Every quirky kid needs a hero, or in this case a heroine, and Pippi was mine. This must be why this book was the first one on my list for the Books That Made Me Love Reading Challenge.
When I think of reading Pippi Longstocking, a precursory memory comes leaping back, a little misty around the edges but yet opaque enough to watch it for a while. It is a rainy day and I am perched on the two-seater couch in front of the huge window of my parents' living room. Under my butt is the well worn, slippery Burgundy fabric, not yet recovered in plush chartreuse, but every day nearing its fate. I hold this book in my hand, staring at the cover, repeating the author's name in my head as it is so unusual. Astrid. I like this. I try it out as my second name, as I was wont to do every time I came across a name I liked; being a kid with no second name affords one the obsession with fill-in-the-blank contemplation.
On to the main feature. The book for me fulfilled every last fantasy a quirky kid could dream of. Imagine you had all the money in the world. You had no pesky parents to insist you do this or that, to make you do chores or send you to school. You had a horse, of course of course! A monkey (who doesn't want a monkey?) and you had the strength that marked a very strong dividing line between dependant and independent. Every childhood problem was solved. Why did you need learning when you had all the earthly wants? Money, freedom, strength, companionship and heck, two neighbourhood children who adored you and put up with all your quirks with the utmost patience, understanding and acceptance. Yes! A dream come true. In my mind, Pippi was excellently written and was the perfect novel. I couldn't get enough of it. I read every Pippi book and watched every Pippi TV show and movie. She bucked the system and was accepted for it and never challenged. She proved her point and no one interfered. I was going to be like that someday too.
Reading this book yesterday for the first time since I was about 9 years old was an eye opener in several ways. First, I recognized that Pippi Longstocking was not the best thing ever written. It departs greatly from the literary tenets of today with it's focus on plot development, climax and denouement. Pippi is a book of vignettes and adventures rather than a story. That is to say that aside from the first chapter which introduces the characters, the subsequent chapters could appear in any order, except perhaps the last chapter, which I will explain in a moment.
Reading this book from an adult perspective forces me into a diagnosis mindset which was not present when I read this book as a child. I found myself trying to come up with a label for her actions such as Asperger's, sociopath... I was better able to see how the dialogue revealed not only a girl that didn't' know manners but one who was speaking volumes by her very actions. Something I did not catch when I was 9 years old.
There is a scene where Pippi goes to a tea party and tries to outdo the women there who are exchanging bourgeois suffering stories about their incompetent servants. She invents an outlandish story about a non-existent family servant who did incredibly outrageous things. There is a similar story where Pippi goes to school and tries to cover up her lack of book knowledge by demonstrating her worldly knowledge through outlandish story telling.
Ah ha! I thought, This is something we all do, don't we, to one degree or another? When we feel insecure, when we feel stupid, don't we then try to downplay the competition by outdoing it, thereby rendering it useless, trite or beneath us.
It struck me that Pippi was trying to cover up a world of hurt, a world of insecurity, and a world of isolation by making up her own rules, making up her own person and shutting out the world. The fact is that when you incorporate others into your life, then you have to concern yourself with pleasing them, being approved by them, and living up to their expectations. That is a big pill to swallow and Pippi always reverts back to her own world of pleasing no one but herself.
For the rest of us, that can be lonely. For Pippi, she has set her mind that she will always come out on top. She has seemed to solve the riddle of loneliness by creating fantasies about her parents love and whereabouts. This book, oddly enough, does not address the issue of loneliness, sadness, isolation and abandonment. Pippi is not phased by any of that stuff. She won't let herself be.
An interesting character indeed.
I surmise that the book, in its vignette style could interchange any chapter, except for the ending. The reason is that in the last chapter, Pippi finds pistols and guns in an old chest in the attic and discharges them merrily in the presence of her two compatriots Tommy and Annika. She also sends the pistols home with the children when the father of the children comes to pick them up to take them home, Pippi yelling after them that they will all be pirates some day. This absolutely has to be the last chapter for no doubt the father would not allow his kids to return to play pistols with the quirky neighbour kid.
Reading Pippi in the light of idolizing it as a child and now viewing it as an adult, I believe, only serves to increase my compassion and understanding for a child who lives her life by her own terms. As a child I thought it was cool and something to strive for. As an adult I understand that it is more a story of doing what one has to do to survive and some of us are more prepared to do that than others.