This year marks the 75th anniversary of Pippi Longstocking’s arrival at Villa Villekulla. In her first appearance Astrid Lindgren’s eponymous heroine fascinates her neighbours, Tommy and Annika. As they watch her through a hole in the fence, they’re enchanted by her wild red hair and even wilder life. Pippi is a true eccentric. She has superhuman strength, keeps a suitcase of gold coins and, as a result of a life spent at sea, is comically unaware of basic manners. Unlike her new friends, she never goes to school and in the place of parents, she lives with a pet monkey and a horse. Over the course of three books, Tommy and Annika follow her on a series of adventures, bringing generations of children with them.
Originally conceived as a get-well present for her young daughter, Lindgren’s stories capture the unique atmosphere of childhood fantasy. As a pirate lover from a young age, the third book, Pippi in the South Seas, has always been my personal favourite. At night I’d lie in bed and pretend I was on a raft that would take me away to a tropical island. I don’t remember when I first encountered Pippi Longstocking, but once I had I was obsessed. I dressed as her for every fancy dress party. Wearing odd socks and dungarees with my pipe cleaners in my plaited hair, I felt safe in the knowledge that I had the coolest costume. I spent a large part of my childhood trying to copy her with limited success. Once I tried to sleep with my feet on the pillow just as she claims to do. As it turns it turned out, it isn’t very comfortable.
Fortunately, I’m not alone in my admiration. Pippi Longstocking has fans from all over the world She’s featured in live-action films, animations, adverts, tv shows and even on Swedish 20 kronor note. Since their publication in 1945, Lindgren’s books have never been out of print. It’s not hard to see why they’ve endured for so long. They’re filled with a sense of joy that few other children’s authors have managed to replicate. Yet despite their outlandish nature, Pippi makes for a good role model, albeit an unlikely one. She’s a compulsive liar who doesn’t go to school, can’t read and laughs in the face of adult authority. But at the heart of her character lies an unwavering sense of optimism, strength and self-assurance.
Perhaps some of these traits came from her creator. Throughout her life, Astrid Lindgren campaigned for various human rights causes and became something of a national icon in her home country of Sweden. Her outspoken nature and feminism are easy to spot in her iconic heroine. In one story she declares that though she has freckles, she doesn’t “suffer from them” as an advert in a shop window suggests she might. In another, she’s warned against fighting “the strongest man in the world” at a circus. She simply replies that he may be the strongest man “but I am the strongest girl in the world, remember that.”
Her self-confidence is highlighted in almost everything she does and has served as an inspiration for children of all genders. At eight years old she represented everything I wished I was: funny, strong, fearless and independent. I had three separate editions of Lindgren’s stories that I read obsessively. Nowadays they sit dog-eared in a prime position of my bookshelf and I still find myself returning to them. A few sentences in and I’m hooked again, as if I haven’t aged a day.