Short summary - The Fall of the King - Johannes Vilhelm Jensen

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - The Fall of the King
Johannes Vilhelm Jensen

The Danish king Christian II (or, according to the old Danish form of this name, Kristjern II) is a rather bright personality in the history of Scandinavia. He ruled Denmark and Norway from 1513—1523. and Sweden in 1520-1523, fought for power for another nine years, allowed himself to be lured to Denmark in 1532, allegedly for negotiations, was captured and after that he spent another twenty-seven years in prison in the castles of Sønderborg and Kalundborg. The fall of King Kristjern is the failure of his attempt to restore the great northern power that existed in the form of the so-called Kalmar Union (was concluded in 1397) consisting of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The fate of the king and his country is shown by the author in a special way - on the example of the fate of Mikkel (a collective name for a Dane, like Ivan for a Russian), the son of a village blacksmith, a learned student and a soldier. There is no need to say that the life experience of Mikkel and the people associated with him is unsuccessful, just as the attempt of the great Danish king to revive the former state turned out to be unsuccessful. But first things first.

The young lanky schoolboy Mikkel, nicknamed the Stork in Copenhagen, wanders around the city at night in search of food and impressions. He stumbles upon a cheerful company of German landsknechts, and they, good-naturedly joking at the student's appearance and hungry appearance, accept him into their society. The soldiers are frolicking, moving from one tavern to another; among them, Mikkel recognizes Otto Iversen, a Danish countryman, a young nobleman from the estate closest to Mikkel's native village. Having briefly fought off the company, Mikkel looks into one of the taverns and sees in it the divinely beautiful Prince Kristjern, who at that moment seemed to him, picking juicy berries from the vine. The prince, like all other new acquaintances of Mikkel, goes on a military campaign in the morning and hurries to enjoy the delights of earthly life. Mikkel is also talking about its possible transience, and Otto, who overtook him on the street, had long recognized Mikkel, although he did not show it; in Copenhagen, Otto is sad, he does not know anyone here, the next day, perhaps, death awaits him. Otto went to the soldiers in spite of his mother: she does not allow him to marry Anna-Metta, a simple peasant girl, and he and Anna-Metta love each other; Probably, Mikkel met Anna-Metta?

Mikkel does not answer the open-minded barich; he knows that sometimes it is more tactful and profitable to remain silent. Therefore, he does not share with Otto his dreams of Susanna, a girl living in the house of a wealthy Jew, Mendel Speyer (is it possible that she is his daughter?). Sometimes Susanna goes out into the garden adjacent to the house, and Mikkel from a distance, from behind the fence, watches her with adoration, not daring to approach her. But on the same night, a little later, after parting with Otto, Mikkel sees a hole in the fence of the garden and becomes an involuntary witness to the almost accidental seduction of Susanna by a young baric. The next morning, Otto sets off with the army, and Susanna, convicted by the night watchman of adultery, is expelled from Copenhagen along with her old father (the townspeople are especially strict with the newcomers), having previously subjected the guilty to the humiliating punishment of “carrying stones outside the city walls”. Watching the girl from the crowd, Mikkel sees on her face not only suffering, but also an expression of satisfaction - she clearly enjoys suffering: now he knows that he will certainly take revenge on the baric for outraged love.

Mikkel's wanderings around Copenhagen continue for several more days. He turns to the local theologian and influential clergyman Jens Andersen with a request to send him, Mikkel, to study at a foreign university, but does not pass the exam, which the theologian immediately gives him on the go. Mikkel also fails to make a deal with the devil, for which he visits the cemetery chapel at the dead of night. In the end, the schoolboy who has fallen and gone on a spree is expelled from the university, and he has no choice but to return home to his native village, where his father and brothers cordially meet him. But in the village, Mikkel meets again with Anna-Metta, who has turned from the red-cheeked laughter, as he remembered her four years ago, into a written beauty. Mikkel falls in love with Anna-Metta, but she has not forgotten and loves her Otto. Overwhelmed by conflicting feelings, Mikkel takes her by force to the other side of the fjord, and the dishonored girl does not dare to return home; she is hired as a servant in the house of a rich peasant, and Otto, who returned from the campaign, having learned about the misfortune that befell her, resignedly returns to his family estate Moholm. He thinks he can't help her.

It takes about twenty years. Mikkel becomes a professional soldier. One day, Bishop Jena Andersen sends him to accompany a messenger to the king, who was besieging Stockholm at that time. The messenger is a rosy-cheeked twenty-year-old handsome man of an open and friendly disposition, without thinking twice, confides his deepest secret to Mikkel (as he probably did this a thousand times already): Axel (that is the name of the young man) wears an amulet on his chest, presented to him at the age of eighteen by the old Jew Mendel Speyer. In the amulet lies a letter in Hebrew indicating the place where Axel can get wealth for himself. Someday Axel will show the letter to a priest well-versed in languages, but only at the moment when he departs for the other world, so the secret will be preserved more firmly.

Mikkel and Axel carry out their assignment. In Stockholm, both warriors participate in lavish celebrations on the occasion of the Swedish coronation of King Kristjern and become eyewitnesses of the so-called "Stockholm bloodbath" - the mass execution of the high Swedish nobility and wealthy citizens accused of heresy - in such a radical way, the king intends to break their resistance and forever resolve the issue of the unity of the northern countries under his hand. Mikkel watched the execution with his own eyes, standing among the soldiers guarding the place of execution; Axel, on the other hand, saw the execution from the window of the house, where he had amused himself shortly before with Mikkel's mistress, whom they had brought to their common apartment from the "fun ship" - a floating brothel from the glorious trading city of Lübeck.

The spectacle of the execution makes such a heavy impression on the hero that he falls ill and turns to God for help. Axel nurses the patient: at Mikkel’s offer to read him the cherished letter (since Mikkel is dying anyway), Axel refuses, he is sure that Mikkel will survive (and neither of them know that their common mistress from the “fun ship” has long stolen the paper from the amulet ” Lucia). Such a noble gesture on the part of a successful rival and the son of his enemy inflames hatred in Mikkel ... and he recovers. Axel, on the other hand, happily marries the daughter of a member of the city magistrate who he likes. However, a serene family life is not for him, and soon he goes back to Denmark (just to look at his old love and immediately return to Stockholm to his wife), but loses his way and almost dies in the winter "primal" forest, where he is picked up by the forest man Kesa, who lives with his daughter in a lonely hut. And in their house, too, the simple-hearted and friendly Aksel is accepted as the best guest, and Kesa gives him the most precious thing without hesitation - her daughter. But spring comes, forest loneliness becomes a burden for Axel, and he goes on.

A little later in the same year, Mikkel, who was in his native places, hears a rumor about a rich wedding being celebrated nearby. Inger, the illegitimate daughter of Anna-Metta and Mikkel, is given in marriage to the rich and handsome knight Axel. Aksel finds and invites his older friend to the wedding, but Mikkel refuses, he is afraid of the past. Then Axel escorts him on his way to the other side of the fjord, and here, in a fit of inexplicable hatred for fate, Mikkel attacks Axel and wounds him in the knee, he does not want Otto's son and his rival to be happy. A few days later, Axel, abandoned by everyone, dies from Antonov fire - gangrene.

Meanwhile, things are not going well for King Kristjern either. He twice conquered Sweden, and twice she fell away from him. In addition, in his rear, in Denmark, the nobility grumbles. In the end, the king is forced to flee from Jutland (this is the largest Danish peninsula) to Funen, where he is promised help. Norway is also behind the king. Kristjern is ashamed of his flight and, having almost reached the island, orders to turn back, but when he is again off the coast of Jutland, he understands that his return is unreasonable, and orders to rule on the funen again. So in throwing along the Small Belt back and forth the night passes. The king has lost his former confidence, which means that the king has fallen.

Many years pass. Mikkel, an experienced participant in almost all European wars of that time, makes a pilgrimage to the holy places in Jerusalem and Italy, after which he returns to his native village. He finds his older brother Niels and three adult nephews behind military preparations: all over Jutland, noble estates are burned and robbed, peasants gather the people's militia to help Christjern, captured by the nobility. Mikkel is already in years, he has seen enough wars, and he does not want to go along with the peasants: he will serve the king in a different way. On the ruins of the burned estate, Moholm Mikkel discovers the corpses of the aged Otto Iversen and the wealthy peasant Steffen, the ex-husband of Anna Metta, who died long ago, lying together. So all her men met, Mikkel sums up.

At first victorious, the peasants were defeated by the German landsknechts of Johann Rantzau (he used muskets against the peasants with firearms). Mikkel is served in the service of the king imprisoned in Sonderborg Castle. In the last episode of the novel, he goes from the castle to the healer and warlock Zechariah in Lübeck to resolve the king’s tormenting question: does the Earth revolve around the Sun, as Mikkel, who has heard a lot of newfangled theories in Italy, claims, or does the Sun go around the Earth, as it was believed from old times? Having experienced a series of comic adventures associated with senile infirmity, militant manners and addiction to drinking, Mikkel gets to the goal, but only in order to compromise Zacharias, who, as it turned out, put ingenious experiments on a living person. Struck by the cruelty of his experiments, Mikkel blurts out about them in a drunken stupor, and Zacharias, like his experimental creature, was conceived in Sønderborg Castle by King Kristjern himself! - publicly burned. Mikkel is brought to the castle, half paralyzed, and he indifferently listens to the news that is being told to him: in the castle they live, waiting for the arrival of Mikkel, his granddaughter - a young deaf-mute Ida, the illegitimate daughter of Inger and Axel, and the itinerant musician Jakob who takes care of her, who once felt sorry for the abandoned child . Never getting out of bed, Mikkel dies six months later with the firm conviction that he did not know happiness in life.

Equally disappointing is the outcome of the life of King Kristjern, who has grown decrepit in prison, but has not completely lost his spirit. After his reign, the author concludes, Denmark as an independent state "fell out of history." Time, as Jensen proclaims in the pages of the novel, is "all-destroying", and it is incommensurable with the throwing, thoughts or hopes of an individual or entire nations.