The story behind Pippi Longstocking
The whole story behind Pippi - how did she come about, who were Astrid Lindgren's sources of inspiration?
Astrid Lindgren’s daughter Karin was sick in bed and wanted her mum to tell her a story. “Tell me about Pippi Longstocking”, she pleaded, and in that instant Astrid invented what was to become one of the world’s most famous children’s book characters. “Since the name was remarkable, it had to be a remarkable girl”, Astrid said.
"Ur-Pippi" - the first Pippi
Then one early spring day, in March 1944 Astrid fell and sprained her ankle. To pass the time, while she was resting it, she put the Pippi stories down on paper. It was going to be a present for Karin’s 10th birthday in May. She sent the first manuscript to Albert Bonniers Förlag (Sweden's largest book publisher), who refused it on account of their finding the content too controversial and fearing it would have a bad influence on children. In 1945 Astrid submitted the manuscript again, having reworked it somewhat – this time to the publisher Rabén & Sjögren's writing competition. She won first prize and the book was published. It was an immediate success.
What inspired Astrid when she wrote Pippi?
There were many sources of inspiration for the Pippi stories. Her red hair and freckles, for example, came from one of Karin’s school friends. And perhaps Astrid was inspired by a young girl who rented a villa one summer in Furusund, where Astrid and her family had their summer house. The author, Lennart Hellsing has told about this remarkable young girl who lived in the house people called “The Unfinished Villa”. There she lived “with a symbolic bag of gold coins”! The tenant was adventurous, Hellsing continues, and had plenty of freckles. Furthermore, she had a horse tied up on the veranda. There was no stable. Neighbours passing by were astonished. One of them was Astrid Lindgren who a few years later would begin to write books – books about a girl who had freckles, a horse and lots of gold coins.
The Lemonade Tree
The Lemonade Tree in the Villa Villekulla garden – the one with the hollow trunk where Pippi, Tommy and Annika found lemonade – was one of the ancient elm trees which are still there at Näs.
Another source of inspiration that has been noted is films featuring the silent film star Mary Pickford, who was incredibly popular when Astrid was young. In one of her films, she plays a little girl in colorful clothes who lives alone with a horse, and in another, she ties brushes to her feet when she's going to scrub the floor.
Astrid's daughter Karin Nyman talks about Pippi
"Tell me about Pippi Longstocking!" That's what seven-year-old Karin said to her mom Astrid, and in that moment, she invented one of the world's most famous children's book characters. Here you can see and hear Karin herself tell the story!
“No normal child eats an entire cake at a coffee party," someone wrote indignantly. And that was true. No normal child lifts a horse single-handedly either. But if you can do that, maybe you can also manage to eat a whole cake.”Astrid comments on the criticism of Pippi
The Pippi debate
When the book about Pippi Longstocking was written, there was an ongoing debate in Sweden about youth delinquency, a debate that had been ongoing for a while and that Astrid was undoubtedly aware of. Astrid did not intend for the book about Pippi to be a part of this debate, even though she was well aware of the book's rebellious nature. For many children, Pippi was liberating and refreshing, offering a delightful contrast to the rather authoritarian parenting ideas that were prevalent at the time.
When the book was published in 1945, it received a very positive reception. However, after a year or so, objections arose that Pippi was tasteless and lacked manners, and that she might, in the worst case, inspire other children to mimic her behavior, like pouring sugar on the floor. A debate about Pippi emerged.
Astrid entered the debate and defended all children who simply want to explore the world in a safe environment. Astrid wrote that children should be treated with the same respect as adults and coined the phrase that has been quoted countless times: "Give children love, more love, and even more love, and the common sense will come by itself."
Another contemporary debate related to Pippi has revolved around the well-behaved girl Annika in contrast to the wild and free-spirited Pippi, and which of these female archetypes our society values. Debates about Pippi have also flared up in other parts of the world – in China in 2008, Pippi's treatment of the police was questioned. It is certain that neither Pippi's popularity nor her ability to provoke discussion seems to have diminished since 1945.
For those who want to know and read everything about Pippi! A large number of well-known writers, illustrators, and others share their views on Pippi Longstocking in this Swedish language tribute book with its rich content of texts, pictures, and a lot of trivia.About the book
If I have had any specific intention with the Pippi character beyond entertaining my young readers, it has been this – to show them that you can have power without abusing it, for of all the tricks in life, that seems to be the most difficult. Power is abused everywhere.Astrid Lindgren, 1955
"Astrid Lindgren didn't just become one of Sweden's foremost authors. She also became one of the most influential opinion makersin the country. Throughout her life, she consistently reacted against injustices and oppression. Her commitment to children's rights was established early on. Politically, she became convinced in the 1930s that she belonged to the Social Democrats.Read more about Astrid as opinion-maker here