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The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking Live On
By Sharon Whitley Larsen
Anyone with the name "Pippi Longstocking" has to be an interesting character!
"With such an unusual name, she became an unusual girl," noted the late Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, whose story about the freckle-faced, pigtailed 9-year-old has been loved by children for 70 years. Since "Pippi Longstocking" was first published in 1945 (in the United States in 1950), it has sold more than 60 million copies worldwide and been translated into some 70 languages.
What child hasn't fallen in love with this spunky, fun-loving, independent character (whose official name is Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim's Daughter Longstocking)? She defies convention, to put it mildly, has red pigtails that stick straight out, wears a dress she made (that looks like it), sports one brown stocking, one black and black shoes twice as long as her feet. She's strong as a horse and can even lift one.
Pippi lives by herself in a messy yellow house called Villa Villekulla. She doesn't have parents telling her what to do (she believes her ship-captain father, lost at sea, is a cannibal king and that her mother is in heaven). She doesn't go to school, and she has a pet monkey named Mr. Nilsson and a horse who lives on the front porch. She wants to be a pirate when she grows up.
Oh, and Pippi walks backward now and then, climbs the big oak tree, rolls cookie dough on the kitchen floor (where there's more room, of course), and has crazy adventures with Tommy and Annika, the perfect children who live next door. Her motto — whether it's creatively dealing with school authorities, policemen or bumbling burglars — is "I'll always come out on top!"
Award-winning author Lindgren grew up in Vimmerby (population 15,000) — one of Sweden's oldest towns, dating to the 12th century. It's in the Smaland region about four hours south of Stockholm, and it's where the story of zany Pippi comes alive during the summer months at Astrid Lindgren's World, Sweden's largest open-air theme park. Opened in 1981, Sweden's version of a literary Disneyland features 12 of Lindgren's books (including "Karlsson-on-the-Roof," "The Children of Noisy Village" and "Ronia, the Robber's Daughter") that are depicted by 60 different characters amid story backdrops and re-creations of this area's rural towns. But "Pippi" is the most well-known, especially in the United States, where it has sold more than 5 million copies.
Although my husband and I didn't understand the Swedish spoken by the actors, we got caught up in the exciting dramatization of the stories, musical performances and puppet shows.
"There are no rides here, no long lines," pointed out Nils-Magnus Angantyr, spokesman for Astrid Lindgren's World. "People can see chapters of her books being performed, can meet the characters and play with them; there's a lot of improvisation between performances."
In 2014, nearly a half-million visited the popular attraction, named the Nordic Region's Best Theme Park. Some 30 percent of visitors are from other countries, mostly Denmark, Germany, Norway, Holland and Finland.
One of Sweden's most beloved, prolific authors, Lindgren, who died in Stockholm at age 94 in 2002, was born in an 18th-century red farmhouse and spent happy childhood years in the yellow house next door (which resembles Pippi's Villa Villekulla).
Lindgren based many of her stories on her loving, carefree upbringing. In a film documentary she talked about the "magical, sensual nature, the security and freedom of childhood" and noted that "children can work miracles when they read."
Including the "Pippi" series, Lindgren's books have sold a staggering 150 million copies worldwide and been translated into 96 languages. Lindgren wrote several dozen children's books, novels, short stories, poetry volumes and plays.
On the warm, sunny day that we visited Astrid Lindgren's World, children swarmed about the costumed characters from the books, watched performances with their parents, climbed through Pippi's house, strolled the tiny streets, and played on swing sets, slides and in favorite replica storybook scenes.
One small girl intently read one of Lindgren's books as she sat in a wagon being pulled by her mom and dad. Another girl, about 3, was dressed like Pippi, red braided wig and all, as she walked hand-in-hand with her mother.
When the "real" Pippi appeared, children immediately flocked around her. One little girl stepped up to hand her a drawing she had done. Parents — many who had come here themselves as youngsters — clamored to take photos of their children with Pippi. Even grandparents toured the area with their grandchildren, as Lindgren's children's stories cross several generations of book-lovers.
"It's interesting to see German and Swedish children playing here together," observed our guide, Christina Thorstensson. "They don't speak each other's language, but they all know the stories and characters." Thorstensson once met Lindgren (who had lived her adult years in Stockholm but is buried in the local churchyard), recalling her as "a very nice, ordinary, simple person, humble, very kind to the kids. She was a humanitarian and ahead of her time."
"I grew up with Astrid Lindgren and her stories," noted Anne-Charlotte Harvey, professor emeritus of theater at San Diego State University and a native of Sweden. "I remember well when 'Pippi' came out. We thought she was super, witty and crazy! Lindgren's other books were also very popular; she captured the spirit of childhood for us and subsequent generations: camaraderie, inventiveness, discovery, adventurousness, tolerance of adults, kindness, simple toys and homemade clever games. All of Sweden looks to Vimmerby and Lindgren's memory for guidance, sanity and humanity. She was truly loved by the entire country, regardless of political color, and was a wise woman with a sense of humor."
"I am writing in order to amuse the child within myself," Lindgren once said, "and I hope that by doing so other children will have some fun. If I have been able to bring some sunshine into a single child's life, then I am satisfied."
WHEN YOU GO
Astrid Lindgren's World is open from mid-May to August, weekends in September and for an Autumn Crafts Market for several days in October: www.alv.se/en.
Astrid Lindgren's Nas (culture centre, museum, exhibition hall and childhood home): www.astridlindgren.com/en/culture-centre
For general information: www.visitsweden.com
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Sharon Whitley Larsen is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com
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