By: Marianna Datsenko
Picture this: You are a feisty, red-haired 9-year-old girl with pigtails who is also superhumanly strong. You live with your horse and monkey and hoard of gold coins in a Swedish villa. Where are your parents you ask? Your father is a buccaneer captain who has gone missing at sea, and your mother sadly passed away shortly after you were born. They left you all those gold coins though! You have fun but are responsible and help those around you by being generous, wise, and kind. Sometimes you overembellish stories but there’s no harm in that – maybe you did join the circus at some point, who can say otherwise. You have the freedom and agency to control your own life and the local village adults can’t make you do a single thing. Good for you! Who needs adults to tell you what to do anyway? You are Pippi Longstocking!
Before sitting down to write this piece, I felt it was only fair that I revisited the world of Pippi Longstocking. How otherwise, in good conscious, could I provide an honest review and uphold the necessary journalistic integrity without asking the true question: had Pippi stood the test of time? Had she morphed through the rose-tinted view of a child’s gaze from something ephemeral into something concrete and lasting, or was I going to be find the bitter, bitter disappointment of adulthood tinging yet another thing I had once enjoyed?
So here I was, a 30-something combing through the children’s fiction bookshelves on Monday afternoon in search of the super humanly strong red-haired wunderkind on the cover of any publication. I was slowly making a small pile of books to take home to join, what essentially were just other small piles of books blocking fire escape routes around the flat by this stage. It’s okay, I thought, I work here, that’s why I am making this small pile. This is why they let me come back here every day.
In the end, I only went home with one book – Pippi Longstocking Goes Abroad, originally written in Swedish by Astrid Lindgren and translated into English by Susan Beard with accompanying illustrations by Lauren Child. Let’s leave the other books for the real target demographic, I thought. Less piles of books to trip over, more books for children. A win-win.
Now, let me assure you, I had no cause for concern – neither about borrowing a children’s book, nor about the quality of the literature. Several late-night binge-read stories later, I could confirm that Pippi has proven herself to be a timeless icon – wholly unaware of any of the constraints place upon her by her age, gender or status. Cue an audible sigh of relief. I was safe. Green light for Pippi!
Astrid Lindgren herself led an independent and unconventional life, choosing to remain an unwed mother, working to support herself, and advocating pacific anti-violent solutions and animal rights across Sweden. These sentiments shine through brilliantly in Pippi’s superhuman strength which is never used to intimidate bullies but rather to lift her horse or pianos. Pippi’s ultimate strength however lies in her ability to be confident in existing just exactly as she is. No time to play your games of polite manners and appropriate societal conduct. Pippi is who she is – take it or leave it! In many ways, Pippi acted as the conduit for everything you wish you could say or do, if only you had the courage. I know I was certainly Annika and Tommy, the neighbouring children looking on in awe as Pippi exercises full autonomy over her own life without any adult supervision. And yet Pippi is responsible and never takes advantage of her bizarre circumstances, remaining composed in moments of spontaneous flux. There are pancakes for dinner, medicine to be taken, the animals are fed and tended, gold doubloons are used sparingly, the accidental dismemberment of a shop mannequin is taken in stride. This is not a child gone wild – this is a child looking after herself and those around here as best she can. Better than the adults certainly.
To say Pippi had a formative impact on my childhood would be redundant. I think Pippi was in fact the very childhood schema I adopted for myself, much like any child who wishes to both find and lose themselves in literature all at once. Pippi showed me the value of being just and fair and kind. She demonstrated that being silly and having fun were not incompatible with making moral choices and standing up for others. You could it seems, have a pet monkey and join the circus, all the while making sure your friends were safe and happy and doing good for others.
I hope Pippi’s fearless and tender nature will resonate with anyone young or old, who still remembers what it feels like to be told what to do by grown-ups. Or perhaps just to find a little inspiration to break outside of the mould.