“Way out at the end of a tiny little town was an old overgrown garden, and in the garden was an old house, and in the house lived Pippi Longstocking. She was nine years old, and she lived there all alone.”
Pippi Longstocking is one of the most famous girls in the literary canon. With her flaming red hair in two braids sticking straight out from her head, a nose covered in freckles, and two mismatched stockings in two overly-large boots, she’s also one of the most recognizable. The first book was originally published in Swedish in 1945, in English in 1950, and has gone on to sell 145 million+ copies in 65 languages. I was introduced to Pippi at a young age, and followed her adventures with neighbor children Tommy and Annika Settegren through several more books, movies, and tv shows.
Pippi moves into Villa Villekula (the house referenced in the earlier quote) after her sea captain father is washed overboard, to wait for him to return. She lives alone except for her dapperly-dressed monkey, Mr. Nilsson, and a large white horse. Much to Tommy and Annika’s delight, she is full of crazy adventures and never-ending good humor – not to mention she’s superhumanly strong, and sleeps with her feet on the pillow. In the first book alone, she plays tag with some policemen, entertains two burglars, goes to a coffee party, rescues children from a burning building, and wrestles a bull.
Pippi’s author, Astrid Lindgren, is also a person of extreme interest. She became pregnant with her boss’s child at 19, but refused his offer of marriage and moved to Stockholm. She had to give up her son to a foster family until she made enough money to support him, but remained defiantly unmarried for a number of years. Lindgren believed that common child-rearing practices were too stifling and didn’t give the kids enough credit for their intelligence. Her views are mirrored by Pippi’s happy, parentless existence, common sense, and intolerance for idiotic adults.
While Pippi’s stories are meant for younger audiences, they are still immensely enjoyable. I originally read them in second grade (which gave birth to that year’s Halloween costume), but re-reading them for the blog, I was struck by Pippi’s subversiveness. Numerous times, her subtle comments masked in bluster and laughter strike home rather more sharply than expected, and you can certainly get as much enjoyment reading them as an adult!
For example: during a coffee party thrown by Mrs. Settegren where the adult women gripe about the bad behavior of their maids, Pippi interjects wild tales of her grandmother’s maid, Malin. When one woman complains that she suspects her maid of stealing, Pippi tells how Malin would steal during the night, otherwise she couldn’t get to sleep, and once took grandmother’s piano and put it in her bureau drawer. Every story tops the whining women, until Pippi is thrown out, but as she wanders off, she hollers back that the worst was that “she never swept under the beds!”
She provides a great contrast to the blasé Settegren children who suffer from “those dull days when they couldn’t think of anything to play.” She’s able to find fun in a rusty tin can and an empty spool, and she never never never has a dull day. No TV, no Wii, no computer. And she doesn’t take crap from anyone – Tommy and Annika, policemen, bullies, teachers, burglars. Just because she’s young and alone doesn’t mean she doesn’t know what she’s doing! Even though her methods may be a bit unorthodox, she’s intelligent and happy and so she won’t let anyone tell her different.
I’ve been to the Astrid Lindgren museum in Stockholm, and urge you to check out this awesome woman, both her Pippi books (Pippi Longstocking, Pippi On Board, and Pippi in the South Seas, plus eight more) and her numerous other works, of which Ronia the Robber’s Daughter will be making a future appearance here on the Pickychick stage.