It’s the birthday of Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren (1907) (books by this author), who unleashed a nine-year-old fictional free spirit named Pippi Longstocking on the world. Pippi had sagging leggings, messy carrot-colored hair, and a pet monkey named Mr. Nilsson. She claimed that her father was a South Sea cannibal king, lived by herself, threw wild parties, and generally shocked and annoyed grown-ups, which endeared her to children worldwide. Her full name was Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim’s Daughter Longstocking. One grumpy adult reader sent Lindgren a letter saying, “No normal child sleeps with her feet on the pillow or eats up a whole cake at a coffee party.”
Lindgren was a farmer’s daughter just outside the small town of Vimmerby in southern Sweden when she became pregnant out of wedlock at 19. She hightailed it to Stockholm, where she had a son, became a secretary, got an office job, married, and had a daughter named Karin. Once when Karin was ill, she asked her mother to tell her a fairy tale about a girl named Pippi Longstocking. Lindgren didn’t ask questions; she just did as she was told. She said, “I just began the story, and since it was a strange name it turned out to be a strange girl as well.” She was already writing, inventing characters in books like Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter; Mischievous Meg; The Lionheart Brothers; and The Children of Troublemaker Street. Lindgren’s books have sold more than 80 million copies worldwide.
When she finally decided to write down Pippi’s stories for her daughter’s 10th birthday, she decided to send them to a publisher, too, and included a note that read, “In the hope that you won’t notify the Child Welfare Committee.” She said, “I had two children of my own, and what kind of mother had they who wrote such books!”
Astrid Lindgren died at 94 in 2002. She became something of a political activist in Sweden, campaigning for environmental causes, and for children and animal rights; the Lex Lindgren animal protection law was named after her. In 1976, she took on a tax system that legally charged some taxpayers more than 100 percent of their income by writing an adult fairy tale called Pomperipossa in the World of Money. It became so popular that it led to the downfall of the Social Democratic government later that year.
Pippi Longstocking begins: “She had no mother and no father, and that was of course very nice because there was no one to tell her to go to bed just when she was having the most fun, and no one who could make her take cod liver oil when she much preferred caramel candy.”