Monday 5 January 2015

Pippi Longstocking

I do remember loving Pippi Longstocking as a girl. Strangely, I didn't remember any of the story at all, just that I was very fond of it. Sadly my copy hasn't survived or I would have reread it recently. Happily, Pippi Longstocking is just as fabulous a read now as it was back when I was a girl 100 years ago. Pippi is a classic orphan tale.

Pippi's mother had died when Pippi was just a tiny baby lying in her cradle and howling so dreadfully that no one could come near. Her father..... had been a ship's captain, and sailed on the great ocean. Pippi had sailed with him on his boat, at least until the time he had blown into the sea during a storm and disappeared. 

Pippi is now a nine year old girl, living by herself in Villekulla Cottage. By herself, except for her pet monkey, Mr Nelson, and the horse that she lifts on and off the front porch. Pippi is a remarkable, free spirit, and it really is quite extraordinary to think that she was created in 1940s Sweden. It's immediately obvious why she is popular with children. Pippi is so subversive, and even down right naughty at times. She has no adults to tell her what to do, and when they try she betters them easily. Pippi can bake buns and gingersnaps whenever she is hungry, and drinks tea in trees. Pippi starts school because the notion of Christmas holidays is too good to avoid.

'Have I behaved badly?' asked Pippi, very surprised. 'But I didn't know that myself,' she said, looking sad. No one could look as tragic as Pippi when she was unhappy. She stood silently a minute, and then she said in a shaking voice, 'You understand, ma'am, that when your mother is an angel and your father a Cannibal King, and you've travelled all your life on the seas, you don't really know how you oughter behave in a school with all the apples and the snakes.'

Is it weird that rereading this tale of a 9 year old living on her own with only a monkey and a horse as companions didn't stir any deep seated memories for me? I think so. But I'm very glad to have met Pippi again. I'm glad that fabulous modern illustrators like Lauren Child are creating beautiful new editions of this book to make it accessible and current to modern kids.

More contentious is the modern editorial pruning given to books like Pippi. After all Pippi is 70 years old this year, and yes some of our societal views have certainly changed in those 70 years. Yes, some things within the stories are dated. But modern kids are smart enough to notice, or their parents decent enough to explain it to them. Adults can get a bit caught up in it all. Enid Blyton receives the same treatment in English.

But Pippi Longstocking is a cultural phenomenon in Sweden, both Pippi and her creator Astrid Lindgren are held in the highest regard. The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award is the worlds richest prize for Children's Literature, created the year after Astrid Lindgren died in 2002. Astrid's childhood home has been turned into a cultural centre. So many new reasons to go to Sweden- besides the ABBA Museum of course.

Astrid Lindgren's daughter Karin actually created this most famous of her mother's characters. In the early 1940s Karin was ill and one day asked her mother to tell her a story about Pippi Longstocking. Astrid continued to make up Pippi stories to tell Karin for several years, until one day in 1944 when Astrid herself was laid up after a sprained ankle and she decided to write down some of the stories as a birthday present for Karin. It's extraordinary to think of it, a childhood illness and a sprained ankle in the 1940s and we have one of the best loved characters ever made in any language.


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Beth F said...

I remember loving Pippi Longstocking too. But I too can't remember much of the story. Glad to see the new illustrations of her long red braids.

Sim Carter said...

This is great but I'm looking forward to hearing more about How to Be Parisian - what a great looking cover!

Brona said...

Sadly, I have never read Pippi. But I have a real life gorgeous red-headed niece who I would love to give this to.