The most beloved Croatian author for children (and some grownups)
Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić is one of the most famous Croatian writers. She wrote novels, short stories and fairy tales for children. Ivana was nominated for the Nobel prize in literature four times and was the first female Corresponding Member of the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts, as it was known at the time.
Her works have been translated into all major languages and read across the globe. Her most famous works are The brave adventures of Lapitch (Croatian: Čudesne zgode i nezgode šegrta Hlapića) and Croatian Tales from Long Ago (Croatian: Priče iz davnine).
She was compared to Hans Christian Andersen by her contemporaries, as well as to Tolkien for her mastery in making completely new stories based on the elements of local mythology.
Well established roots & family life
Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić was born in Ogulin, on the 18th of April 1874. She is a member of the well known Croatian family Mažuranić. Her father Vladimir Mažuranić was a lexicographer, lawyer and historian. He is known as the writer of the first Croatian dictionary for history and law, published in 1882.
Her grandfather Ivan Mažuranić was a famous politician, Ban of Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia and a poet. His most popular literary work is The Death of Smail-aga Čengić (Croatian: Smrt Smail age Čengića).
Her grandmother Aleksandra Demeter was the sister of a famous writer and one of the key persons in the Croatian Illyrian movement Dimitrije Demeter. The whole family was well educated and provided an environment in which young Ivana could build her wide knowledge, while being mostly homeschooled.
She spoke German, French, Russian, English and Italian. The family moved to Karlovac, Jastrebarsko and, finally, Zagreb, where she lived until she married at the age of eighteen.
Ivana married a prominent politician and lawyer Vatroslav Brlić in 1892 and moved to his city of birth Brod na Savi, today Slavonski Brod. They had seven children and she devoted her life to her family and their education. Her most important task was to take care of the family but she still managed to be active in other spheres of her life.
Together with her husband, she was a member of the Croatian National Revival Movement (Croatian: Hrvatski narodni preporod) and even got a medal from Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer for her anti-Hungarian efforts.
She was a devoted mother and later when her children grew up, she enjoyed participating in the cultural life despite Cyclothymia diagnosed in 1933, a condition in which depression and hypomania alternate. Unfortunately, fighting with illness, she committed suicide on the 21st of September, 1938. She was buried in the family tomb, in the Mirogoj Cemetery, Zagreb.
Although she began writing poetry, essays and journals very early, she didn’t publish anything until the beginning of the 20th century.
Her most prominent works were written when she started to create stories for her children. She educated them through the stories that she wrote by using fantasy worlds and striking characters. Her primary role was the one of a mother and wife and despite the fact she always wrote, it wasn’t until the children grew a bit older, that she finally found some time for more serious writing.
Her first published book was The Good and the Mischievous (Croatian: Valjani i nevaljani) stories and songs for boys, that she self-published in 1902. Three years later she published a similar book, School and Holidays (Croatian: Škola i praznici), and in 1912, a book of poetry Pictures (Croatian: Slike).
Her breakthrough came a year later when she gained the attention of the literary audience with The Marvelous Adventures and Misadventures of Hlapić.
In 1916, she wrote another classic of Croatian literature for children, Croatian Tales of Long Ago. It is a collection of short stories and fairy tales, inspired by Slavic mythology. The original collection consisted of six stories.
Those are: How Quest Sought the Truth (Croatian: Kako je Potjeh tražio istinu), Fisherman Plunk and His Wife (Croatian: Ribar Palunko i njegova žena), Reygoch (Croatian: Regoč), Stribor’s Forest (Croatian: Šuma Striborova), Little Brother Primrose and Sister Lavender (Croatian: Bratac Jaglenac i sestrica Rutvica) and Bridesman Sun and Bride Bridekins (Croatian: Sunce djever i Neva Nevičica). Two additional stories were later added in the 1926 Croatian edition: Toporko and His Nine Brothers (Lutonjica Toporko i devet župančića) and Yagor (Jagor).
Some of her books were illustrated by renowned Croatian illustrators Ivan Antolčić and Cvijeta Job. The most important works of Cvijeta Job were the illustrations for Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić’s fairy tales. Many Croatian children are still connecting Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić’s fairy tales with the pictures made by Cvijeta Job in the 1960s and 1970s.
The last, unfinished book was the historical adventure youth novel Jaša Dalmatin, Viceroy of Gujarat (Croatian: Jaša Dalmatin, potkralj Gudžerata), in 1937. She wrote it based on her father’s research on a boy from Dubrovnik who was abducted by the Turks as a child and sold as a slave in Constantinople at the turn of the 15th to the 16th century.
Besides novels and short stories, I.B.M., as she was signing herself, wrote fables, articles, and essays for various publications. She also published historical material about the Brlić family. In 1930, her autobiography that she wrote in 1916 by the request of the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts was publicly presented in the Croatian Review (Croatian: Hrvatska revija). She was also engaged in translation and editorial work.
The Marvelous Adventures and Misadventures of Hlapić was translated into many languages, including Bengali, Hindi, Japanese and Parsi!
The British version of Croatian Tales of Long Ago was published in 1924 by renowned London publisher George Allen et Unwin, who became famous for publishing J. R. R. Tolkien. Ivana’s book was a big success in the UK. Two years earlier, the first American-English version was published in New York by Frederick A. Stokes Co. and, if you want, you can read it online on Internet Archive digital library or The Public Domain Review.
Cinematography & Legacy
In 1997, her novel The Brave Adventures of Lapitch was adapted to a children’s animated feature by Croatia Film under the name Lapitch the Little Shoemaker. The characters are shown as animals, rather than humans in the original work. The story follows the shoemaker’s apprentice Hlapić who leaves his evil master and sets out on an adventure. During his journey, he befriends Gita, a circus performer, and fights the evil Dirty Rat.
That was the most successful Croatian animated feature until 2009, with over 355 thousand viewers. It was translated and sold around the world. The feature was adapted to a series of 26 episodes. In 2013, Šegrt Hlapić became a movie, produced by Maydi Film & Video an independent production company from Zagreb.
The other I.B.M. classic, Croatian Tales of Long Ago was produced and published as interactive multimedia content by Bulaja naklada in English, German and Croatian. The multimedia version of the stories was a big success awarded in over 20 festivals worldwide and is still a great way to introduce children to this literary classic.
In 2013, Ogulin, Ivana’s city of birth, opened the doors of Ivana’s House of Fairy Tales (Croatian: Ivanina kuća bajke), an interactive multimedia visitor’s center, to the general public. Mountain Klek and river Dobra, near Ogulin, were a never ending inspiration for Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić from the early years. She described in her autobiography how she spent many nights imagining the strangest pictures and possibilities of what was happening in the middle of the night around Klek. The visitor centre translates that fantastic world into our own.
We hope that this short article will inspire you to reach for some of her books and immerse yourself in the world of fairy tales.