John Ajvide Linqvist (2007)
From Death Ray 05.
Lindqvist is a best-selling Swedish horror author. His second, a zombie novel entitled Hanteringen av Odöda (Dealing with the Undead) is currently being translated into English. Like his character Oskar in Let the Right One In, he grew up in the Stockhom suburb of Blackeberg and was something of an outcast. Unfortunately Lindqvist did not have a vampire friend to come and save him, so he escaped by reading horror and studying magic, joining the Swedish Magic Circle when he was thirteen. He performed street magic in his teens, and for twelve years was a stand-up comedian. He has also scripted several TV shows. Here he talks to Death Ray about his newly translated vampire story, 2004’s Let The Right One In, and how its story relates to his own life.
Death Ray: It seems that Let The Right One In is autobiographical in nature. How much influence on the story did your own childhood have?
John Ajvide Lindqvist: Quite a lot. Oskar lives in the same apartment where I grew up, and though none of the terrible things that happen to him actually happened to me, things of a similar significance did. It is a story of love and revenge. Love I have found through other means since then, revenge I got through the book. There is a kind of poetic justice in the fact that the misfortunes of your childhood can be the basis for the fortunes of adulthood.
DR: You have said that you were an outcast. How did this manifest itself?
JAL: Same as with all the outcasts, basically. No good at football. Problems with my hairstyle. Never understanding what words you should use, what gestures you should make. And even if I would have known, not daring to. Being afraid of going to school, all that. Longing for some kind of saviour, someone who would take my hand and help me.
DR: Why did you decide to explore the mythology of vampires? As I understand it, they’re not a big part of Swedish folklore?
JAL: When I started writing the book I didn´t even know that the ‘monster’ would be a vampire. I am not fond of vampires at all. Nothing drew me to them, mostly I was repelled. But when I came up with the idea of drawing heavily on the mythological sidetrack of the vampire having to be invited in order to come into a room, I had to surrender. That you yourself have to invite the one who will save, love or destroy you. I couldn’t help it. So a vampire it was, and then I just rearranged the mythology in order to fit my story.
DR: You say that the book series Kalla Kårar, which presented a lot of US and British horror writers’ work in Swedish, had an influence on you as a youngster. Why is this so?
JAL: They were cheap, they were filled with gore and horrible stuff which to my twelve-year old self seemed like a proper way to describe what living felt like.
DR: How did you feel about more traditional Swedish kids’ authors like Astrid Lindgren?
JAL: I think that Astrid Lindgren is a master storyteller, especially her more fantasy-like books. A lot of the others have a little bit to much sugar powdered over them. Apple cheeks and hopscotch. But her influence on the Swedish story-culture is vast, and hence I use references to her in my stories too. You just can’t get past her, like you can’t get past Dickens in England.
DR: Horror is very popular in Scandinavia, but there are few Nordic horror writers. Why do you think this is?
JAL: No idea. But new things are coming up just now. Also, maybe Nordic writers are a bit more anxious about seeming ridiculous. And nothing is as ridiculous as horror that doesn’t scare. Nothing.
DR: Vampires often represent the outsider, as indeed the character Eli seems to in your book. What does the “outsider” mean to a society like that of Sweden? Do you think that its nature makes the idea of the lone vampire more powerful than it is in, say, America, which is a much less socially homogenous country?
JAL: Yes. Definitely. In that sense, Sweden has just been waiting for horror. We get anxious more easily than most other people, I think.
DR: Why did you do magic? Why was the Swedish Magic Circle such a homecoming for you?
JAL: Magic is a way of creating a secret world and a secret knowledge that those boys with cool hairstyles and cool shoes around you don’t have access to. A small world, yes, but your own. I cried quite a lot when I saw the first Harry Potter movie. I was waiting for that letter from Hogwarts too. It never came. Now I write books instead.
DR: You spent 12 years as a stand-up comedian. Why not write comedy?
JAL: I wrote a lot of comedy. For TV, for several other comedians, and I got a little bit too good at it. (The writing part, not the performing part which was just… acceptable). I knew the formulas, but when I deviated too much from them, people didn’t want to buy the material. Writing books I can deviate much more.
DR: What do you think the most horrifying thing is for Swedish people? Do the same things scare Scandinavians as everyone else, or does your average, modern-day Viking not frighten so easily?
JAL: I don’t know. I am still searching. When there is a national movement against my books I will know that I have succeeded.