Jeanette Lee Atkinson on Karl Ragnar Gierow (1980) page 9
A sceptic´s way
The spirit of mobilized Sweden does not emanate from Gierow’s dramas as it does from his poetry, but there can be little doubt that the war had a formative impact on them. The plays are dominated by Gierow’s concern with ethical and metaphysical issues. The existence of evil, the problem of power and human free will and individual responsibility are Gierow’s themes. The phenomenon of Hitler may well be reflected in Gierow’s fascination with cruel, amoral tyrannical figures. Apart from his one comedy, Av hjärtans lust (To One’s Heart’s Content), each of the dramas contains at least one such figure.
Evil appears basically in two guises in the plays. It is either a radical, incomprehensible force that intrudes into the human sphere at the slightest opportunity, or it is the product of human arrogance and egocentricity. Gierow equates the two in the allegorical Domkyrkospel (Cathedral Play; 1946), in which the protagonist breaks evil’s spell by guessing its name: ”The Evil One’s name is I.” Egocentricity in Gierow’s dramas is inimical to humanness even if it does not actually unleash evil. This is the lesson of Färjestället (The Ferry Landing; 1946), in which the young lovers Olof and Ingrid learn that life without pain, suffering, sacrifice, and anxiety is a living death.
Paradoxically, Gierow’s attempts to examine the nature and origin of evil lead him first to make it understandable, and consequently to make it human. The werewolf in Rovdjuret (The Beast of Prey; 1941) is both Satan’s agent and victim. He embodies the evil, guilt and self-destructive drives of the human race. He is a scapegoat, and his symbolic function is underscored by the fact that he has no name. He is simply ”the man.” The amoral, egocentric jarl Magnus in Helgonsaga (Saint’s Legend; 1943) is a similar villain-protagonist. Magnus is trapped in a pattern of brutality by a murder he committed in a futile attempt to spare his people from war. At the play’s conclusion he is transformed into a saint. Even Esbern in Färjestället, the most consistently evil figure in Gierow’s oeuvre, is given a touch of humanity in the final scenes. Moreover, Esbern is the mouthpiece of a radical materialistic philosophy. He justifies his cruelty on the basis of the dispassionate struggle for survival in nature, and thereby places it beyond the realm of good and evil. Herod in Den fjärde vise mannen (The Fourth Wise Man; 1970) is more weak than evil. He is manipulated by the High Priest, who in turn operates from a merciless political design.