- Tall Tale and Spectacle in Pippi Longstocking
Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraims-daughter Longstocking, or Pippi Longstocking for short, is fully as outrageous as her name promises. She is without doubt one of the funniest and most beloved characters in children's literature in the industrial world. Since the publication of Pippi Longstocking (1945), Pippi Longstocking Goes on Board (1945), and Pippi in the South Seas (1948), Astrid Lindgren's story of Pippi has become a touchstone in children's literature.1 Much of the story's popularity and enduring quality rests on its special kind of humor, and it is this humor which I will examine here.
The humor in the Pippi Longstocking books is a humor of extravagance and excess. It seems especially appropriate for children, who can and do laugh more often and sometimes at different things than do adults. Lindgren herself has noted that, while reading parts of her books to mostly adult audiences, she has more than once heard the high ringing of laughter of a child among a crowd of hundreds of seriously attentive adults. Lindgren knows that there is a humor which adults seem to have outgrown and forgotten. She has not. Somehow, she has been able to keep the child within her alive. Her remarkable memory has permitted her to recall not only events from childhood but also its emotional states. Over and over again, Lindgren has asserted that she only writes for the child within her and only in a way that this child can understand. As far as humor is concerned, she seems more partial to children than to adults. If not all adults laugh at everything that children find funny in her books, it is perhaps deplorable, but unavoidable; when the adults laugh, children should be able to laugh too. After all, these are children's books. As she advises young authors:
Go ahead and write things that are only funny for children and not at all for adults; go ahead and write things that are funny for both children and adults, too; but never write anything in a children's book that your common sense tells you is only funny for adults. You're not writing so that reviewers will think you are clever and express yourself in a spiritual way, remember that! Many children's writers wink cleverly right over the heads of their young readers to an imagined adult reader, wink in agreement with the adults and leave the child aside. Please don't ever do it! It's an insult to the child who is to buy and read your book.(Mina påhitt 250)
This fundamental attitude sets her apart from those authors whose stories can be read on quite different levels by well-educated [End Page 130] adults and by children unable to understand all the references and associations—literary or otherwise—that make the text interesting for adults. The extent and level of difficulty of the secondary literature on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is just one case in point. Admittedly, as reader response theory has taught us, no one reception of a certain text is like another in view of the different cognitive and emotional experiences which each reader brings to the text. And there is no one Pippi Longstocking for children, either. What can be said, however, is that Lindgren has succeeded in keeping her narrative emotionally and cognitively appealing to both young and old. Because she is well aware of the fact that the pleasure derived from humor stems from the distortion (in fantasy) of previously acquired knowledge and experience, Lindgren limits references and allusions to the cognitive and experiential horizon of children. Doing that she can run the whole gamut of humorous expression from the simplest word play through inversion of letters to highly sophisticated self-parodies. Clever puns, parody, and gallow's humor are all presented in a manner to which children can relate. All these humoristic rhetorical devices are based on a fundamental emotional situation that is especially strong in childhood, but that lingers on into adult life, namely, the desire to be strong, clever, and independent. Indeed, the argument can be...