September 26, 2003

Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren

I first read this book as a kid--I inherited it from one or another of my siblings--and it was with fond memories that I bought a new copy some while back to read to my oldest boy. Fond but faded memories; all I could really remember about Pippi was that she lives all by herself, and is extremely unconventional, and her father is a sea-captain, and that in Pippi in the South Seas she and her friends Tommy and Annika go to visit her father on the tropical island where he's now a cannibal king. In short, most of my memories were from the other two Pippi books.

So given that, and given my recent unhappy experience with James and the Giant Peach, I opened this particular volume with some sense of trepidation. Having now re-read it, my feelings are mixed.

Pippi is undeniably a fun character, and her tall tales are easily the high point of the book:

Once my grandmother had a servant named Malin. She had chilblains on her feet, but otherwise there was nothing wrong with her. The only annoying thing was that as soon as company came she would rush at them and bite their legs. And bark! Oh, how she would bark! You could hear it all through the neighborhood, but it was only because she was playful. Only, of course, strangers didn't always understand that. The dean's wife, an elderly woman, came to see Grandmother once soon after Malin first came, and when Malin came dashing at her and bit her in the ankle, the dean's wife screamed so loudly that it scared Malin, so that her teeth clamped together and she couldn't get them apart. There she sat, stuck to the dean's wife's ankle until Friday. And Grandmother had to peel the potatoes herself. But at least it was well done. She peeled so well that when she was done there were no potatoes left--only peelings. But after that Friday the dean's wife never came to call on Grandmother again. She just never could take a joke.

Pippi's also outrageously strong, and in between her tall tales, Pippi occasionally gets to do something fun--like carry the policemen who've come to take her to an orphanage out of the house when she's tired of making them run after her. Apart from Pippi's stories, the humor is almost entirely slapstick.

So, yeah, there's some genuinely funny stuff here. David enjoyed it thoroughly, especially the bits I thought were a bit too silly.

But on the other hand, nothing much happens. It's not so much a story about Pippi as it is a collection of sketches in which she gets to perform, always in contrast to next-door neighbors Tommy and Annika, who are as colorless a pair of goody-two-shoes as you'd ever want to meet.

Since David enjoyed this one I'll no doubt be looking for the other two Pippi books--but I'm no longer so thrilled about the whole thing.

Posted by Will Duquette at September 26, 2003 10:03 PM