Vital Lead Larsen
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Vettel Lied Larsen’s new novel De stjernekyndige oozes the joy of storytelling – and the joy of discovery. By chance, the author discovered the almost unknown Austrian astronomer Maximilian Hill and his voyage to Vardo in 1768 to witness the transit of Venus. An astronomical phenomenon that occurs over periods of more than 100 years. By calculating the movement of Venus across the solar disk, it was possible to measure the distance between Earth and the Sun. At that time, expeditions were sent to many ends of the globe, the most important outpost being Vardo.
Vettel Lied Larsen researched historical documents and soon realized there was a possible story. The skeleton was there, but the body was missing. With “Lucia’s Last Voyage” two years ago, Vettel Lied Larsen showed that he had mastered the art of cooking an entertaining and exciting story with roots in old papers. And this time there was a lot to feed on: ambitious scientists, the challenges of space, and not least: a life-threatening journey from Vienna straight into the polar night with horse, cart and ill-equipped ship across one of the polar regions. The most dangerous stretch of sea in the world, the Norwegian Sea in late autumn. Once they arrived at Vardo, the astronomers had to build an observatory, which was supposed to be ready by June 3, 1769, the date of the transit of Venus.
In addition, there was a difficult problem: the astronomer Maximilian Helle Hof was a Jesuit. The Jesuits were unable to reach the Danish-Norwegian Empire. In the worst cases, they were subject to the death penalty. It was specifically the Danish-Norwegian King Christian V! Who invited Mr. Hale to make observations, so that he could then bask in scientific glory – if all went according to plan. A letter to the Pope settled the matter, but they could not be completely safe.
With “De stjernekyndige,” a monumental eighteenth-century narrative, the fall of 2023 will truly be the fall of historical fiction. Tore Renneberg opened the ball with “Lungeflyteprøven”, a drama from Saxony and the end of the 17th century. Thorvald Steen accompanied the attack on Constantinople in 1204. Lars Mitting’s “Skråpånatta” was the third and final volume in a trilogy that opened in the 17th century and ended in the years following World War II. In this sense, “De stjernekyndige” is a powerful contribution and a particularly entertaining and fascinating part of this great autumn history lesson.
Vetle Lid Larssen has chosen a well-known classic introduction to this large and complex canvas. It begins with the conclusion. A Norwegian Protestant priest, Jens Fenny Borchgrevink, struggles through the streets of Vienna in 1792 to talk to the very ill, elderly, and scandalized astronomer Maximilian Hill. A meeting that opens the door to great tension. Who exactly is this old man? Once upon a time the two were on a trip together to the distant city of Vardo, the northeasternmost city in Europe and the world.
Some of the tension stems from a mysterious letter from the American astronomer Simon Newcomb, written in 1882, 100 years later. In this way, the reader is presented with a somewhat confusing palette. How successful this move was is debatable. There is no doubt that the temperature in the narrative drops with such explanatory elements, which are repeated several times throughout the novel. But the narrative begins when new carpenter Vettel Lied Larsen unleashes his creativity and a space to work.
The young Norwegian astronomer Maximilian Hill and the young Norwegian theologian and botanist Borchgrevink take turns as voices in the story. Along with the Hungarian astronomer and linguist János Šajenovich who is appointed by Hell to be his assistant on the journey to the Far North, these three men, Hel, Šajenovich and Borchgrevink, are the main characters of the novel. With the poodle’s apostrophe as a convenient and silent addition.
The journey through dark Europe and rocky, partly roadless Norway to Trondjem, then the country’s scientific capital, is depicted with warmth and sweat. The atmosphere will also be fierce in Trondjem when the city’s notables host the elite of the Habsburg Empire. With a table of at least 20 dishes and doubling the number of bowls and bowls before departure, the Expedition is more dead than alive when it comes to battling the high seas. The author’s light and elegant pen comes into play in these surroundings.
Surprisingly, after Vittel Lied Larsen’s description of the horrors of the sea voyage, they all arrive alive at Vardø and the polar night. These three pious men have their own ambitions, prestige, special interests, jealousies, and very human qualities. Some are so humane that they should result in a collision and a fall. First and foremost, especially for the young Borchgrevink, who has ambitions that don’t quite match his talent. But he is diligent, knows botany and its theology.
In the small, cramped outpost of Vardo, a garrison town, the stage is set for games of many kinds. The Hungarian Šajnovich, also a skilled linguist, discovered to his astonishment that Sami was puzzlingly similar to his native Hungarian language. A revolutionary discovery that would later make the name Šajnovic famous in the history of the European language. There are many interesting side paths in this action-packed novel about the stars and planets. And Vettel-Leed Larsen manages to weave it together admirably without turning the astronomers into cardboard characters. They have a mind, a heart, and intense emotions, often of the dark kind.
Sometimes there can be too many words and actions that become overly melodramatic, but Vettel Lied Larsen is a man with a sense of timing and precise characterization. As the sun rises in the sky, the great and decisive observation approaches. Then the battle for the truth begins.
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