Short summary - The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen) - Selma Lagerlöf

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen)
Selma Lagerlöf

On New Year's Eve, three drunkards remember the legend. According to her, the last person who died in the current year, if he sinned a lot, will manage the Ghost Carriage throughout the year, which brings the souls of the dead. One of these drunkards, David Holm, dies at exactly midnight...

Small Swedish town, early 20th century. Edith, a young social worker serving in the Salvation Army, lies in her bed on New Year's Eve, dying of tuberculosis. Before she dies, she wants to see David Holm again, whom she has been taking care of lately. They have a special relationship: Holm, a degenerate alcoholic, was the first to come to the newly opened welfare center exactly a year ago. It was from him that Edith contracted tuberculosis. She wanted to help him, but he refused.

A little later, Edith realized that she loved David. When she found out that her lover was already married, but the family left him, she convinced David's wife to return. Now Edith feels guilty, because since then Holm began to treat his family even worse, in addition, he wants to infect his children with tuberculosis. Edith intends to make things right one last time.

David at this time is sitting with his drinking companions in the cemetery and tells them a terrible story about the driver, which he heard from his friend George. It was Georg who taught David to drink, and he himself died last year. In a drunken company, a fight breaks out, Holm receives a strong blow and loses consciousness.

At this moment, the church tower clock strikes, midnight comes. And then, with a terrible creak, the Death Wagon appears. And the driver is none other than the late Georg. Now George must hand over the reins to David, and he will become a driver for a year. Hol refuses. Georg ties him up and throws him into the wagon.

Now the two of them are looking for the people David loved and cherished the most. First they go to the dying Edith. When Holm finds out that the girl loved him and still loves him, he turns white as a sheet and falls to his knees in front of Edith. Edith can die in peace. Georg pulls her soul out of her cold body.

Then they go to prison, where David's younger brother is sitting, who persuaded him to kill. Now his brother is dying. He repents that he did not keep the promise he made to the sick child. David promises his brother to fix everything. David's brother can die in peace.

Finally, David and Georg go to Holm's wife. She wants to kill herself and the children, because she cannot stand life with David and sees no other way out. Holm feels the loving spirit of Edith pour into him, and for the first time in his life he shows tender fatherly feelings towards children. David asks to return his soul to the body. As punishment for leading David down the wrong path, George will remain Charioteer for another year.

After a fight with drinking companions, David comes to his senses, returns home and begins to take care of the children and his wife. He becomes a decent person and never harms anyone again.