Author's page

Ervin LÁZÁR
( 1936 - 2006 )

» The White Tiger (1971, 1998)
» The Seven-Headed Fairy (1973)
» Berzhian and Dideki (1979, 2006)
» The Four-Squared Round Forest (1985, 2004)
» The Goblin Factory (1993, 2002)
» Star Manor (1996)

Biography

1936 born in Budapest, spends his childhood years in the village Alsó-Rácegrespuszta
1950-54 attends grammar school in Szekszárd
1959 graduates from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungarian Philology
from 1958 contributes in Pécs to Dunántúli Napló, Esti Pécsi Napló and the literary Jelenkor
1965 on the editorial staff of Élet és Irodalom
from 1971 freelance writer
1989–1990 senior editor for Magyar Fórum
1989–2006 on the editorial staff of Új Idők
1992 editor for Hitel
2006 dies in Budapest

Major Prizes:
1974 Attila József Prize, 1980 The Arts Found`s Literary Prize, 1982 Andersen Diploma, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1996 Book of the Year Award, 1986 First Prize in the Hungarian Radio Theatre's Radio Play Contest, 1989, 1990, 1993 Best Children's Book of the Year Prize, the IBBY's Hungarian Committee's Prize, 1990 Tibor Déry Award, 1991 New Hungarian Radio Play, Author’s Prize, 1992 The Soros Foundation’s Oeuvre Prize, 1995 MSZOSZ Prize, 1996 Lajos Kossuth Prize, 1999 Pro Literatura Prize, 2005 Prima Primissima Prize

The White Tiger
1971, 1998

The White Tiger The only novel Ervin Lázár s wrote belongs to the genre of magic realism, the miraculous element making the parable of a moral quest possible. One day the central character, Gábor Makos, is trailed by a wonderful white tiger, an ethereal creature who understands human speech. Makos s company gets him cast out of society. But, as it turns out, the tiger is immortal and immensely powerful. Makos, standing up for justice in the totalitarian system of the time, incites a revolution, but ultimately becomes bored with his own power and abuses it. He is chased out of society as second time, and the tiger also turns into a stinking, carnivorous black beast.

The Seven-Headed Fairy
1973

Acknowledged as the best contemporary Hungarian author of fairy tales, Lázár creates his extraordinary characters with deep humanity and humour. They arouse a sense of familiarity and cosiness in the reader, and witness a deep life philosophy. Out of the tales of The Seven-Headed Fairy “The Lying Mouse” and “The Rabbit As Interpreter” stand out. The former is a parable of how human follies can be loveable (the mouse in question keeps telling tall tales and bragging, but by doing so he helps two friends by boasting about what he would do in their shoes); the latter shows how, with a little help, parties speaking different tongues can understand each other (the rabbit translates the horse’s neighing into the goat’s bleating and the other way round). In Ervin Lázár’s tales, an absurd sense of humour is always present, incapable of respecting authority.

Berzhian and Dideki
1979, 2006

The poet Berzhian (who received his name from 19th century poet Dániel Berzsenyi) constantly struggles against sadness. He gets up every morning on the right side of the bed and instead of ballads (bal means left in Hungarian) he writes jobblads (or right-lads). But one day he gets angry with mankind, closes his door and even hides his doorbell, first moving it from the gate to the front door, then behind the house and finally into a safe in the cupboard. Nevertheless he stands at the window, checking whether people really don’t want to visit him. When his friends appear ready to abandon him, he shouts at them and ultimately invites in the whole world. In the course of the tales, he turns out to have a new ability: whatever he wishes on a person while swearing becomes true. This leads to grave confusion, but at the end of the book (when he is filled with darkness from the rage he is in), he manages to wish something good (and consequently fills with light), and at the same time he manages to curse and drive away the frightful and wicked figure of darkness.

The Four-Squared Round Forest
1985, 2004

The Four-Squared Round Forest is a place where Sadness cannot break in, where the heroes of this series of tales live, whose epitaton ornans speak for themselves: Sigfrid Bruckner, “the emeritus circus lion”, Aromo, “the rabbit of unrestrainable brains”, Lajos Monster, “the warmest-hearted sloth”, Seraphin Horse, “the blue stallion”, Great Zoard, “the walking pine tree” and others. Almost all of them have a story of their own, in which the others take an active part, interfering, sympathizing, being jealous etc., like children. In “How Sleepy Lajos Monster Is”, his friends come up with the most horrendous ideas of how to keep Sleepy Lajos awake, until Micker-Macker (who is wiser than the rest) arrives and finds the obvious solution (“Well, go and sleep!”). “Vachkamati, the Great, Universal, Worldwide Impostor” is about the silly Vachkamati, who decides to make it rich by selling nut-size apricots in jars whose walls magnify their image; yet, he gives his apricots away for free to anybody ready to acknowledge that he is the world’s greatest impostor. In “The Lion with the Aching Tooth” Sigfrid Bruckner finally accepts everyone’s wise advice and reluctantly goes to see the dentist. And “Dömödö-dömdö-dömdödöm”, a sparklingly witty tale about the company’s poetry contest, is an eternal parable about the taming of all sorts of egos. In the last two tales, in the figure of a certain Small-Headed Big-Headed Morose-Borose, an outer, wicked power arrives, and for a while manages to terrorize the inhabitants of the forest, until they realize they can chase him away by neglecting him and being happy.

The Goblin Factory
1993, 2002

The Goblin Factory The plots, characters and settings of Ervin Lázár's stories conform to the fantasy worlds that children fashion for themselves; indeed, they often use the actual products of those dreams, reveries and anxieties as their raw materials. There is the figure of the Green Bogie, for example, whom adults have made up in order to scare children but who, little Susie learns when she meets him, is saddened that children are scared of him, since he wants only to comfort them. Lázár s memorable characters are always symbols of some fundamental state or attribute. Take, for instance, plump Princess Chrissie, who is advised to eat slimming pancakes, but in vain; or the giant Anil Omes, who sets off exploding showers of semolina pudding. Ervin Lázár is fully attuned to the language that children use and accepts the way their minds work, as his stories show.

Star Manor
1996

Star Manor (Csillagmajor) (1996) Ervin Lázár is best-known for his excellent tales, and indeed, his fiction for adults does not lack the elements found in fables. His novel, The White Tiger, belongs to magic realism, and his book of short stories, Star Manor, depicts how miracles enter the everyday life of a village community. The stories are set some time in the first half of the 20th century, in the fabulous namesake of the writer’s home village: instead of Alsórácegrespuszta (Lower- Gooseberry-Plain or -‘Wasteland’) it is called Rácpácegres (Goose-Boose-Berry). Most of the stories are seen through the child’s eye yet from the adult’s distance. Ervin Lázár individualizes his protagonists with a gesture or a turn of speech; his world, depicted with a rich evocative power, is often compared to those conjured up by Andor Endre Gelléri or Kálmán Mikszáth. The stories of Star Manor can be read as an initiation. In the first stories, the element of miracle resembles a dream or tale: a small boy meets a giant on his way home (“The Giant”); a strange figure in white shirt (perhaps dead), collects corn-cobs with the children (“Star Manor”). Then miracle enters the adult world: an angel arrives (“The Thief”), then the devil himself (“The Blacksmith”). Later on, something more is at stake: miracles embody people’s desire for something greater, cleaner, something true and defensible. Oxen help to straighten Mistress Széni’s painfully crooked back (“The Mistress”), but when this becomes unachievable (when the old lady dies), the oxen fall to their knees in their vain effort. Thus the story gains a ballad-like perspective. In three of the stories the community is confronted with a fleeing, lonely person. In “The Woman” a young woman (recalling the Holy Virgin) and her son are sheltered and hidden by the villagers; when her pursuers turn up, the whole village becomes invisible, and they cannot be captured. The hero of “The Prowler” is likewise fleeing from something. Although he is provided shelter, he is not defended from the murderer spying upon him, so his body goes on bleeding even after death, reminding the people of their indifference. Finally “Knot-grass” portrays an old Schwabian couple fleeing police translocation; they cannot be hidden, but in the long grass they miraculously disappear from the soldiers’ weapons. They die there, and turn into knot-grass themselves. A villager hears them (now two flowers) crying, and replants them in the Schwab cemetery of the neighbouring village. The dwellers of this half-real, half-imaginary village survive the horrors of the 20th century (world war, persecution, translocation), but they are not armed against the depredations of civilisation: “The Box”, that is, television, swallows them all. In the last stories, the dead town appears, and there are two different answers to the question it raises. One is the story of the young boy who, fleeing from boarding school and slowly finding his memories and his identity, takes his dead parents’ place and restores the town to life (“The Flight”). In the other story, an adult son calls his aged mother to the city (“The Well”). “In view of Ervin Lázár’s biography and his relationship with his homeland, the two kinds of attitude may gain a symbolic meaning: the writer, who has left the slowly dying town for the city, cannot return to the world of his childhood, but with words (naming), writing, storytelling, he can help to keep alive Alsórácegrespuszta that has become Rácpácegres. Alsórácegrespuszta has died, fulfilling its fate as indicated by its name” (‘puszta’ means wasteland, something that gets wasted), “but Rácpácegres, this ’textual settlement’ (whose name may lack the word ’puszta’ on purpose) will live on, in Ervin Lázár’s star manor.” - Zsófia Szilágyi

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