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Pippi Longstocking

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by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi Longstocking is a "modern classic."[i]  Written by the late Astrid Lindgren and set in Sweden, Pippi's antics continue to delight generations of children worldwide.  Nine-year-old "Pippilotta Delicatessa Window-shade Mackrelmint Efraim's Daughter Longstocking (52)," personifies every child's dream, owning a pet monkey and living in a house of her own, without adults to tell her "to go to bed just when she was having the most fun (11)." 

 

Lindgren's tale tells the story of its heroine's many adventures, and the tale's multigenerational appeal is based in a long tradition of storytelling.  The story itself began as a tale told to Lindgren's daughter, Karin, who was "recovering from pneumonia [and] asked her mother to tell her a story about 'Pippi Longstocking.'"  The stories existed in oral form for three years until Lindgren herself was temporarily bedridden after a leg injury.  At this time, she began to write down Pippi's tales. [ii]

 

Cultures around the world have a tradition of storytelling, ranging from historical narratives to tall tales - something for everyone to hear and enjoy.  As Metcalf notes, Lindgren relies heavily on "narrative forms from oral storytelling, which knows no age discrimination.  A farmer's daughter born in the Swedish countryside in 1907, Lindgren has deep roots in the vernacular storytelling tradition." [iii] 

 

Pippi herself is an expert storyteller of tall tales:  

·          "I'll never forget the time I had a fight with a huge snake in India . . . (55)"

·          The story of Hai Shang, a Shanghai father whose son, Peter, died "Of Plain Common Ordinary Pigheadedness (66)" because he would not eat the food his mother prepared (a swallow's nest)."

·          "I remember once when I was out hunting for things in the jungles of Borneo . . . (28)"

 

One remarkable thing about Pippi - for Lindgren, the "most remarkable thing about her" - is that she is strong:

 

"She was so very strong that in the whole wide world there was not a single police officer as strong as she.  Why, she could lift a whole horse if she wanted to! And she wanted to.  She had a horse of her own that she had bought with one of her many gold pieces . . . (13-14)"

 

This strength adds to the tale's humor and endears Pippi to the reader.  Pippi's strength is empowering, and with it, Pippi can do what every reader would like to do:  defeat a group of bullies (33); face down a menacing bull (84); and protect her gold from would-be burglars (110).

 

Pippi Longstocking's endurance also comes from its humor.   Metcalf names four forms of humor in the tale, including nonsense, situation comedy, self-parody and irony.[iv] 

 

Nonsense.  Pippi confuses multiplication with "pluttifikation (41) - more properly translated as "fartification," according to Metcalf,[v] although it is not known why this change was made in translation.

 

Situation comedy.  Neighbors Tommy and Annika discover Pippi walking backward ("because she didn't want to turn around to get home (17)").  When the children practice being "Thing-Finder[s]," they find an old man lying asleep on his lawn.  "'There,' said Pippi, 'that man is lying on the ground and we have found him. We'll take him!'"  Tommy and Annika are horrified.  In addition, Pippi plays tag on her roof with the policemen (42-3); wrestles with the strong man at the circus (100); and ends up dancing with the burglars who attempt to rob her (110).

 

Self-parody.  The tale pokes fun at many things, including Pippi herself.  She admits to telling tall tales "(I'm lying so my tongue is turning black (67)."  She knows that it is wrong, but (sadly) "I forget it now and then (18)." 

 

Irony.  When Pippi tries to behave, things don't turn out as planned. When Pippi attends a coffee party at the Settergren's, her best behavior turns out to be the opposite.  At school, Pippi's innocent questions turn the tables on the teacher:  ". . . if you are so childishly interested in that foolishness, why don't you sit down in a corner by yourself and do arithmetic and leave us alone so we can play tag? (53)"

 

For the reader, the tale drops hints as to the tale's cultural setting early in the book.  Names first hint at a Swedish setting:  Mr. Nilsson (Pippi's monkey); Villa Villekulla (Pippi's home); Annika; and bully Bengt.  There are definite cultural markers as well:  Tommy sings a song whose lines include "Here come the Swedes with a clang and a bang (46);" at the circus, the ticket taker answers "in broken Swedish (91); and when Pippi rolls out her massive amount of cookie dough on the floor, she is making pepparkakor, "a kind of Swedish cookie (25)." 

 

There are also two rather puzzling German-sounding cultural markers.  In the first instance, Pippi asks the burglars in her house if they can "dance the schottische (109)."  The schottische is thought to have originated in Bohemia and is related to the polka.  Did the dance and its name migrate to Sweden, or was this translated into something that would be more familiar to English-speaking readers?  In the second instance, a music box plays a song "that was probably supposed to be 'Ack, du käre Augustin (148)."  Is this a reference to the German children's song, "Ach, du lieber Augustin?"  Did Lindgren know the song and humorously corrupt its title, or is this a translation matter again?

 

Pippi Longstocking reminds us of our childhood - our joy in doing everyday things and our childhood dreams.  Its lasting appeal is in the fact that through Pippi, young and old see through the eyes of children.



[i]Tomlinson, Carl M., ed. and United States Board on Books for Young People. 1998. Children's books from other countries. Lanham, MD; London: Scarecrow, 245.

[ii] from the dust jacket of Pippi Longstocking.

[iii] Metcalf, Eva-Maria. 1990. Tall tale and spectacle in Pippi Longstocking. Children's Literature Association Quarterly 15 (3): 130-35.

[iv] Ibid.

 

[v] Ibid.

 

 

 

Lindgren, Astrid. 1985. Pippi Longstocking.Trans. Florence Lamborn. New York: Viking. (Orig. U.S. pub. 1950.) ISBN 0-670-55745-5

 

 

This review was written as part of a graduate course in Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman's University, International Literature for Children and Young Adults.

 

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