why pippi longstocking is no lisbeth salander

We met Pippi Longstocking on Saturday.  She was singing at the local city “day” in what we call “the big park.”  After the show we snuck around the stage, where, after a hesitating advance, my daughter got a hug.

But that was just the beginning.  For then we trailed Pippi around the park for 45 minutes, staying a respectful distance back, but definitely conspicuous, a watchful, serious four-year-old girl, her dad, her baby brother and a big stroller.  We watched Pippi play with kids, get her picture taken, hug, and smile.  She disappeared but then we tracked her down around that tent over there.

Then we got a front row seat for Pippi’s next show, which was with her friend Annika, who is now all grown up and works in a bank.

Pippi has no job.  In fact, in a so-Swedish touch, Annika called the unemployment office for Pippi and found her a job … as Pippi Longstocking.

I love Pippi Longstocking.  I wrote this last May:

E said jokingly this morning that Sweden is such a gender-equal place because of Pippi, and then we took it a little more seriously, and I think she is right.

Girls here have a superhero from the beginning, not a cute Dora the Explorer either – no, they have a tough talking, robber beating, mischievous, solitary role model.  And while Swedish society still puts girls in their cutesy, be quiet, good girl place, maybe Pippi gives them just enough space to take more space and more space.

I wrote that before my daughter really understood Pippi (and before I came to appreciate Dora too), but now we do read the books and she has watched a couple movies.  And it is subtle, but I could have been following Cinderella around Saturday afternoon.  But instead I was following a tomboy with red braids and worn out clothes who is the strongest girl in the world.

In his first Milennium book, Stieg Larsson compares his wounded, trouble, violent heroine to Pippi Longstocking.  The New York Times took that and ran with it here:

Mr. Larsson, a journalist, died in 2004, before his first Millennium book made it to the bookstores. But in delivering his manuscript to his publisher, he said: “My point of departure was what Pippi Longstocking would be like as an adult. Would she be called a sociopath because she looked upon society in a different way and has no social competence?”

I don’t buy it.  I generally don’t believe in “Dark Sweden,” like people talk about with the Milennium books.  Yes, Sweden is dark.  Stieg Larsson knew the darkness of Sweden better than most.  But why would anyone think Sweden was so light, so apart from the world?  And it is dark indeed to project Pippi Longstocking – a happy, strong, headstrong girl – into a world where she is broken and abused and torn down by the relentless conformity of Swedish society.

The Pippi Longstocking in my very strong, very sensitive daughter is precisely what I hope survives in her soul as she is inevitably battered by a hard world.  I think Pippi does not grow up to be Lisbeth Salander.  I think she grows up to be what we saw in the park on Saturday … Pippi Longstocking.

Now we just need to find her a job.  She said her bag of gold coins was empty!


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