Eviga Riket is an audio book interpreted and produced by the Swedish Sludge Metal band Cult of Luna. It was printed in 2009 and limited to 2000 copies.
The band found inspiration for the book when rehearsing in an old mental institution in umea. Along with medical documents and old psychiatric equipment, they found the belongings of some of the ex-patients. One of these was the diary and writings of a man called Holdger Nilsson, who had been put away in the institution for the murder of his wife. Eviga Riket, which translates roughly to "Eternal Kingdom", is the title, and interpretation of, his notes and writings.
The book contains a text in Swedish as well as an English translation and audio readings of both. The book also contains illustrations and several audio tracks composed specifically for the story.
The story begins in the remote countryside hamlet of Yttre Akulla. Holdger Nilsson, with his wife Elisabet, are inside their small cottage while a large storm is battering the walls and shaking the windows. Elisbet, with a fever, is in the late stages of pregnancy with their first daughter. In the evening, with the storm raging, they are visited by a wandering stranger asking for shelter. This stranger, with the appearance of a tramp, begs for food and shelter, but Holdger will not let him in because of the illness of his wife, and the need for her fever to go down if they are to deliver the daughter safely.
The next day, Elisabet is ready to give birth. Holdger rigs up the horse and cart and they head toward the cottage hospital in Bygdea. While riding along the track, the cart hits a hole and the wheel becomes stuck. Holdger jerks the reins on the horse and in its force, rips the wheel off the axle. Elisabet, in a state of delirium, begins to vomit up a grey bile. She encourages Holdger to ride ahead on the horse to fetch help, mocking him for this choice of route and broken cart. While Holdger is deciding what to do, a figure appears out of the forest along the roadside. This figured approaches and Holdger becomes aware he is the strange wanderer which visited the house in the night of the storm. This stranger tells Holdger that he has forgiven him for not giving him shelter and offers to watch Elisabet while Holdger rides to get the doctor. Holdger looks deeply into the eyes of the stranger, they are golden and glossy. Holdger does not trust him, he smells corruption on his clothes, but left with no option, he rides away to get help.
When Holdger and the doctor return, the stranger is gone, and only Elisabet is found, with the baby stillborn in her arms.
Elisabet, silent and uncommunicative, is assigned to bed to recover. Holdger, in a wave of distraction, starts weatherproofing the house and begins to lose contact with his wife, and his grip on reality. Eventually the situation climaxes with what appears to be the intense and dreamlike drowning of Elisabet in the river by the house. If this is at the hands of Holdger, or a suicide, is unclear - but it is obvious that Holdger's mind is broken.
Holdger wakes up in what he discovers to be the Eternal Kingdom, a world that appears similar to that of his previous reality but with an unfamiliar atmosphere. The Eternal Kingdom is filled with a thick pollen like dust and odourless grass. The river has dried up, and a large pine tree grows through the centre of his house. Everything is overgrown. Time appears to slow, and destinations and feelings repeat themselves across the geography. Holdger stumbles around the kingdom a stranger. He comes across a fire, and a ritualistic dance being performed by the dark creatures in the forest. He hides behind the trees, scared and hypnotised, but is eventually spotted and chased back into his house by the animals around the fire - a pack of demonic bears. In his house he is safe. He sleeps for a long time, until he is approach by a silent hare with a red tooth, which takes him out to be shown him The Kingdom.
The rest of the book follows Holdger into this world. Along with other things, Holdger learns that the kingdom is divide between two factions of woodland creatures; the evil creatures, lead by the man-owl Ugin, the ones seen performing the strange ritual, and the good creatures, lead by the Capercaillie King. Holdger, befriended by the Capercaillie King, is persuaded to help the good creatures march, armed with sledgehammers wrapping in pine bark, into their final battle against the evil creatures. In this battle, Holdger faces Ugin, who he is told, morphed and entered his world, to form the wandering stranger on the day of his daughter's birth. He faces what he believes is his final chance to get his daughter back.
Eviga Riket is an odd release for any artist. Before getting the book I was unsure what to expect. But thankfully the book is subtly and delicately crafted. The readings are without fault and do the text full justice. While the illustrations and audio compositions are sparse, they are beautiful and fitting. The story is slow, so be warned if you have a short attention span. It isn't the kind of story to tell around a camp-fire; it's one you settle yourself in for an afternoon of. It's told at the same glacial pace which the rest of Cult of Luna's music is characterized by. In this sense it feels almost tolkienesque; as much focus is given on the tone, texture and telling of the story, as is the story itself. Few relevant details are left unturned, and much of the character of Holdger is suggested in the structure of the tale.
The Eternal Kingdom may feature talking animals and demons, but this is a deeply psychological horror story. On listening to the story and the context of the writing, your imagination is drawn deeply into both the reality of the Swedish landscape, and the surreality of the Eternal Kingdom. There is a great sadness and affinity with Holdger. This itself brings a fear, as you live out his experiences. The insanity feels like living inside a sadistic dream, without control, your darkest characteristics mocking and toying with your most impulsive core. The thing that really makes this story scary and encompassing, is the acute awareness Holdger has at all times of his internal condition. He knows he has slipped from reality, but he seems unable to control or brace himself against the onslaught of external features the world of the Eternal Kingdom presents to him; he is trapped. This lack of control is of course the ultimate fear - not insanity itself, but awareness of one's insanity.
Adding somewhat to the oddity of the release, critics protested against the truthfulness of the context in which the book was written, claiming the story, and the character of Holdger Nilsson, are pure fabrication. Perhaps this is true, but these people are missing the point somewhat. Eviga Riket is a ghost story; it isn't concerned with what is real, but only what is believable. This story certainly is believable - fearfully so. It's purpose, like all ghost stories is to explore the aspects of human nature at their most dark and enigmatic. A story is not judged upon its factuality, it's judged on how it makes you feel. This one makes me feel scared shitless.