by Stephanie Nikolopoulos
Any girl that has ever worn her hair in braids has undoubtedly been called Pippi Longstocking. The image of the impish redhead is one of the most enduring in children’s literature. After all, the way her braids stuck out from the side of her head–not to mention her zany socks–symbolized her untamable spirit. Is it any wonder I braided my hair when I set off to Junibacken, the children’s museum dedicated to (Pippiauthor) Astrid Lindgren’s characters, during my visit to Stockholm, Sweden?
Pippi and I share more in common than braids, though. Pippi, like me, has a long, tongue-twisting name–Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim’s Daughter Longstocking–and a seafaring father. (Remember Pippi in the South Seas?) Most important, though, we both have Swedish origins. Pippi is the creation of Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. Born as Astrid Anna Emilia Ericsson on November 14, 1907, Lindgren was the second of four children. Her parents, Samuel August and Hanna Johnsson Ericsson, raised the family on a farm in Vimmerby, Smaland. Located in southern Sweden, Smaland is also the home Ingvar Kamprad, founder of the popular furniture store IKEA. In Vimmerby, there is a large camping village and theme park devoted to the author and her works called Astrid Lindgren’s World. Although larger than Junibacken, Astrid Lindgren’s World is only open during the summer season and is not centrally located in a top tourist destination.
Lindgren was encouraged to be independent and creative while growing up in Vimmerby. She read books like Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (1908) and Eleanor H. Porter’s Pollyanna(1912)–stories of passionate, strong-willed, young girls who undoubtedly influenced the character of Pippi Longstocking.
As the daughter of a tenant farmer, young Astrid loved animals and was concerned with their well-being. When she reached adulthood, she fought against factory farming, a practice that put small farms out of business and treated animals inhumanely. In a letter to Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, she wrote, “Every pig is entitled to a happy pig life.” This influenced the passing of the Lex Astrid, a law that in 1888 freed animals in Sweden from small confined conditions. Thus, animals and farm life were also central to her children’s stories.
She began her writing career as a reporter for Wimmerby Tidning newspaper when she was still a teenager. In 1926, she moved to Stockholm. She found work in an office at the Royal Automobile Club, eventually marrying her office manager, Sture Lindgren. Afterwards, in 1940, she censored letters for the Swedish Intelligence service. After the success of Pippi Longstocking, Lindgren became an editor for the series publishing house from 1946 to 1970, and continued to pen her own children’s stories. A prolific author, she was the recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1958. Lindgren very much deserved this international award for youth literature: her children’s stories have sold worldwide and been translated into more than seventy languages. Among her most beloved works are The Brother Lionheart; Emil of Maple Hills; Karlsson-on-the-Roof; Mio, My Mio; Ronia the Robbers Daughter; and of course the Pippi Longstockingseries.
Pippi Longstocking sprang to life over a series of stories Lindgren thought up to entertain her daughter, Karin, who was bed-ridden with pneumonia at the time. When the seven-year-old came up with the name Pippi Longstocking, Lindgren patched together a character with a personality as quirky as her name. Pippi was the strongest girl in the world. She was so strong that she could lift her horse straight over her head! She lived with her horse and her monkey, Mr. Nilsson, in a fantastic house called Villa Villekulla. Like Peter Pan and many heroes of children’s literature, Pippi didn’t have the constraints of parents: her dad, a pirate, sailed the ocean and her mom watched over her from the stars. Left with riches from her dad’s plundering, Pippi defied authority and embodied the notion of carpe diem. Fiercely autonomous and always in search of a good time–even if it meant bending the rules–Pippi was an unlikely heroine for the time. It is not surprising, therefore, that the book Pippi Langstrump at first couldn’t find a publisher. The works that have most influenced literature–whether it be James Joyce’s Ulysses or Jack Kerouac’s On the Road–have often had the hardest time gaining acceptance. Although the publishing house Bonniers did not recognize Pippi Langstrump’s potential, Rabn & Sjgren gave it an award in 1945 and soon Pippi became an iconic figure. Five years later, Pippi Longstocking was published in English in the United States. By 1995, Pippi Longstockingwas so renown that the characters name was even given to an instrument of the Swedish microsatellite Astrid–the acronym standing for Prelude In Planetary Particle Imaging.
My first contact with Pippi Longstocking came not from the books, but from the movies. A Swedish television series starring Inger Nilsson as Pippi was edited into four feature films for U.S. distribution: Pippi Longstocking (1969), Pippi in the South Seas (1970), Pippi on the Run (1970), and Pippi Goes on Board (1973). The terribly dubbed films have become cult classics not unlike the way samurai movies have. A few years ago, the films were screened during a Pippi Longstocking exhibit at Scandinavia House in New York City. As a volunteer, I easily got sucked into the nostalgia of the movies. In 1988, The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking, starring Tami Erin as Pippi, was released. Although not as commonly admired as the original, it is still a wickedly fun film that even adults admit enjoying. All of these films, as well as a 1997 cartoon version, are available in DVD format, which is a testament to the long-lasting popularity of Pippi Longstocking.
Having rented the Pippi Longstocking videos over and over again as a kid, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the Pippi-infused Junibacken when I went to Sweden as an adult–even if it is technically a children’s museum. Junibacken is in Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, which is a pristine city full of bike paths and posh boutiques. Although a hip, bustling city, Stockholm feels accessible. Most people seem to speak English as if it were their native language, and they are friendly to tourists. I remember mentioning to one of my hostel-mates that the Swedes speak English so well that they don’t even have an accent, to which the British backpacker corrected me that they did speak with an accent: an American one. Like most major cities, Stockholm is divided into sections; Junibacken is located on the island of Djurgarden. Situated in a spacious part of the city, Junibacken is a respite for adults and children alike. It is accessible via public transportation, with information on how to get there available on the museum’s website.
Although most of the attractions at Junibacken are geared toward children, adult fans of Lindgren’s work will delight in the details of the museum and may even regress to their childhood days. Broken up into various sections, the museum brings Lindgren’s creations to life. At the entrance to the museum is the Story Train, an automated ride that starts your adventure. Narrated in several languages–English, Finnish, German, and Russian, besides Swedish–and illustrated by Marit Tornqvist, it familiarizes you with Lindgren’s endearing characters: Mardie, Emil, Ida, Nils, Ronja, and the Lionheart Brothers. After the ride, various play stations offer hands-on activities for kids. There are opportunities to play dress up and to read storybooks. Always one to take advantage of a funny photo opportunity, I got in on the fun and tried on a few costumes myself. There is even a life-size replication of Villa Villekulla, a funhouse where kids can duck into coves, zoom down slides, and even meet Pippi herself. What a coveted job it must be for a young girl to get paid to perform silly antics all day long! Junibacken is also home to one of Sweden’s most-loved children’s theatres. For adults, though, there is an exhibition on Astrid Lindgren that includes well-preserved, handwritten letters and photographs, among other treasures that celebrate the life of the author.
After all that jumping around, you’ll want to purchase a scrumptious treat for yourself. Junibacken’s restaurant offers meals and lighter fare, like homemade biscuits and ice cream, which will delight your taste buds. The restaurant is also available for private parties during after hours. And if you want some brain food, a small but complete bookshop devoted to Astrid Lindgren and her works has storybooks and DVDs in various languages, in addition to games and toys. True to Pippi’s break-the-rules spirit, I had been surviving mainly on cookies, Pringles, and Fanta, instead of nutritious food, while backpacking through Europe, so the museum admission price was enough of a splurge for me: adult tickets are SEK 110 (about $15 in U.S. money). Still, the trip to Junibacken was worth it. Not only did I get to spend a day in Pippi’s mismatched boots, but I learned more about Astrid Lindgren’s other characters as well as about the author herself.
When I left the museum, I sat down on a pier and reflected on my journey. I took out my journal and let my feet dangle off the edge of the dock as ducks swam past. As a soft-spoken thinker, I admired the character of Pippi Longstocking. She lived by the seat of her pants and rebelled against conformity. Still, she was friends with two of the most clean-cut kids in the neighborhood, Tommy and Annika, and she was generous and caring. Junibacken awakens your inner-Pippi. The museum reminds you what it is like to laugh out loud and lets you embrace your uniqueness and creativity. I also was inspired by Astrid Lindgren, who spoke out for the silenced–girls, who at the time were taught above all else to behave, to do what they were told–and the voiceless animals, who could not defend themselves against torture. When Lindgren died peacefully in her home on January 28, 2002, not only was her burial ceremony televised in Sweden, but news of the death of the most popular Swede of the century made international headlines. So while there are many tourist destinations and great museums in Stockholm, a vacation in Sweden isn’t complete without a trip to Junibacken.