You know, I never read Pippi Longstocking when I was little. I know, right? I went to the City Library to borrow Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (a childhood favourite, but my copy now no longer has a cover, nor a spine), and saw Astrid Lindgren’s classic sitting cheerfully beside. It piqued my interest on another account: Stieg Larsson has said that Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of his wildly popular Millenium Trilogy, was inspired in part by Pippi. I suppose Astrid Lindgren is to Swedish children what Enid Blyton is to British children; or perhaps it’s not as geographically specific as that. But Salander’s such an outsider, so wild, that I wondered what a beloved children’s heroine could have in common with her.
Well: a lot, as it turns out. Like Salander, Pippi is an orphan, almost alone in the world. She has ‘neither mother nor father, which was really rather nice, for in this way there was no one to tell her to go to bed just when she was having most fun, and no one to make her take cod-liver-oil when she felt like eating peppermints.’ She’s also isolated, though happily, and lives in an old cottage in an orchard with no one but a monkey called Mr Nelson for company. Her next-door neighbours, Annika and Tommy, are delighted at Pippi’s particular brand of absurd fun – her unpredictable cooking style is likely to see eggs on the cook as well as the bowl. But she’s not like anyone they’ve ever met before.
Another point of similarity between the two Swedish heroines is their fringe status. Pippi is a bit of a conundrum for the townspeople, who decide that she should be in a children’s home. But Pippi uses her abnormal strength to evade the police when they attempt to take away. And, unlike many other children’s books, it’s not normality, assimilation or integration that wins out. Pippi leaves you at the end of the book exactly as you found her, shouting ‘I’m going to be a pirate when I grow up … Are you?’
A little while back, I had a chat with the lovely Davina Bell – founding editor of harvest magazine, and editor in the children’s/young adult division at Penguin Books – about the books we devoured when we were, well, wee. Some of my favourites were Lois Lowry’s The Giver, Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, the Silver Brumby books, Roald Dahl’s nutty capers and Enid Blyton’s stories of blancmange and boarding school. And, okay, Sweet Valley High books. But no long stockings until now, which is a real shame. Pippi’s so anarchic and fun. I kind of want her to be my friend now.
What were your favourite childhood reads?