Prior to reading Pippi Longstocking, I had never imagined that I would ever have to use the word ‘weird’ for a children’s book. But, the unthinkable has happened! In Pippi Longstocking, I have discovered a weird children’s book and it came as a shock! Especially because I could never have fathomed that a book regarded as a classic and listed in the ‘1001 books you must read before you die’ could be so bizarre.
Title: Pippi Longstocking
Author: Astrid Lindgren
Publisher: Puffin Books
Publishing Date: First published in 1945. This edition- April 21st, 2005
Genre: Children’s Classics, Humorous Stories
From Goodreads: The beloved story of a spunky young girl and her hilarious escapades.
Tommy and his sister Annika have a new neighbor, and her name is Pippi Longstocking. She has crazy red pigtails, no parents to tell her what to do, a horse that lives on her porch, and a flair for the outrageous that seems to lead to one adventure after another!
Pippi Longstocking, originally written in Swedish, is considered one of the best works of author Astrid Lindgren. My copy of the book is an English translation by Florence Lamborn, whose translation felt clumsy at times. Our protagonist, Pippi, is a 9-year-old orphan girl, who lives by herself in her old house- Villa Villekulla- in a Swedish village. She finds company in a monkey, Mr. Nilsson, a horse, and two kids, Tommy and Annika, who are her neighbours. The book has no plot, just a bunch of Pippi’s outrageous antics and escapades. Oddly, when I had started reading the book, I felt the story must have an interesting plot, but, as it turns out it doesn’t.
Pippi is a bizarre character. She has got to be the most bizarre character I have ever come to know in a children’s book. She is described as a very strong girl, both, physically and emotionally. Pippi being emotionally strong is understandable, as she is a kid who had varied experiences as a child, and thus, had become emotionally strong. But, her superhuman physical strength is unconvincing. Pippi is said to be so strong that she lifts her horse off the porch every day (when I first read this I almost thought that there is some translation mistake), can carry strong men quite easily, and could defeat the strongest man of the village in a fight. If this were a science fiction or fantasy book, then Pippi’s unnatural physical strength might have looked cool. It also would have been okay, if the cause of Pippi’s strength would have been explained- How did Pippi become invincible? Was it magic? Or Was it genetic mutation? With no explanation provided, it felt too odd to read about Pippi’s superhuman strength.
Pippi is rude and arrogant in several scenes. She is rude to elders and behaves as if she knows better than anyone. But, I felt Pippi’s behaviour is not deliberate. It seemed to me as if she herself is not aware that she is being rude or condescending. I wonder, if Astrid Lindgren tried to portray the ill-effects of bad parenting on a child. Pippi’s mother died when she was a baby. She grew up with her father, who was a sea captain, aboard a ship. She didn’t have proper upbringing, never received proper education, and no one taught her proper manners. May be, hence, due to lack of proper guidance, Pippi became rude & arrogant.
For me, the most shocking bit is that Pippi is a perennial liar, who has several absurd tall tales to tell of her travel abroad adventures. Now, several of these odd tales are downright hilarious and made me laugh aloud. Also, the matter-of-fact way in which Pippi relates her absurd past adventures is also quite humorous. But, nevertheless, it is shocking to see a little girl lying excessively. How could the author create a children’s book character who lies so elaborately?
Children may like Pippi and wish for the ‘carefree, no school, no one to scold her, always getting her own way’ life she has. But, I don’t think any parent would want their child to emulate Pippi. I didn’t hate this book, but, I didn’t like it either.