospital, but it will soon be revealed that the eahpáraš he refers to actually exists and is connected with the urban development: the building of the motocross track has awakened the myling. After clashing with their father about the city development and the building of the motocross track, Sánne and Lemme run away to the track where they ride their bike until it runs out of petrol. On their way home on foot they encounter the eahpáraš. They are paralyzed by their own fear and the sounds emanating from the myling, and when Sánne finally recalls the crazy man’s admonition to recite the Lord’s Prayer, it is too late; “The child had completed the last circle anti-clockwise, and that was the last thing they saw before everything turned black.”16

Urbanization – the black fog

14When Lemme wakes up, he finds himself in a slaughter pen, in the meat grinder:

  • 17 Ibid., p. 47, 49.

Running for his life. The reindeer bulls of course weren’t bleating but they smelled of fear. The reek of the terror of death – SAAA-NNEE ! ! Nobody seemed to hear him, and wasn’t the sound emanating from his mouth while screaming the cry he had heard before in his own head ? […]. – Lemme, where are you ? […]. – I am here, Lemme whispered in a quivering voice. Sánne raised her head toward the voice and met the gaze of a trembling young buck cowering next to the fence.17

  • 18 Ibid., p. 49.

15Sánne and Lemme have woken up as reindeer in the netherworld, which is strikingly similar to what we would imagine to be a traditional Sámi society: the humans hold reindeer, are organized in siida, reindeer villages, and depend on an intimate interplay with the nature they live off. Through Sánne and Lemme’s struggle to come back to our world and their family, we learn about the netherworld people’s battle against the black fog; lethal black fog falls on their world, and wherever it appears everything perishes and nothing will ever grow again: “The reindeer pasture grew ever smaller, and the humans struggled more and more to gather the reindeer and move with the flock.”18

  • 19 Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism, op. cit., p. 34, 86.

16The second part of the novel is complex and pivots around contrasts; it thematizes both the climate and environmental issues and the situation of the Sámi as an ethnic minority and nature people in the modern era. The appearance of the black fogs are not explained, and we can only imagine what they are and why they have come. Where the city is in the real world, the fog is pitch black in the nether- world; where the motocross track is built in the real world, the fog is almost completely black; and where Sánne and Lemme live in the real world, on the outskirts of town, the fog is thinner and more transparent in the netherworld. The fact that the fog in the netherworld mirrors the urban development in the real world, makes it reasonable to interpret it as a picture of the changes imposed on nature in the real world by modern civilization. The novel’s world draws a distinct ecocritical opposition between nature and urban civilization and shows how economic interests and natural devastation clash with the values and needs of those who live off the earth. The netherworld can be seen in terms of the pastoral mode, as a nostalgic image of an ideal state of nature where humans live on nature’s own premises, but also as an apocalyptic warning of the dreadful consequences of failing to stop natural devastation19. The black fog in the netherworld suggests that humanity’s incursions into nature have already had vast consequences, even though we do not yet experience their full impact.

17The image of an original idyllic state is reinforced by the novel’s reference to the very first children’s novel published in the Sámi language, Ámmul og den blå kusinen (Ámmul and the Blue Cousin, 1976) by Marry A. Somby. There, the Sámi boy Ámmul marries a gani-girl, a child of the earth spirit, and together they visit her family in the netherworld, here presented as a utopia where people speak Sámi all the time and only listen to Sámi radio programs. There are no cars, and nature is plentiful. But here too there are warnings about pollution, when uncle Duja describes his visit to the human world, where he saw cars:

  • 20 Marry A. Somby, Ámmul og den blå kusinen, Oslo, Tiden, 1977, p. 21.

We don’t want stink boxes like that ! Our air is clean ; theirs has begun to be difficult to breathe. Yes, Ammul said – but it’s not only the cars that make it difficult to breathe. – No, aunt Jurre eagerly said, – there are bad black clouds coming from other directions too, I once heard that in the news.20

18Both Ámmul and In Between Worlds shed light on contemporary problems by transposing folk tale motifs and narratives in a modern setting. Somby’s book can be read as an early intervention in environmental debates, while Sara’s novel delves deeper into our environmental predicament, here examined through the predicament of traditional and modern Sámi reindeer herding and land and water rights. Literary ecocriticism examines issues such as pollution and ecological sustainability in order to shift the focus from an anthropocentric to an ecocentric mindset. The fantasy features in In Between Worlds promote an ecocentric worldview by creating a fantastical alternative society that apparently critiques the development of modern urban civilization, and presents the traditional Sámi culture as a pastoral idyllic state of sustainable living. However, looking closer, we find that the novel presents a rather complex picture of human exploitation of nature. On the one hand, it places the responsibility with the traditional anthropocentrism of Western Culture, describing conflicts between the Sámi and non-Sámi; on the other hand, the novel also explores how the conflicts between tradition and modernity exist within the Sámi community.

Sámi and Norwegians – “It’s their fault!”

  • 21 Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism, op. cit.

19In popular culture, representations of the climate crisis are often conceived in terms of distinct group conflicts. Dystopic and apocalyptic fiction in books or on film tend to present the issue as a battle between “good and evil”, where the good actors side with nature21. In Between Worlds presents clear conflicts between the Sámi and non-Sámi, as summed up by Sánne and Lemme’s father arguing with the motocross coach:

  • 22 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 41.

Father clenched his teeth. He pointed at the overturned soil and then wagged his finger in every direction where the machines had uprooted trees and dug up the soil. – You’re destroying our entire livelihood with this fucking pit. And with no permit either ! You haven’t even asked us ! The coach didn’t understand.
– The motocross track ? What has it destroyed ? There was nothing here before. A tiny patch of birch forest, used for nothing ? Father shook his head and spat on the ground. – There’s no use talking to you. Empty heads. You don’t understand anything. And care about nothing !22

  • 23 The novel is set in Sápmi, a transnational area, and the non-Sámi might therefore be Norwegians, Sw (...)
  • 24 Sametingsmelding om reindrift, Karasjok, Sametinget, 2016.
  • 25 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 40.

20Since the motocross track created the conflict that led to Lemme and Sánne’s disappearance, Joha Jonsu blames the coach as well as the “you” above – the Norwegians23 – for it. “It’s their fault!”, he says. In Joha’s view, the Norwegians are destroying nature and the pastures used by the Sámi since time immemorial. This refers to contemporary reality across Sápmi, where reindeer pastures face pressure from all directions; the construction of roads and power lines, and the pressure from national and corporate interests on mining and resource extraction24. In a sense, Joha goes even further, lambasting modern society as such for stealing from Sámi society and Sámi culture: “You ensnare or command our children to engage in this useless stuff, and create conflict amongst ourselves.”25 Joha feels that his children are unable to see the consequences of urbanization for the traditional Sámi way of life, as they welcome the cross track, cinema and shopping mall. In this way the novel articulates contemporary conflicts of interest within Sámi society in terms of pressures from inside as new generations, surrounded by modern Norwegian society, are seduced by urbanization and development at the expense of tradition.

  • 26 Ibid., p. 42.
  • 27 Hadi Khosravi Lile, FNs barnekonvensjon artikkel 29 (1) om formalet med opplaering. En rettssosiolo (...)

21The novel engages in the current existential and painful dispute about the right to land and water in Sápmi. But the motocross trainer, as a representative of the Norwegians, is given a voice too, presenting frequent misconceptions about Sámi in the Norwegian part of Sápmi: “Nothing? But you have all you need! All the mountains and tundra are yours. The rest of us aren’t even allowed to be near them! And you take money straight from the state’s coffers, to buy all your equipment. The newest motorcycles, snowmobiles, big cars. And cabins all around!”26 These ideas are very much alive among Norwegians and non-Sámi in Finnmark and pervade comments sections in the digital press and social media. A PhD thesis in Sociology from 2011 showed that half of the school teachers in Finnmark outside the Sámi language protection areas believe that the Sámi are demanding and whining; it also found that many Sámi children area bullied because of their identity27.

  • 28 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 42.
  • 29 Ibid., p. 73.
  • 30 Rauna Kuokkanen, “Border Crossings, Pathfinders and New Visions: The Role of Sámi Literature in Con (...)

22But the novel does not present clear-cut and polarized categories distinguishing between Sámi and Norwegian, and does not portray the cross coach as a pure villain. Even though he thinks “Damn greedy Sámi. Never content!”28, he himself goes to check on all the construction permits, consulting the municipal authority to make sure that the tracks are not built at the expense of someone else’s livelihood. He appears to be acting in good faith and his personal motivation for enlarging the track is presented as idealistic and positive, with the town’s youth in mind: “He repeated to himself that this motocross track would be a good thing for the youngsters. It would prevent drug and alcohol use by giving the youth something to do.”29 Joha sees the Norwegians’ incursions into nature as the consequence of ignorance rather than evil. This shifts the focus toward a lack of knowledge of Sámi culture and tradition, not just among the Norwegians, but also to some extent among the Sámi. The novel thus enters contemporary debates in the complex challenges of the Sámi border areas, involving locality, identity, ethnicity and environment. It criticizes the Norwegian majority society that gives traditional grazing land to corporations, creating pressure on traditional Sámi reindeer husbandry and pushing it aside. From this perspective, the novel latches on to an indigenous literary discourse that addresses colonization, demanding recognition as well as land and water rights30.

  • 31 Gry Paulgaard, “Oppvekst i tid og rom: Om betydningen av sted i studiet av ungdom”, in Med sans for (...)

23The conflicts introduced in In Between Worlds are not black and white. On the one hand, the construction and modernization of the landscape bring the black fog; on the other, the motorization and modernization of reindeer herding has led to a more stable work situation for herders, as Joha admits. The novel imagines how geography and locality impact the experiences of young people in a Sámi setting: while globalized modernity reduces distances and differences between center and periphery, and provides new opportunities even in rural areas, it also deepens the differences between the Sámi and the Norwegians. Locality is important for identity construction, and your sense of belonging is tied to how you see yourself31. But while belonging and identity are about social integration and similarity, locality can also accentuate differences. In In Between Worlds, the Sámi youth do indeed live “between worlds”: between traditional Sámi culture and modern Sámi culture; between Sámi society and the Norwegian one; between nature and culture. The black fog can nevertheless reach, devour and destroy all worlds, and Sánne and Lemme need to find out how to stop it and how to unite the worlds.

24Sámi mythology provides the story’s bottom line and narrative framework, but it is in the interface between tradition and actuality that tension is created – and also where the solution is to be found. In the underworld, Bigga, the noáide Sámi shaman) had tried to figure out the mystery of the black fog in order to preserve the netherworld people’s livelihood, but it has not been possible:

  • 32 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 79.

She was worried, because she knew that their world and their lives were in the hands of the others. Those whom she couldn’t reach, to whom she had no access. The only thing she or anyone could do was to wait and hope for positive change. Hoping that the key minds would resort to reason so that things might get better.32

  • 33 Ibid., p. 180.
  • 34 Ibid.

25The reindeer Sánne and Lemme come stumbling out of the fog, and Bigga realizes that Sánne and Lemme could be their saviors. But the young protagonists need to find out for themselves what creates the fog and how to get back to their own world. In this way, part II is a kind of Bildungs-journey for them, compelling them to get help in understanding, making connections and bringing out whatever capacities or knowledge they have about the traditional Sámi and modern worlds: “You must learn how to trust yourselves. You know the truth, because you can feel it in your body”33, Bigga says. “You have to understand the old Sámi mythology, find the eahpáraš and lay it to rest in order to come home again.” Bigga draws interesting parallels between the old and new world, between eahpáraš, the people of the netherworld, and the protagonists. “Just like you, the eahpáraš is dealing with fear and suffering. Just like you, it lived in its own world until something overturned everything. Likewise, it doesn’t understand why it has been awakened to an outcast state and eternal agony. I’m here to listen to everyone”34, Bigga says.

Negotiation between nature and culture

  • 35 Nina Goga, “Økokritiske blikk på barnelitteraturen”, Bøygen, 3, 2017, p. 81.

26Bigga talks to reindeer, grouse, foxes – in addition to both humans and mythical beings such as the netherworld people and the eahpáraš For Bigga, each and everyone is equally valuable. She has a perspective on nature that is eco-centric rather than anthropocentric, which means that she does not see humans as superior to other living beings. For Bigga, the relationship between humans and landscape is relational, not hierarchical. Nevertheless, it is questionable whether the novel promotes a perspective of anti-speciesism, putting non-human animals on an equal level with human animals. Eco-centricity and anti-speciesism in children’s and youth literature is often accomplished in narratives that give voices and language to animals, where animals and humans have equal rights and the world is seen from an animal viewpoint35. In In Between Worlds, Sánne and Lemme are transformed into reindeer, but it is unclear whether the metamorphosis can be understood as placing humans and animals on equal terms, in an eco-centric perspective, as non-human animals are seen as resources and not individuals throughout the novel. Lawrence Buell, a pioneering ecocritic, has emphasized literature’s capacity to generate ethical reflection, contributing to making the world a better place for both humans and animals, but equal terms could perhaps be interpreted differently from a Sámi point of view?

  • 36 Peter Singer, Animal Liberatio, New York, HarperCollins, 1975.

27On several occasions the novel takes the reader straight into the slaughter pen. In the first slaughter episode Sánne and Lemme help with the work, and the readers are invited to witness the natural process of slaughtering for food, clothes and equipment in the family kitchen. Subsequently, the protagonists again find themselves in the slaughter pen, but now having been transformed into reindeer. They are now potential victims and their death angst is described intimately and vividly, when a certain number of animals are to be selected for slaughter. But the youngsters do not condemn Sámi tradition, even when they feel the fear of the reindeer in their bodies. The novel does not sugar-coat reindeer husbandry and the slaughter of reindeer, but instead shows how the reindeer are herded and tended to, and how the Sámi carefully select which reindeer shall live and which shall be slaughtered in order to make the best us of the resources. Instead of arguing for a perspective of speciesism, a belief that all human beings have a moral status superior to that of non-human animals36, the text is more obviously focused on a compelling negotiation between nature and culture, in which an unsentimental use of natural resources coexists with a profound respect for nature and animals. We also see this complex representation of human-animal relationships in the appearences of their dog Čorre, who is not personified or anthropomorphized, but is treated strictly and roughly:

  • 37 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 21-22.

Father’s blood-stained hand shot through the air. The branch hit Čorre, who gave off a howl. – Get the useless dog into the car ! [Mother] was also tired and would not tolerate any whining. She did not worry about her husband being a bit rough with the dog. After all, he valued the working dog more than anyone else.37

  • 38 Lawrence Buell, The Environmental Imagination, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1996.
  • 39 Tone Birkeland, “Forhandling om natur – kultur. En økokritisk lesning av Jörg Müller og Jörg Steine (...)

28This type of relationship with animals appears to differ from the notion of the human-animal relationship in eco-fiction for young readers, underlining that humans are not ranked above other living beings38, and that animals have a value in themselves independently of their use value for humans39. Čorre’s value for the family appears chiefly tied to his work contribution, but at the same time he constitutes an important part of the whole and the community, like the other family members. The perspective on the relation between animals and humans in In Between Worlds is interesting and rather unusual, but a closer look at the underpinnings of its depiction of nature and the environment reveals that it provides a holistic vision of life, which is also characterizing the traditional Sámi way of living. In a holistic approach to life, one does not consider oneself separate from or outside the others, but rather as part of a larger process. The novel integrates environmental consciousness with a perspective on nature telling you can take from nature what you need, but not more. It thus brings forward lost life practices, and discusses human exploitation up against sustainable living.

Decolonization and ecological sustainability

  • 40 Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism, op. cit.

29As we have seen, the novel inscribes itself into a particular political conversation, dealing with both the climate crisis and the difficult situation of the Sámi people. Through the motif of border-crossing, and the intersections of tradition and modernity, the novel discusses Sámi identity, indigenous rights and the ideas of sustainable living. Through the alternation between the netherworld and our real world, the relationship between past, present and future is examined – presenting a holistic vision of life where all living creatures are in the same boat. The fictional exploration of environmental issues and the ethics of natural exploitation places In Between Worlds squarely in the eco-fiction genre. With typical features from fantasy, such as the use of a parallel world, the setting between worlds or in a borderless space, together with the transformation from humans to animals, the novel can be defined as an ecofantasy which reflects the Sámi understanding of the world. It relates to a specific understanding of the conviviality of nature, humanity and the environment. Through pastoral and apocalyptic modes, which Garrard argues are the most important narrative schemes within eco-fiction40, the novel discusses the relationship between tradition and modernity. The original pastoral idyll is embodied by life in the netherworld before the advent of the fog, when the netherworld people used nature for benefit and joy, harvesting from its surplus in a sustainable way. The apocalyptic dystopia emerges when economy trumps ecology, when urbanization and development on traditional pastures prevent an ecologically wise and sustainable use of nature, and all living things are actually at risk. The motif of the black fog, “the death fog”, is not only relevant for Sápmi, and the protection of Sámi landscapes and culture, but applies to interference in nature all over the world, in the form of urbanization, devastation and mindless exploitation of natural resources.

30The novel shows that the relationships and conflicts in the borderless landscape of Sápmi is complex. On the one hand, the majority society is to blame for giving traditional grazing land to corporations and allowing urban development in Sámi areas. On the other hand, the novel shows how the Sámi youth live between worlds, between traditional Sámi culture and what eventually will have to become a modern Sámi culture. Perhaps this is the most striking message in the novel: the need for a unifying modern Sámi culture. Due to the various forms of internal colonialism, several generations of Sámi have been prevented from learning their cultural practices and culture-based knowledge. They were sent in residential schools, where they were taught Norwegian or Swedish values, habits and behaviour. The break of generational continuation of one’s culture on a daily basis has had several consequences of which many are still present, as Sara’s novel shows. The dissociation from Sámi cultural practice, through modernity and through the Western education system, the Sámi youths have “immersed” into modern Norwegian society. The idyllic pastoral of the past is lost, there is a demanding need to save the future.

  • 41 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 176.

31The novel’s message is that the solution is to be found in traditional knowledge. Their journey through the netherworld shows the young protagonists how everything is connected, that old knowledge is still important, and that what is done in one place will have consequences elsewhere: “Nobody completed the sentence. They merely looked at each other in fear. It was painful, to admit your own guilt. All our land is devastated. We are to blame for the death fog.”41 Sánne and Lemme understand that making things better requires admitting responsibility. When they become aware that the modern way of life is unsustainable, they discover and assume ownership of their own culture, understanding how to use and develop it, taking charge of the future and their own lives. Now, they can also begin to repair the damage.

  • 42 Rauna Kuokkanen, “Towards an ‘indigenous paradigm’ from a Sámi perspective”, The Canadian Journal o (...)
  • 43 Vuokko Hirvonen, “Sámisk barnelitteratur”, op. cit., p. 6.

32The close-readings have shown how In Between Worlds – through its anchorage in mythology and sense of the power of tradition, together with questions concerning ongoing colonial practices – can be understood as a contribution to decolonization. According to both Hirvonen and Kuokkanen, use of oral literary tradition may promote decolonization. Kuokkanen points to how “a common view of Indigenous peoples is that stories tell who ‘we’ are. This includes stories of origin and of ancestors, world view, values and knowledge for everyday survival”42. When “the oral tradition is used in other ways, as a resource, and is reinterpreted to engender new ideas, rather than just retelling or stylizing the same story”, decolonization may occur43. The novel applies the myths of the eahpáraš and ulddat to contemporary concerns surrounding land rights, the marginalization of Sámi culture, Sámi-Norwegian disputes and, not least, environmental protection. The novels´s discussion of the conflictual relationship between Sámi and nonSámi, together with ideas of Sámi sustainable living must be seen in light of decolonization perspectives.

33Through motifs of border-crossing, both literally and symbolically, the novel shows how modernity and development devours landscapes and pastures, and subdues the holistic idea of nature and humans, the foundation of Sámi identity. In Between Worlds deals with issues of responsibility for ecological sustainability, social justice, the importance of caring for the Sámi cultural heritage and, crucially, combatting social conflicts and attitudes that oppose or silence it.

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1 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, transl. Laura A. Janda, Guovdageaidnu, DAT, 2016, p. 7.

2 The novel was originally published in Northern Sámi in 2013, by the Sámi publisher DAT. A Norwegian translation was published in 2014 and the English version in 2016.

3 Vuokko Hirvonen, “Samisk barnelitteratur – mellom lokal og global kultur”, 2014, [ámisk-barnelitteratur-mellom-lokal-og-global-kultur/].

4 Beret Wicklund, Sámisk litteratur i norskfaget. I Norsk 5-10. Litteraturboka, Oslo, Universitetsforlaget, 2018, p. 170.

5 Ibid., p. 171.

6 Ibid., p. 172.

7 Vuokko Hirvonen, “Sámisk barnelitteratur”, op. cit., p. 4.

8 Nina Goga, “I begynnelsen var treet. Økokritisk lesning av omformingen fra et stykke tre til gutt i Carlo Collodis Le avventure di Pinocchio. Storia di un burattino (1883)”, Barnelitterært Forskningstidsskrift/ Nordic Journal of ChildLit Aesthetics, vol. 8 (1), 2017, p. 18-28.

9 Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism, London – New York, Routledge, 2012, p. 13.

10 Carolyn L. Burke, Joby G. Copenhaver, “Animals as People in Children’s Literature”, Language Arts, 81 (3), 2004, p. 207.

11 Nina Goga, “I begynnelsen var treet”, op. cit., p. 19.

12 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 26.

13 Ibid., p. 10.

14 Ibid., p. 30.

15 Ibid., p. 14.

16 Ibid., p. 37.

17 Ibid., p. 47, 49.

18 Ibid., p. 49.

19 Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism, op. cit., p. 34, 86.

20 Marry A. Somby, Ámmul og den blå kusinen, Oslo, Tiden, 1977, p. 21.

21 Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism, op. cit.

22 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 41.

23 The novel is set in Sápmi, a transnational area, and the non-Sámi might therefore be Norwegians, Swedes, Finns or Russians. However, since Sara is from Norwegian Sápm and the novel has been translated into Norwegian, I have simplified and interpreted “the others” as Norwegian.

24 Sametingsmelding om reindrift, Karasjok, Sametinget, 2016.

25 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 40.

26 Ibid., p. 42.

27 Hadi Khosravi Lile, FNs barnekonvensjon artikkel 29 (1) om formalet med opplaering. En rettssosiologisk studie om hva barn laerer om det Samiske folk, PhD Thesis, Juridisk fakultet, Universitetet i Oslo, 2011.

28 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 42.

29 Ibid., p. 73.

30 Rauna Kuokkanen, “Border Crossings, Pathfinders and New Visions: The Role of Sámi Literature in Contemporary Society”, Nordlit, 15, Special Issue on Northern Minorities, 2004.

31 Gry Paulgaard, “Oppvekst i tid og rom: Om betydningen av sted i studiet av ungdom”, in Med sans for sted. Nyere teorier, M. Aure et al. (eds.), Bergen, Fagbokforlaget, 2015.

32 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 79.

33 Ibid., p. 180.

34 Ibid.

35 Nina Goga, “Økokritiske blikk på barnelitteraturen”, Bøygen, 3, 2017, p. 81.

36 Peter Singer, Animal Liberatio, New York, HarperCollins, 1975.

37 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 21-22.

38 Lawrence Buell, The Environmental Imagination, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1996.

39 Tone Birkeland, “Forhandling om natur – kultur. En økokritisk lesning av Jörg Müller og Jörg Steiners bildebok Kaninliv (1978)”, Barnelitterært Forskningstidsskrift/Nordic Journal of ChildLit Aesthetics, 7 (1), 2016.

40 Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism, op. cit.

41 Máret Ánne Sara, In Between Worlds, op. cit., p. 176.

42 Rauna Kuokkanen, “Towards an ‘indigenous paradigm’ from a Sámi perspective”, The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, 20 (2), 2000, p. 421.

43 Vuokko Hirvonen, “Sámisk barnelitteratur”, op. cit., p. 6.

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Silje Solheim Karlsen, « Adventures in a Borderless Land: Myth, Modernity and the Environment in Máret Ánne Sara’s In Between Worlds (2014) »Nordiques, 37 | 2019, 95-130.

Référence électronique

Silje Solheim Karlsen, « Adventures in a Borderless Land: Myth, Modernity and the Environment in Máret Ánne Sara’s In Between Worlds (2014) »Nordiques [En ligne], 37 | 2019, mis en ligne le 31 octobre 2020, consulté le 02 octobre 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Silje Solheim Karlsen

hørsteamanuensis i nordisk, UiT The Arctic University of Norway.

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