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|Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002)|
Famous Swedish writer of children's books, who renewed children's literature. Astrid Lindgren's best-known characters are independent, energetic, and unconventional, such as the untidy Pippi Longstocking, the noisy Nyman kids, and Emil, the master of pranks. Appealing to the little anarchist living inside every small child, Lindgren broke the tradition of Elsa Beskow, whose characters behave well and they do their best to live up to their parents' expectations.
"My papa is a cannibal king; it certainly isn't every child who has such a stylish papa," Pippi used to say with satisfaction. And as soon as my papa has build himself a boat he will come and get me, and I'll be a cannibal princess. Heigh-ho, won't that be exciting?" (from Pippi Longstocking, 1945)
Astrid Lindgren was born Astrid Anna Emilia Ericsson in Vimmerby, where she grew up on a farm. Astrid was the second of four children of Samuel August, a tenant farmer, and Hanna Jonsson Ericsson. Her parents gave much freedom to their children. A natural part of their upbringing was storytelling; they were encouraged to enter the world of literature and use their imagination.
From 1924 to 1926 Lindgren worked as a reporter at the local
newspaper, Wimmerby Tidning – her first text had appeared
in the paper in 1921. Lindgren also participated in services at
the Salvation Army compound, where she met her friends and sang hymns.
This carefree period of her life ended at the age of 18. To the shock
of his family, she became pregnant following an affair with Reinhold
Blomberg (1877-1947), the editor-in-chief of the Wimmerby Tidning.
Blomberg was married but in the middle of getting a divorce.
Forced to give up her work, Lindgren left home and moved to Stockholm, where she became an office employeer. In Copenhagen she gave birth to her son, Lars, who was given to a foster home. The separation from her son was difficult for Lindgren. Eventually her parents took Lars to Vimmerby. It is noteworthy that in her stories, there are many lonely boys, from Rasmus and Karlsson-on-the-Roof to Mio.
Lindgren worked in an office at the Royal Automobile Club. In 1931 she married Sture Lindgren, her office manager. Between the years 1946 and 1970 Lindgren was a children's book editor at Rabén & Sjogren. Lindgren's husband Sture died in 1952 and her son Lars in 1986.
During World War II Sweden managed to remain neutral. In 1940
Lindgren worked at the Swedish intelligence service (Allmänna
säkerhetstjänstens postkontrollanstalt), censoring letters; she called
it "dirty work".
In 1941 she moved to Dalagatan 26, her home in Stockholm for the
following decades. Lindgren recorded in her wartime diaries events from
the German invasion of Poland, September 1939, and the Soviet invasion
of Finland, November 1939, to the surrender of Japan, August 1945. The
diaries contain also a number of press cuttings from Swedish
newspapers. "National Socialism and Bolshevism are like two dinosaurs
fighting each other," she wrote on June 28, 1941. Occasionally Lindgren
cites letters she had read at work. A Danish Jew, who had escaped to
Sweden, tells about Gestapo torture and 80 year old women, who were
pushed into a cargo hold, so that the fall would kill them. The letter
writer also mentions that Jewish girls as young as 11 were sent to
brothels in Germany (October, 24, 1943). On New Year's Eve
1945, Lindgren summarizes that the atom bomb casts a shadow over the
but she is looking forward to the year of 1946.
As her children grew up, Lindgren told them stories that she had heard in her own childhood. At the age of 37, she began to write down the Pippi tales. Her daughter, Karin, made the name up. In full it is Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim's Daughter Longstocking. Pippi is a red-headed, athletic, and orphan. She is so strong that she can heft horses. Pippi is also untidy, wears mismatching stockings, and she loves her freedom. Her mother Pippi lost at an early age. Her father, a sea captain, was blown overboard in a storm and disappeared. Pippi believes that he is a South Sea cannibal king on an island, "and went around with a golden crown on his head all day long."
The first Pippi adventure, Pippi Långstrump (1945), published by Raben & Sjogren, was followed by Pippi Goes on Board (1946) and Pippi in the South Seas (1948). The anarchistic protagonist was condemned by some authorities in the heated discussion as a bad example of permissive upbringing. "She had no mother and no father," wrote Lindgren, "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."
An attack against Pippi was launched in 1946 by the critic and professor in pedagogics, Johan Landquist, who questioned the author's moral, argued that Pippi represented the warped abnormal, and metally ill, and dismissed the work "sinnessjuk fantasi." Decades later a Swedish physician criticized Pippi's behaviour towards adults. In her articles from 1939 and 1949, Lindgren defended the right of children to be treated like human beings without being oppressed: if the children are given love, good behavior will look after itself. "I don't consciously try to influence the children who read my books," Lindgren said. "All I dare hope for is that they may contribute a little bit towards a humane and democratic view of the world in the children who read them." In Pippi in the South Seas (1948) the young heroine journeys with her friends Tommy and Annika to the legendary Kurrekurredutt Island, where she has to choose between fantastic adventures and the safety of Villa Villekulla.
"Min mamma är en ängel och min pappa är en negerkung, det är minsann inte alla barn, som har så fina föräldrar, brukade Pippi säja så förnöjd. Och när min pappa bara får bygga sej en båt, så kommer han och hämtar mej, och då blir jag en negerprinsessa. Hej hopp, vad det ska bli livat!" (from Boken om Pippi Långstrump, 1978)
Pippi Longstocking differed radically from the familiar
literary tradition, represented in Johanna Spyri's classic Heidi series
or L.M. Montgomery's stories of orphan Anne.
The carrot-haired Pippi is more related to Heinrich
Hoffmann's Slovenly Peter (Der Struwwelpeter) or Wilhelm
Busch's anarchistic rascals Max and Moritz. Pippi is both
mentally and physically strong. Her pets are not cats or dogs or goats,
as in the case of Heidi, but a horse and a monkey, called Mr.
Nilsson – her primitive doppelganger in Jungian sense? The
nine-year-old Pippi lives alone, fullfilling very child's dream of
freedom and adventure. Jørgen Gaare & Øystein Sjaastad have argued
in Pippi og Sokrates (2000), that Lindgren works are first and
foremostly about taboos – she interpreters and breaks them. They
have also found in Pippi's thinking and character connections with the
philosophy of Socrates, Nietzsche, and feminist theoreticians,
especially Simone de Beauvoir. Pippi, like all children, asks
philosophically fundamental questions – what is knowledge, what is
courage, what is friendship etc. Lindgren read widely, from Defoe's Robinson Crusoe to Robert Frost's Collected Poems, from
biographies and memories to Edgar Allan Poe's tales.
Following the longstanding tradition of Swedish children's books, Lindgren often depicted closely knit communities and peaceful pastoral environments, but she also challenged conventional codes of children's literature. Her novel The Brothers Lionheart brought up the taboo of the death and the doctrine of reincarnation. The hero, Jonathan Lejonhjärta is a pacifist, whose story is told by his little brother, Karl Lejon; they meet in the afterlife. Noteworthy, the theme of death was not not new in Lindgren's work: Pippi's mother is dead, and she refuses to believe that her father has drowned. (She questions the reality and is right.). Mio, min Mio, a classical story of good and evil, is colored by suggestive, flexible rhythm, derived from such sources as the Bible, the folk tales, and the lyric poetry. Both of these books were illustrated by Ilon Wikland. Lindgren and Wikland became friends in the 1950s, when Lindgren worked for Rabén & Sjögren. Other illustrators have been Ingrid Wang Nyman, who drew Peppi Longstocking, Eva Billow, and Björn Berg, who drew Emil books.
Lindgren's young detective, Kalle Blomqvist (Bill Bergson), made his appearance in 1946, and the Bullerby children next year. In 1963 Lindgren created another popular character, Emil, a five-year-old boy, whose adventures started in Emil in Lönneberga. The energetic Nyman kids, Jonas, Maria, and Lotta were introduced in The Children on Troublemaker Street (1958): "Daddy says that befotre there were any children in the house, everything was peace and quiet. The noise started the minute Jonas was big enough to bang his rattle against the edge of the crib."
Ronja Robber's Daughter entered in Lindgren's fiction in the 1980s, and launched a more modern variation of Pippi Långstocking. When Pippi is a real "father's daughter", the relationship between Ronja and Matt is more problematic. She admires her father although he is week and she turns out to be strong. Ronja lives with the robbers in a castle which was split in two on the night of her birth. When she becomes older, she finds from the forbidden part another human being, Birk, the son of her father's greatest rival. Rebelling against her father, she starts to live with Birk. They run away and make their home in a cave in the depths of a forest, experiencing the beauty and harshness of the nature. "They stood silently, listening to the twittering and rushing and buzzing and singing and murmuring in their woods. There was life in every tree and watercourse and every green thicket; the bright song of spring rang out everywhere."
From the 1940s Lindgren had voted the Social Democrats, and in the 1960s she opposed the Vietnam war. In the 1970s her critical opinions about the ruling Social democratic government were hailed by the right-wing parties. Lindgren's adult fairy tale, 'Pomperipossa in the World of Money,' which was published in the newspaper Expressen in 1976, attacked unjust taxation. She had counted that her income was taxed at an annual rate of 102 percent. In the late 1970s the laws were made more reasonable – but not before the famous film director Ingmar Bergman was arrested and charged with income-tax fraud, and had suffered a nervous breakdown. Lindgren also influenced the acceptance of another law, which insured farm animals freedom from cramped conditions. "Every pig is entitled to a happy pig life," Lindgren said in an open letter to Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson. The law, known as Lex Astrid, was passed in 1988.
Mitt Småland, Lindgren's memoirs, came
out in 1987. She was voted in 1999 the most popular Swede of the
century. Lindgren died at the age of 94 peacefully in her home, in
Stockholm, on January 28, 2002. She published over 100 books, which
sold tens of millions of copies. Lindgren never taught herself to use a
computer; she drafted the text in longhand, and then typed it out on a
manual typewriter (Facit Privat).
Her stories have inspired many
and screen adaptations, among others Luffaren och Rasmus (1955),
not so stylish Pippi Långstrump i Söderhavet / Pippi in the South
Seas (1974), Bröderna Lejonhjärta (1977), and lively Ronja
(1983). Between 1945 and 1965, thirteen of about thirty Swedish
children's films were based on stories by Lindgren. She also scripted
many of the productions. Pippi, played by Inger Nilsson, has appeared
four Swedish films in 1969-71, and in an English-language movie, The
New Adventures of Pippi
starring Tami Erin. Eskil Dalenius, a popular child star, played
different characters in several films. Lasse Hallström's Noisy Village
films (The Children of Noisy Village, 1986; More about the Children of Noisy Village, 1987) drew heavily from the aesthetics of the painter Carl Larsson.
For further reading: Historien om et "påhit" by Ellen Buttenschøn (1975); En bok om Astrid Lindgren, ed. by Mary Ørvik (1977); Astrid Lindgren: En levnadsteckning by Margareta Strömstedt (1977); Århundradets barn: Fenomenet Pippi Långstrump och dess förutsättningar by Lena Kåreland (1979); Duvdrottningen, ed. by Mary Ørvig & Marianne Eriksson (1987); The Fantastic in World Literature and the Arts, ed. by Donald E. Morse (1987); Astrid Lindgren by Vivi Edström (1987); Läs om Astrid Lindgren by Kerstin Llunggren (1992); Astrid Lindgren - Vildtoring och lägereld by Vivi Edström (1992); Contemporary World Writers, ed. by Tracy Chevalier (1993); Astrid Lindgren by Eva-Maria Metcalf (1995); Röster om Astrid Lindgren (1996); Bild och text i Astrid Lindgrens värld, ed. by Helene Ehriander & Birger Hedén (1997); Astrid Lindgren och folkdikten, ed. by Per Gustavsson (1994); Astrid från Vimmersby by Lena Törnqvist (1998); Pippi og Sokrates by Jørgen Gaare & Øystein Sjaastad (2000); Allrakäraste Astrid: en vänbok till Astrid Lindgren, ed. by Susanna Hellsing, Birgitta Westin et al. (2001); Rebellen från Vimmerby: Om Astrid Lindgren och hemstaden by Jens Fellke, Helena Egerlid et al. (2002); Från snickerboa till Villa Villekulla: Astrid Lindgrens filmvärld by Petter Karlsson & Johan Erséus (2004); Astrids äventyr: innan hon blev Astrid Lindgren by Christina Björk, Eva Eriksson (2007); Astrid Lindgrens världar i Vimmerby: en studie om kulturarv och samhällsutveckling, ed. Leif Jonsson (2010); Astrid Lindgren i Stockholm by Anna-Karin Johansson (2012); Denna dagen, ett liv: En biografi över Astrid Lindgren by Jens Andersen (2014); Alla älskar vi Astrid: brev, intervjuer och minnen by Per-Ola Björklund (2021); Nationalism in Swedish Children's Film and the Case of Astrid Lindgren by Anders Wilhelm Åberg (2022)