Happy 70th Birthday this week to loveable anarchic Pippi Långstrump / Longstocking.
The Pippi Långstrump stories are hugely successful and enjoyed by children (and adults) across the globe. So far they have been translated into over 70 languages and the author Astrid Lindgren has sold more than 144 million books.
However, it’s on a personal level I want to say thank you to this mischievous character. Her independent fun-loving free-spirit had me believing anything was possible. Well, maybe not lifting a horse (I never tried!) but I got up to many wild-cap adventures during my childhood, surely influenced by Pippi.
Escaping from nursery aged four being one of my first clear memories! Alas we did not get too far as teachers caught up with myself and merry band of followers en route to the dark mystical wood near the school.
When older in England I often stood in front of Mary, the shop-keeper of our local sweet-shop on Saturday mornings, my pocket money clasped tightly in my fist and fantasied about being able to buy all the sweets to share out amongst my friends. Just like Pippi.
Pippi is naturally fearless just by daring to be herself. She could not imagine being or doing anything else. She does not have a malicious streak in her body, instead she means well all the time although sometimes things do not quite work out. The few times she realises she has done wrong Pippi is mortified and full of remorse.
Isn’t it every child’s dream for a few hours to be totally free from grown-ups, to do things that are not allowed? In her beautifully observed and amusing adventures Pippi makes friends with two other children and introduces them to her wonderful version of the world. These friends, well one in particular is my second reason for my love affair with the Pippi stories.
The two friends are siblings Tommy and Annika – my namesake. There I was, in a book, in a record, same blonde hair, same age, yellow jumper, brown corduroy trousers led safely astray by very original Pippi.
I spent so many hours listening to my record of the stories that at times fiction blended in with reality. Did I or did I not strap scrubbing brushes onto my feet and dance around on a soap-sudded kitchen floor to clean it? I know I often lay non-conformist style on my bed, my feet on the pillow, my head at the end of my bed. Just like Pippi.
At times Tommy and Annika tried to tame this wonderful maverick character; even convincing her to attend school with them for a day. The experiment does not go not well and Pippi decides school is good for the holidays it grants you!
Astrid Lindgren felt a close affinity for children; perhaps as a result of being mostly absent for the first years of her own first child’s life as he lived with foster parents far away in Copenhagen whilst she worked in Stockholm. Throughout her life she campaigned for Children’s Rights and was instrumental in the banning of corporal punishment against children. I imagine Pippi’s exuberance and courage reflected Astrid Lindgren’s own approach to life.
So, Happy Birthday Pippi – you’ve given so much with your larger than life personality, your pigtails, your stomping nature. May we all live as impulsively and free.
“If I have managed to brighten up even one gloomy childhood – than I’m satisfied.”