The Radical Pippi Longstocking

In this 2014 piece for Der Spiegel, Claudia Voigt looks at the life of Astrid Lindgren, a Swedish author best known for her Pippi Longstocking books. If you haven’t revisited the books recently, the exuberant Pippi lives on her own, does as she pleases, and describes herself as “the strongest girl in the world.” In short, she’s a radically independent, fabulously liberated leading lady, particularly for a children’s book published in 1945. But what inspired Lindgren to create such an iconoclastic protagonist?

There has been a great deal of research and academic discussion on what induced Lindgren to develop such a revolutionary and modern children’s book character. [Lindgren’s daughter] Karin Nyman remembers all too well that “there was a permanent sense of fear hanging over all of our lives,” even in Sweden. “The world was gripped by horror, and Pippi was a reaction to it. The stories were a way to oppose it, to give us a chance to come up for air.”

Lindgren was an avid reader. The novel “Hunger” by Knut Hamsun helped her endure the poverty she experienced as a young woman in Stockholm. She later claimed that the novel’s wry humor spurred her to create her radical Pippi character. The author read many children’s books to her children, Karin and Lars, including classics like “Tom Sawyer” and many fairy tales. She would later mention having been familiar with the writing of Alfred Adler, the progressive teaching theories of A.S. Neill and Bertrand Russell’s thoughts on education.

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