Criticism

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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