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Pippi Longstocking

Stefan Dege / ad
November 26, 2015

The world's best-known cheeky redhead is turning 70. Astrid Lindgren's creation, Pippi Longstocking, has been a role model for decades, but how much longer will she survive?

Child actor Inger Nilsson in the role as Pippi Longstocking during filming "Pippi on the Seven Seas" at Vaxholm fortress, just outside Stockholm in August 1969. Copyright: Jan Collssioo/SCANPIX
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

"Hello, I am Pippilotta Viktualia Rullgardina Peppermint Efraimsdotter Longstocking!"

Whenever Pippi introduces herself with her full name, it takes a while. That's not only the case in English, but also in the 100 other languages into which her adventures have been translated.

The fictional character was "born" in Sweden in 1945. Author Astrid Lindgren invented her story while sitting at the sick bed of her young daughter Karin.

Since then, 66 million books have been sold worldwide. In Sweden alone, more than 40 films based on Lindgren's stories have been produced with seven different actresses playing the role of Pippi. Now the famous freckled redhead with the cheeky braids is turning 70 - but hasn't aged a bit.

Pippi Langstrumpf, drawn by Katrin Engelking, Copyright: Katrin Engelking
Pippi Longstocking listened to her whimsImage: Katrin Engelking

She lives all by herself in the Villa Villekulla, together with her monkey Mr. Nilsson and her horse Little Uncle. Annika and Thomas live next door. Boredom has been banished ever since Pippi moved into the Villa Villekulla.

Pippi does not see any reason why she should go to school because, after all, who needs "pluttification?" she asked innocently.

Why has the girl with the unmatched stockings and a homemade dress, whose mother was an angel and father a busy king in the South Sea, fascinated so many people?

Emancipated role model

"Pippi Longstocking is a true children's heroine," says Münster-based psychology professer Alfred Gebert. "Girls in particular can identify with her."

Pippi is strong, sassy and helpful. She lives all by herself in a huge villa. Nobody forces her to attend school, and yet she is able to achieve anything she aspires to. Pippi gets on very well alone, even though her friends play an important role in her life.

The role model is very emancipated, says Gebert: "Women who admired Pippi Longstocking when they were children are likely to do well in their jobs later on, especially when it comes to competing with men, and they will do everything for their friends."

Herbert Scheithauer, psychologist at the Freie Universität in Berlin, holds a similar view. The effect of children's books on the psychological development of a child is not to be underestimated, he says: "With Pippi Longstocking, it's all about complying and not complying with rules, human strengths and weaknesses - and friendship."

Prof. Herbert Scheithauer, Copyright: banane design gmbh bremen
Herbert ScheithauerImage: banane design gmbh bremen

Younger children are particularly able to identify with Pippi, while at the same time distancing themselves from her, according to Scheithauer. Another attraction of the Pippi stories is their reversal of the relationship between adults and children. For Scheithauer, Pippi Longstocking is simply "timeless."

A recipe for life

Pippi embodies everything that children want for their own lives: self-determination, adventure, super powers. "Children need heroes like Pippi Longstocking. Such heroes help them overcome difficulties," says the Frankfurt-based child psychologist Svenja Lüthge.

The somewhat chaotic Pippi has the ability to strengthen insecure children, Lüthge explains: "Pippi has a recipe for life. She is just as strong as an adult, and even dares to make fun of teachers and police officers."

At the same time, Pippi had an unerring sense of justice and a big heart for the weak. "For children, she incorporates the ideal role model," says Lüthge.

But aren't children bothered by how unrealistic Pippi is? "On the contrary," says Hanover-based child psychologist Wolfgang Bergmann. "Kids love the supernatural properties of their heroes. You can observe the same phenomenon with Harry Potter."

Astrid Lindgren, Copyright: AP photo/Pressens Bild/Tobias Rostlund
Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002)Image: AP

The author stimulates the ego-ideal of her young readers with the most far-fetched fantasies before gently leading them back into the real world. That is a phenomenon described by Sigmund Freud: "When the ego ideal is reconciled with the ego, the soul celebrates."

Does Pippi have a future?

Bergmann points out that today's children tend to grow up in urban environments far away from the idyllic world of the Pippi stories. "That's why I have my doubts whether there will be a future generation of Pippi readers," he says.

Svenja Lüthge is more optimistic: "Astrid Lindgren describes a very special kind of childhood that only few can experience. Most children nowadays are no longer able to live out their desire for freedom. All the better for them if they get carried away into this delightful dream world."

Lüthge expects that Pippi will still be popular in 10, 20 or even 30 years, "but only under the condition that we as parents pass on our love for Lindgren's world to the next generations. Pippi Longstocking stands for affection, friendship and courage. And she demonstrates that one must take action in order to overcome difficulties with courage. And that's precisely what we should teach our children."

Astrid Lindgren was born on November 14, 1907, near the small town of Vimmerby in Småland. Her books have been translated into 100 languages worldwide. She received numerous awards for her work, including the Alternative Nobel Prize and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. She died at the age of 94 on January 28, 2002, in Stockholm.

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