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The Child of the Century: The Phenomenon of Pippi Longstocking and its Premises
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The Child of the Century:
The Phenomenon of Pippi Longstocking and its Premises1

My motives for choosing to write about the three volumes about Pippi Longstocking—Pippi Longstocking (1945), Pippi Goes on Board (1946) and Pippi in the South Seas (1948)—are very personal. I was seven when the first book appeared, and it was a revolutionary experience to me, and very likely to most of my generation. We were brought up in a strict, conventional way, so the meeting with this strong, self-reliant and kindhearted little superchild provided both relief and fresh courage. Pippi has been my constant companion. I have read about her for my younger sisters, for my own and other children, and am convinced that she still functions in the same manner. She has now been spread over the world in 52 languages. It seems that children's need for Pippi is universal.

From about 1930 onwards a new conception of child care and education gained ground in Sweden. It arose from a growing interest in and knowledge of child psychology, fertilized not least by psychoanalytical theories about the origin of neuroses. Freud and his disciples, especially Alfred Adler, gave new impulses to the discussion about education. The Adlerian ideas concerning the inferiority complex, need for compensation and lust for power in children ran counter to the old way of bringing up children by threatening and punishing them, crushing their wills. It probably seldom occurred to the educators—parents as well as teachers—that flogging and other forms of chastisement would do more harm than good. The term "problem child" had not, as yet, been coined. The man who introduced this word into the Swedish vocabulary was the Scottish teacher, A. S. Neill, founder of Summerhill school in England. Neill, in his turn, had been inspired by Homer Lane, who had earlier founded a boarding school for young delinquents and problem children: The Little Commonwealth. Besides being Freudians, both Lane and Neill were influenced by Adler. Neill's book The Problem Child was published in Sweden in 1931, and Lane's posthumous Talks to Parents and Teachers in 1933. Neill, Adler, Bertrand Russell and many other progressive educators visited Sweden, gave interviews and lectures, and thus intensified the [End Page 97] discussion about psychology and education. In Sweden, these discussions concentrate to a large extent on one crucial point: the question of corporeal punishment. During the period 1931-45, many efforts were made to abolish the right of schoolteachers to hit their pupils, but in vain. The teachers protested loudly each time—not until 1958 was corporeal punishment forbidden in the Swedish "folkskola" (public elementary school). Belief in this type of chastisement has, as the documents show, been hard to dispel. Children were injured physically—and mentally—to an extent that far exceeds the evidence of maltreatment which was brought to public attention.

Many Swedish educators in these years became aware of these deplorable conditions and took up the ideas introduced by Adler, Neill, Bühler and others. Social conditions in the country also contributed to the debate. During the early thirties the birth rate in Sweden was very low. Alva and Gunner Myrdal's highly influential book on the population problem. Kris i befolkningsfrågan, had a great impact on social politics for years to come, and, as a by-product, on educational matters. The need for more and better equipped day nurseries was taken up, as well as for playhouses and playgrounds, and proper toys. Children's play began to be accepted as a necessary part of sound physical and mental development. Children's books were also discussed, and reviewed. It is striking how moral and pedagogic criteria dominate assessments of literature for children. The moral tendency in children's books is equally striking. Among the books (36 out of 145 Swedish original titles in 1945) I have found only a handful that run counter to this pattern—and none so totally as Pippi Longstocking.

In many respects the Second World War arrested progressive social and educational development and in some respects it even involved a reaction against the radical educational ideas of the early thirties. Food was rationed...