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Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstocking pursues happiness through nonsense, not success.

Pippi uses her imagination in every situation to draw out every happy or fun aspect possible.

Full Review

The Pippi Longstocking series has been extremely popular, but why?

Pippi adds her own preposterous twist to every event. To children caught in a house fire she says, “My, it seems warm in here … {only} four sticks in the fire tomorrow, I think.” Pippi’s ‘education’ was on her father’s boat, but he was washed overboard to become a stranded leader of cannibals, or was that Pippi’s idea?  The indomitable Pippi is rich, super-strong and rolls out cookie dough on the floor.

Pippi Longstocking is the first of several “Pippi” books and is a necessary introduction to Pippi’s character and background.  Longstocking begins in a small town in Sweden. Tommy and Annika discover that nine year old Pippi has moved in next door. And, she is living alone, yes, no parents! Pippi would not say she was alone, because she lives with a monkey named “Mr. Nilsson”, a horse and a suitcase full of gold coins. When Tommy and Annika next see Pippi she is walking home, backwards! To their query Pippi gaily responds,

Isn’t it a free country? Can’t a person walk any way she wants to? For that matter, let me tell you that in Egypt everybody walks that way, and nobody thinks it’s the least bit strange.” “It’s wicked to lie,” responds Annika, to the obvious absurdity.

This is typical of Pippi’s approach to everything and, straight up, she serves as the voice of the author by admitting it:

Yes, it’s very wicked to lie, but I forget it now and then. And how can you expect a little child whose mother is an angel and whose father is king of a cannibal island … to tell the truth always? And for that matter,” Pippi’s whole freckled face lights up, “let me tell you that in the Congo there is not a single person who tells the truth.”

This is not advocating dishonesty. Rather, it proposes taking a happy and openly absurd outlook on otherwise dull or negative things and times.

Now, Pippi also has super human strength. What child would not like to feel the safety of having greater strength than bullies and intimidating adults. When two policemen are sent to take Pippi to a children’s home she is able to out maneuver them, and then carries them off her property, one in each hand. She is able to deal with a charging bull and burglars raiding her home for her gold (she stops them and then feeds them). She outdoes the circus strongman, Adolf, and even rescues children from a house fire.

Pippi’s strength is not essential to the book. What matters is that Pippi is always benevolent and happy, even when dealing with the bullies and angry circus ring leaders.

Nothing Pippi says or does is the expected. The story’s romp-with-craziness has its legitimacy (or usefulness) in showing children that life can be fun, though to adults it may drag (the book is 160 pages).

In one scene Pippi tries to contribute to an adult coffee party where the adults are complaining about their servants’ weaknesses. Of course, uninvited, Pippi relates that her grandmother’s servant, Malin, is the worst there ever was. Malin often bit visitors on the leg, and on Tuesdays she breaks all the household china . One day Malin quits, just as she had started breaking the chinaware. Grandma, Pippi tells us, had to finish the difficult task herself!

Pippi suffers no consequences for her whim driven, blatantly irrational behavior. Worse, she has the advantages of money-on-hand and superior strength, making her all the more able to be ‘carefree’. But once young readers grasp that Pippi is a purposely crazy little heroine, they will be eager to read about the next ‘nutso’ thing that Pippi will cause & then escape. It seems that the  important message of Pippi Longstocking, especially to a child with an overly severe outlook on life, is to find the fun in everything, because life should be happy!  But there is a problem in it.

The trouble is, the story is not about any logical success or justice. It only appears to promote a positive and unstoppable outlook, but it does so through escapism, through abandoning reality.

Overall, its message is unclear, and its plot events are so contrived that —and it’s a good thing— no child would take them seriously.  But what does that offer a child?  Cinderella is even more of a fantasy, but it is much better in principle.  Cinderella gains because she is hard working and honest.  There is nothing about Pippi of that nature, she just has preposterous abilities, creating an empty giddiness.

For children, the message from Pippi is, silliness is a value for living happily . . . “whoo hooo!”  The implied alternative, then, is that the seriousness of Annika and Tommy should be off-set by silliness.  The cultural equivalent is found among many students’ first two years of University, as they live for truly nonsensical “partying”, drinking, and sick pranks to off-set the labor of their studies (if they were studying).

Pippi in the South Seas is less silly but still fun, but it is not worth pursuing Pippi Longstocking to get to it.