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Pip pip and tarry ho!
on June 25, 2004
To my mind, Pippi Longstocking is perhaps the world's first child superhero. Able to lift strong policemen with her bare hands! Capable of climbing tall houses and trees with virtually no effort at all! Rescuing children from burning buildings and adults from snobby talk! If, like myself, you were a child of the 1980s then your first exposure to Miss Longstocking probably came in the form of that gawdawful movie circa 1988. Words alone cannot express the damage that film did to the youth of America. After watching it I avoided the book "Pippi Longstocking" like it was the plague itself. Only recently have I recanted and decided to read Astrid Lindgren's classic tale. As charming as it is outright bizarre I charge all of you to take the time to find and devour this little Swedish gem. Pippi's a pip, no question.
Working at wish fulfillment on about ten different levels, Pippi is the ultimate kid's kid. She lives all alone in a large fantastic house. Her mother died while she was but a babe and her father has been lost at sea. As optimistic regarding her father's return as Primrose Squarp in "Everything On a Waffle", Pippi fills her days with dancing, pancakes, and games. She owns a whole suitcase of gold coins, which allow her the freedom to live alone and untended. On top of that, she has her own monkey (the drolly named Mr. Nilsson) and horse. The neighbor children Annika and Tommy think (rightly so) that Pippi's a wonder. She never attends school or bothers with all the problems other children suffer. Instead, she has her own unique perspective on life and the people around her. Though precocious she's never mean, even when dealing with bullies or criminals.
The book, originally published in American in 1950, is a wonder. Though I'm certain other illustrators have done a fair job, I highly recommend that you seek out an edition illustrated by the talented Louis S. Glanzman. His Pippi is just as fabulous as you might hope her to be. I've always minded those Pippi's that seem a little too lanky or tough. This Pippi is just mischief incarnate. While you're out seeking an edition of this book illustrated by Glanzman, also make certain that the translation has been done by Florence Lamborn. There were some moments of trans-atlantic interpretation that just blew me away. For example, when confronted by evil bullies numerous in number, the biggest and meanest of them eyes Pippi and says, "boys, let Willie alone and take a look at this girl. What a babe!". Obviously that phrase must've meant something entirely different in 1950, but I was incredibly amused by it just the same. Other funny moments caught my eye. For one thing, Pippi and her friends are forever drinking coffee. Not given the "adult drink" status it has in the states, coffee is definitely the drink of choice of Swedish youth. And there was also the difficulty the translator had with verbal puns. Some of these had to be worked around by explaining what a word means in English. Without these explanations the book's jokes would fall flat.
Finally, my favorite chapter of the book. It was the chapter in which Pippi is invited to a fancy coffee party (see what I meant about kids and coffee?). Pippi attempts desperately to mix and mingle appropriately with the middle-aged lady guests there. When the women start putting down their hired help, Pippi is more than eager to tell multiple increasingly bizarre stories of her grandmother's servant Malin. The ways in which Pippi tells Milan tales becomes more and more extreme until at the end she screams towards the women from the other end of the block, "SHE NEVER SWEPT UNDER THE BEDS". I think you'll have to read the chapter yourself to see just how increasingly hilarious it becomes. It's fabulous stuff.
Every country has its resident red headed heroine. Canada has Anne of Green Gables. America has Caddie Woodlawn. Sweden has Pippi Longstocking. She's the greatest thing since sliced bread and twice as perky. For a fabulous romp through the increasingly ridiculous, I more than recommend this quirky spunky fan-freakin'-tastic book. It hasn't aged a jot.