The whole world’s Astrid Lindgren
The heart of Astrid Lindgren’s universe is the red house on the farm of Näs in the outskirts of the small town of Vimmerby in the province of Småland. This is where Astrid was born in 1907, the child of rectory tenant Samuel August Eriksson and his wife Hanna, and this is where she grew up alongside her family and numerous friends.
“The best thing about my childhood was that we enjoyed just the right amount of safety and freedom”, says Astrid.
The safety came from being surrounded by settled and confident adults: mother, father, farmhands, maids, cowherds and female helpers. There was always someone around.
But the children also enjoyed a great deal of freedom, since the adults were busy with their own chores and could not keep their eyes on the children all the time.
In the books about the Bullerby children, Astrid describes just this kind of childhood, not from an adult point of view but from a child’s perspective. It is a world governed by play and imagination, a world which the author Astrid Lindgren has always returned to.
“Inside, I will always be a country girl from Vimmerby”, she says. “I write for my inner child.”
Her past childhood remains alive and kicking within her, it sparkles in her eyes and is expressed through her sudden ideas and quick laughter. This child knows precisely what other children would like to hear: fairytales and stories which make you laugh and cry, tremble with fear and excitement, to be told that they are allowed to be angry and stupid sometimes, that you can feel small and frightened but also strong and courageous when you overcome your fear.
Astrid was 38 years old before she accidentally realised that she had a rare gift: for telling stories that children wanted to hear. By then, she had trained as a clerk and married office manager Sture Lindgren. She also had two children and, according to her son Lars, she was an unusually playful mother. She used to tell stories to her daughter Karin, and one evening Karin said:
“Please tell me the story of Pippi Longstocking.”
It was an unusual name, pulled out of thin air, and when Astrid sat down and started her story, it was an unusual story about an unusual character, who was the strongest girl in the world. Then fate took a hand and a slight slip on the ice in the Stockholm park of Vasaparken meant that Astrid had enough time to write down the story about the unusual girl.
Pippi became a character shaped by the children’s own dreams of power. With gold coins in her pocket and strong arms, you can look after yourself and put adults as well as other children in their place. If you also have Astrid Lindgren’s ready wit, you can cope with anything. Pippi took on a leading role in the children’s own freedom movement. She is a girl and the strongest in the world, but she never uses her strength to fight. She shows that you do not have to be nasty just because you are strong. You can use words to fight and defend yourself:
“We live in a free country, don’t we? Aren’t you allowed to walk wherever you like?”
Millions of children throughout the world read Astrid Lindgren’s books and become best friends with Pippi, Emil, Ronja, Skorpan Lionheart, Karlsson on the roof, the Bullerby children and all the other characters. Some, like Karlsson, live in Stockholm, but most of the others can be found in the area around Vimmerby. This is where Emil bought his horse at the fair, where the White and Red rose tiptoe through the lanes around Båtsmanbacken, where Pippi carries her horse onto the veranda at the yellow house at Näs, the site of the Bullyerby children’s’ owl tree and where Mardie walks to the sweet shop.
And this is where you can feel the presence of Astrid Lindgren herself; artful like Emil, quick-witted like Pippi, tender-hearted like Mardie, cunning like Karlsson, and daring and brave like Ronja when she jumps across the Hell Gorge.
By Margareta Strömstedt