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Astrid Lindgren’s acclaimed literary work Pippi Longstocking just celebrated its 70th anniversary, and her literary creation a 70th birthday! Now is the perfect time to reflect upon the unique character of Pippi the persona and tale, and to consider the narrative’s legacy within the broader literary canon and sphere of cultural production.

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Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 7.30.23 PMBrookman, J. (1997, March 21). Shocking glimpse of Stocking. The Times Higher Education Supplement. Issue 1272, p. 8

Holmlund, C. (2003). Pippi and her pals. Cinema Journal. 42(2), 3-24. Retrieved November 21, 2015 from

Lindgren, A. (1983). Pippi can lift a horse: the importance of children’s books. The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress. 40(3), 188-201. Retrieved November 21, 2015 from

National Public Radio. (2010, June 3). Stieg Larsson: the Man who wrote the girl who…”. Retrieved from

Russell, D. L.(2000). Pippi Longstocking and the Subversive Affirmation of Comedy. Children’s Literature in Education, 31(3), 167-177.

Ryan, P. (2010, May 22). Pippi Longstocking, with Dragon tattoo. The New York Times.Retrieved from.

Stevenson, D. (1997). Sentiment and significance: The impossibility of recovery in the children’s literature canon or, the drowning of the water-babies. The Lion and the Unicorn, 21(1), 112-130.

(March 24, 2015). The story behind Pippi Longstocking. Retrieved from

(May 21, 2015). Congratulations, Pippi Longstocking. Retrieved November 21, 2015 from

(n.d.). Astrid Lindgren. Retrieved November 21, 2015 from

(n.d.). “The childhood home of Astrid Lindgren”. Retrieved November 21, 2015 from


Cultural Influence

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Is Pippi one of Sweden’s great cultural signifiers and a bellwether of national identity? Margareta Ronnberg thinks so, as she asserts that “Astrid Lindgren … plays a unifying function, for that which unites the Swedish people is not least a love for her and her characters. Christine Holmlund agrees and argues that Pippi and other beloved Lindgren characters continue to “bridge generational, ethnic, and gender differences, serving as tiny cultural attaches and diminutive ambassadors.” Perhaps Lindgren’s most enduring legacy lay in her consistent deference to the point of view of children and a validation of that perspective and world.

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David Russell posits that “The book’s appeal to children is for obvious reasons. Pippi herself embodies the quintessential childhood fantasy: A fiercely independent child, endowed with great physical strength and inexhaustible financial resources, lives on her own without the constraints of adult supervision, says and does exactly as she pleases, and subverts at every opportunity the accepted conventions of society.”

Russell claims that the social “work” of Lindgren’s text lies in its comedic value. More precisely, in its subversive portrayal of the artificial constraints, social mores, manners, and customs that structure society. In pointing these out, in flouting their constructiveness as it were, Pippi creates a safe space for their interrogation and their maintenance.

Pippi’s widespread influence is also evidenced in her “entertainment value” and its multifaceted cultural iterations: the “amusement park” located in Lindgren’s birthplace, the perennial museum exhibits, the perpetual adaptations, and her different physical and commercial manifestation in the form of dolls, Halloween costumes, and the like. I discuss the commercial(ized) aspects of Pippi’s legacy in greater detail in the section on Canonicity & Commercialization”


Lindgren’s legacy is also manifest in the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA), which is the world’s largest award for children’s and young adult literature. Authors, illustrators, oral storytellers and reading promoters are eligible for the award, which is designed to promote interest in children’s and young adult literature.

Lastly, Pippi Longstocking served as the inspiration for a more modern signifier of Swedish identity, the “girl with the dragon tattoo.” The author Stieg Larsson imagined “a grown-up Pippi, a dysfunctional girl, probably with attention deficit disorder, who would have had a hard time finding a place in society but would nonetheless take a firm hand in directing her own destiny.” These musings led to the creation of Lisbeth Salander, whereupon dropping off his manuscript to the publisher, Larsson explained “My point of departure was what Pippi Longstocking would be like as an adult. Would she be called a sociopath because she looked upon society in a different way and has no social competence?” The critic Pat Ryan’s rather priggish assessment of Pippi, as published in the New York Times circa 2010, is thus: “Though courageous and loyal, probably not a role model.” I beg to differ, as I think, would countless children and inspired adults alike. Pippi’s fierce independence, her courage and self confidence to speak her mind and pursue her own beliefs and interests and her authenticity mark her as a distinct individual, rather than a cookie cutter member of a cookie cutter society. For that, we should all grant Pippi and her creator a round of well-deserved applause!

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In a lecture she gave at National Children’s Book Week in 1982 at the Library of Congress, Lindgren proposed that “Every book is dependent on its reader. The author and the reader together create all the mystery which exists between the covers of a book.

“and children can take books to heart, so that their heroes and heroines become living people and close friends.”

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As both a children’s author and editor, Lindgren herself was an astute critic of the profession and its output. She cited the words of her friend and fellow children’s author Tove Jansson: “I do not believe that children’s literature should begin to warn and inform about and reveal our society and our failures at too early a stage. There is an early stage of life which need not be poisoned by worry and responsibility. The way we wake up in the morning is important for our dealing with each long day. Our childhood is our morning.” Of Pippi, Lindgren asserted that she had “written the book just for fun and it just happened to turn out the way it did.”

One can discern the wave-like vicissitudes of critical evaluation through the lens of Pippi’s reception. Upon its 1945 publication, many critics decried the narrative as “demoralizing and contrived.” Others celebrated her radicalism and free spirit. One critic has used the term “joyful anarchy” to describe Pippi’s narrative exploits. As Lindgren told the Library of Congress conference attendees, “When Pippi was first published, she was hailed as revolutionary in the nursery. Now, more than thirty years later, she is no longer seen by the progressive as revolutionary but is viewed instead as a reactionary capitalist who amasses gold around her in the most detestable manner.” Such are the ways in which the social milieu and the attendant political climate and dictates of literary taste and cultural sensibility determine a work’s dynamic interpretation and continued relevance.

Lindgren blends fantasy and reality in her storytelling, and in so doing, illuminates their interdependence. This quality has elicited both detractors and devotees. For some, the hybrid nature of the narrative resists clear genre identification, and this confounds readers. For others, it is precisely this magical blend at once removed from “real life” and yet grounded in many of the same social events and happenings as everyday life that lends the text its compelling nature. The cultural critic David L. Russell claims that this hybrid appeals most to children because their own worlds are reflected in this delicate balance between make believe and “the real.” Tommy and Annika, Pippi’s perfectly average next door neighbors, function in much the same way as the reader: at once a voyeur to Pippi’s larger than life universe of make believe and autonomy, and at the same time, through Pippi’s (and in turn Lindgren’s) invitation, a participant in the magic and wonder of that world.

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Astrid Lindgren was born Astrid Anna Emilia Ericsson on November 14, 1907, the second of four children. Her parents raised her and her siblings on a farm named Nas in Vimmerly, in southern Sweden.

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A love of reading, of animals, and of nature, and the pleasures and pastimes of an overall agrarian lifestyle formed her sensibilities and sensitivities. Speaking of her childhood, Lindgren remarked, “If anyone asks me what I remember from my childhood, my first thought is actually not of the people. But of that beautiful environment which framed my days then and filled them with such intensity, that as a grown-up you can hardly comprehend it.” Inspired by the natural world in which she was immersed and the made-up games that she and her siblings concocted, Lindgren found plenty to fuel her imagination. She grew to be a passionate and vocal advocate of animal welfare, a defender of children’s rights, and, not least of all, a prolific children’s author. Arguably her most lasting contribution to the genre was and is Pippi Longstocking.

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Lindgren moved to Stockholm and worked several jobs, one of which was as a journalist. As a secretary at the Royal Automobile Club, Astrid met her future husband, Sture Lindgren. They raised two children, Lasse and Karin. The publishing house Rabén & Sjögren released Pippi Longstocking in 1945, thus launching Lindgren’s career as an acclaimed children’s book author and children’s book editor for the same publisher. This was quite literally a dual existence for Lindgren. She spent the mornings writing and then walked briskly to the publishing house to work as an editor all afternoon. Lindgren was an ardent believer in literature as a portal to the imagination, and championed children’s authors as at the vanguard of this effort. Lindgren persuaded the publisher to institute an annual award to a children’s book author. In 1967 the Astrid Lindgren prize was introduced and it is still awarded every year in Sweden. Upon Lindgren’s death in 2002, the Swedish government founded the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in her honor, the world’s largest prize for children’s and young adult literature.

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As a testament to the value of literature and libraries in her own life and that of young children, Lindgren exclaimed “Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if there were no libraries. I was a little farm child who learned to read sometime during the First World War. In Swedish farming homes in those days there was not much to satisfy a child’s craving for books. Our only light reading was the religious novels my parents received from the parish pastor at Christmas and which I read with great pleasure…If you do not discover that pleasure as a child, there is a great danger that you will never learn to love books. And what will become of our world if the imaginations of our children do not receive the stimulation of books? Imagination is vital to humanity. Nothing happens which does not first happen in the imagination of a human being. And what the world of tomorrow will be like is greatly dependent on the power of imagination in those who are learning to read today.”

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Lindgren stayed with the publishing firm until her retirement in 1970. And her literary output continued apace. Lindgren was a tireless worker. In her literary texts’ transposition to different formats and genres, Lindgren served as a “jack of all trades” of sorts. She penned the plays which were adapted from her texts, wrote the lyrics to the songs which emerged from her narrative treatments, and consulted on the scripts for the film adaptations of her works. Pippi Longstocking has been the most adapted, illustrated, translated, and transmuted of all of her works.

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In her essay on “Pippi and her pals,” Christine Holmlund contextualizes Pippi’s popularity and allure against the backdrop of a seeming oppressive monotony characteristic of the “welfare state” that is/was Sweden. “Highly routinized” is how Holmlund describes the country, and thus Pippi’s irrepressible independence, unpredictability, and overall nonconformity represent a reprieve, and even an antidote to such a “state” of affairs.

As a native Swede, Holmlund describes her own exposure to Pippi through her grandmother’s use of the literary construct as a “mischievous missionary” who “flouts the codes of decorum and reserve that children in Swedish families are commonly taught.” She also situates Pippi’s publication and exceptionality within broader Western European debates regarding appropriate childrearing and cites Lindgren’s singular contribution to these conversations as derived from her wholehearted belief in children’s right to self-respect and autonomy.

David Russell cites yet another context for Lindgren’s work, in particular for her critique of educational institutions. He argues that “She was apparently influenced by the new pedagogical thinking that was sweeping Sweden in the 1930s and 1940s—a philosophy influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. Much more emphasis was being placed on child psychology and its impact on learning, and consequently, the old authoritative method of instruction was being called into question.” This authoritative method often included the provision of corporal punishment, a practice that was finally outlawed in Swedish secondary schools in 1928. In 1979, due to tireless efforts by advocates like Lindgren herself, Sweden became the first country to outlaw all corporal punishment for children in 1979.

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Character & Content

The origins of Pippi Longstocking, or Pippi Långstrump, the character and the narrative, emerged from a collaborative inspiration between mother and daughter. Lindgren’s seven year old daughter Karin was laid up in bed and begged her mother to entertain her with stories. Lindgren asked for a subject, and Karin concocted the name Pippi Longstocking. The rest, as they say, is history. For the next few weeks, Lindgren regaled Karin with all of Pippi’s exploits, eventually turning them into a book, which she presented to Karin on the occasion of her tenth birthday.

Pippi’s visage is inseparable from her spirit. Her outer appearance, as defined by the braided pigtails sticking straight out, the mismatched socks, and the too big shoes, all perform a specific role in the characterization of Pippi Longstocking. Untameable and untamed (her hair), out of place and singular (mismatched socks) and larger than life (her humongous shoes), Pippi’s irrepressible spirit is made manifest in Lindgren’s carefully sketched physical characterization.

In certain ways, Pippi is Lindgren’s response to the disappearance of “play” in her own life. Speaking wistfully of that time, she wrote, “I remember it so well. We always used to play with the priest’s granddaughter when she came to Näs in the holidays. But one summer’s day, when she came and we were going to start playing as usual, we suddenly discovered that we couldn’t play any more. It just didn’t work. It felt odd and sad, because what would we do if we couldn’t play?” What indeed? That question, both existential and practical, is the point of departure for the Pippi Longstocking series. For Pippi brings the concept and practice of play into everyday life and speech. It is this playfulness that endears her to neighbors Tommy and Annika, as well as her scores of readers, yet at the same time outrages the authority figures in the narrative, as well as many “grown up” readers. For Pippi, there is no such thing as a world without play, and, despite the efforts of “Authority” and “Society” to curtail her youthful exuberance and gleeful anarchy, Pippi keeps on playing.

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The narrative is breathlessly paced, and one follows along(side) the nine year old Pippi and her young neighbors and playmates, Tommy and Annika, with incredulity and delight. Tommy crows “You just never can tell about anything when it comes to Pippi,” which pretty much says it all. What will Pippi do or say next, the reader wonders throughout. The narrative is comprised of an array of scenes in which Pippi’s exploits and exclamations are artfully framed. Many of the scenes take place at and around Pippi’s home, Villa Villekulla, which she dwells in alone, having lost both mother and father, the former to illness and death, the latter to sea, whereupon he now reigns as a “cannibal king.” Pippi lives in the old house with her pet monkey, Mr. Nillson, a horse, and a big suitcase full of gold pieces.

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The original text’s title page shows Pippi wielding a knife held loftily overhead in one hand and a revolver pointing downward in the other. Her hair is braided in those signature pigtails, and she is wearing a long dressing gown. Lindgren writes simply “this was the way she looked: hair the color of a carrot braided in 2 tight braids that stuck straight out; nose the shape of a small potato dotted with freckles; very wide mouth with strong white teeth; hand-sewn blue dress with little red patches everywhere; one brown and one black pair of stocking; black shoes twice her size.” Pippi is constantly noted as “remarkable,” particularly for her physical strength. Her neighbors Tommy and Annika are “good, well brought up, and obedient children” and serve as Pippi’s foils. Their first encounter introduces us to Pippi’s elaborate penchant for telling what appear to be tall tales, but which leave the reader wondering simultaneously “what if…” The tales are themselves notable for their oft reliance on Orientalist conceptions of the “other”, wherein the exotic and strange represents a parallel permissible world for Pippi that contrasts sharply with the civilized one she inhabits as an outsider. Brazil, Borneo, the Congo: all are referenced as an opposing and in some ways oppositional universe of morality, childrearing, and social decorum. This racialized and at times racist language and narrative “othering” has caused concern and consternation among some cultural critics and led to varied translations and censorship as a result.


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The children’s adventures range from “thingfinding” missions (“The whole world is full of things, and somebody has to look for them. and that’s just what a thing-finder does,” Pippi tells Tommy and Annika) to encounters with neighborhood bullies (Pippi’s physical strength on full display), to situationally varied illustrations of Pippi’s resistance and resilience (as in the visit to Tommy and Annika’s school). All of these narrative exploits take place after Pippi has started her day with a cup of coffee, a portion of bread and cheese, and completed her morning exercise regimen of 43 somersaults!

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I could rehearse the key moments of the narrative here for you, and I will give you a glimpse of one such moment, but that would be doing a disservice to the spirit of the narrative, I think. For it is not so much the story as it is the singular fact of her existence that marks Pippi as a literary treasure. However, the instance in which Pippi accompanies Tommy and Annika to school (so that she too can experience school vacation!) illuminates the extent of Pippi’s divergence from the “norm” and Lindgren’s culturally constructed challenge to these social constructs.

When the teacher begins an arithmetic lesson, or as Pippi calls it the “pluttifikation” tables, Pippi beseeches her  “why don’t you sit down in a corner by yourself and do arithmetic and leave us alone so we can play tag?” The exchanges ensue from there much in the same vein and encapsulate Pippi’s repeated effort to contextualize and narrate experience. When the teacher poses arithmetic problems, Pippi lends the narrative arc that demands an explanation rather than just a mechanical process. The teacher asks Tommy “If Lisa has seven apples and Axel has nine apples, how many apples do they have together?” Pippi replies, “Yes, you tell her, Tommy, and tell me too, if Lisa gets a stomach-ache and Axel gets more of a stomach-ache, whose fault is it, and where did they get those apples in the first place?” Pippi repeats the same sort of narrative intervention and contextualization when the teacher attempts to turn to a lesson in reading. And so on and so forth. Finally, when the teacher’s frustration has brought instruction to an end, the class turns to drawing. Pippi sets about sketching her horse on the classroom floor, citing the paper’s physical and spatial limitations as the rationale for her artistic enterprise. Clearly, this is a girl with unbounded spirit; she can neither be controlled nor contained, nor can her expressiveness. An impressive illustration by Pippi and Lindgren both!

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Pippi’s “participation” in the circus performance she attends conveys another central facet of her personality and broader significance. There, she alternately jumps on the show horse with Miss Carmencita, walks and does tricks on the tightrope, and beats the strongest man in the world in a battle of physical might! Pippi’s joie de vivre, her propensity to live life rather than just observe, critique, or be subsumed by it, via social norms, mores, and institutions, makes life a participant rather than spectator sport. It is for this that she has captivated children and adults alike for seventy years and is still going strong. As the critic David L. Russell remarks, “Pippi Longstocking dares to hold up a mirror to society—a mirror unclouded by the social accoutrements of adult manners and mores. What we see in that mirror are a teacher, well meaning but uncreative and inflexible, policemen enforcing laws they little understand, society ladies absorbed in frivolous details.” What we see in that mirror is, in essence, every bit as much a construction as the literary text Lindgren has gifted us.

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Canonicity & Commercialization

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The panoply of Pippi illustrations and derivations is ironic given the sheer uniqueness of Lindgren’s character, yet it is also instructive and illuminative of larger cultural forecasting. Pippi is, truly “one of a kind.” But it is that very singularity that has given rise to so many different iterations of her, even to the extent that some may be justified in labeling Pippi a “brand.” What is it about Pippi that endures: that continues to captivate adults and children alike? And to inspire such endless variations and imitations? As Deborah Stevenson would ask, does the work belong to the canon of sentiment or that of significance?

According to Stevenson’s schema, I would situate Pippi Longstocking as in the central overlapping portion of a Venn diagram: part canon of sentiment, part canon of significance. The text meets Stevenson’s qualification as a member of the “canon of sentiment” by virtue of its ability to “call forth affection from the adult recalling a childhood reading…and from the child reading these books for the first time,” wherein “the cry goes out ‘let children be children.’” It is at once “amorphously” situated and aligned with the “often stricter standards of love and evocation of childhood.” At the same time, however, Pippi certainly does not “reinforce the status quo,” as Stevenson argues the literature belonging to the canon of sentiment often does. I would argue that it can be equally placed in the canon of significance in its role as a “chronicle, documentation, and explanation” of an alternative vision of childhood and adventure. Furthermore, The National Library in Stockholm houses Lindgren’s archived literary works, and a decade ago, the archive was admitted into the UNESCO World Heritage List. As far as the canon of significance, one could say that this type of archival effort represents solid entrenchment in such a field.

After its publication, Pippi was subsequently translated into several European languages, as well as English, within just a few short years. Scores of translations, both literal and cultural, ensued. Films, television shows, museums, traveling cultural exhibits, amusement parks, and dolls, all are manifestations of what I perceive as the new hypercapitalist process of canon formation and the attendant cultural indelibility that maintains the work’s relevance.

In today’s corporate and consumer-driven climate, the legacy of a literary text might well depend on its potential transposition into other formats and commercial enterprises. I propose that this shift in cultural values and the realities of the marketplace has in turn precipitated a redefinition of the very notion of canonicity and canon formation. In the terms set out by Deborah Stevenson, this may very well mean a merger of the canon of significance and that of sentiment, or perhaps their collapse altogether. This shift is evidenced concretely in the legacy of Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, both the text itself and the heroine featured therein.

These transpositions are in effect the new road to canonicity, as attested to by the recent celebration of Pippi’s 70th anniversary. In the case of Pippi Longstocking, a dual canonization was constructed. Both Pippi and Lindgren have been memorialized together and singly, as cultural markers of subversion, autonomy, radicalism, and national identity. The cult of celebrity (an integral aspect of commercial culture and commercialized recreation) has elevated Lindgren to a heroine status akin to that of her beloved creation. As a sardonic aside, I think it’s safe to say that if a company is devoted to protecting and promoting “the Astrid Lindgren trademark all over the world” (or even if the word “the” is placed before your name), one can be assured of commercial canonization, at the very least.

A particular cultural attraction illustrates the convergence of the canon of significance and that of sentimentality. In Vimmerby, Lindgren’s birthplace, visitors are invited to share “Astrid Lindgren’s world,” “where fairytales come to life.”

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Once there, visitors can “Play and get up to mischief, experience familiar scenes from the books and become part of the popular stories!” Lindgren’s childhood home is the park’s central attraction for older visitors, whereas the theatrical productions, roving literary characters, and various props and stage sets throughout the park attract and amuse the younger fans. In other words, there is something for everyone. I argue that it is this essential mutability and widespread appeal that has emerged as just as important to Pippi’s canonicity as the character’s compelling persona and Lindgren’s narrative mastery.