Reviews 2012

Beyond Pippi Longstocking: Intermedial and International Aspects of Astrid Lindgren’s Works

Beyond Pippi Longstocking: Intermedial and International Aspects of Astrid Lindgren’s Works. Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer and Astrid Surmatz (eds.). New York and London: Routledge, 2011. 275 pages. £80.00 (hardback).

Drawing its name from Astrid Lindgren’s legendary girl-power/trickster-figure, Pippi Longstocking, this collection of new critical articles (most of which originated in conference papers) sets out to explore the oeuvre of the iconic Swedish author, Astrid Lindgren. In doing so, the international scope of the volume is, at least, twofold since it seeks to explore the impact of Lindgren’s work globally as well as make it accessible to an international (read: English-language) audience. According to the editors Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer and Astrid Surmatz, both of whom have held the esteemed position as guest professor in memory of Astrid Lindgren at Linnaeus University at Kalmar/Växjö in Sweden, the intention is to convey a broad overview of Lindgren’s legacy today. Thus, the volume deals not only with Lindgren’s written works, but also with the vast number of remediations and translations of her books, as well as artwork and other cultural manifestations of her celebrated persona. Through such intermedial and global approaches, the volume wishes to advance international interest in Lindgren’s work.

The goal of expanding Lindgren research and making it accessible to a wider audience is doubtlessly to be applauded. Within the Swedish-language context, Lindgren research is both wide-ranging and well established. A search in the Swedish university and research library database, Libris, reveals, not surprisingly, that since the late 1950s well over 500 books and articles have been written on the subject, but only a few Swedish titles, such as Vivi Edström’s Astrid Lindgren, a Critical Study (2000) (orig. Astrid Lindgren, vildtoring och lägereld, 1992), have been translated into English. The undertaking is, therefore, of great importance although not entirely unproblematic. It is perhaps unfair to ask that Beyond Pippi Longstocking should mirror the vast extent of already existing Swedish-language Lindgren research; especially given the intention to produce new knowledge on the subject. Still, it remains somewhat unfortunate that the book, as one of the few studies available in English on the subject, will only give its readers a fragmented view of the overall scope of Lindgren research.

The volume addresses a wide range of subjects arranged into four sections on the translation and international reception of Lindgren’s work; explorations of film versions of her books; closer studies of the role of illustrations in her work and her picturebook production, and finally essays on the role of music, sculpture and architecture in relation to her work and persona. The final section of the book provides especially striking and thought-provoking views of Lindgren’s work and her status as a national icon. Two articles consider music in relation to Lindgren’s works: Magnus Gustafsson traces the folk song tradition in Lindgren’s writing, whereas Björn Sundmark’s piece, cleverly entitled “The Sound and Music of Astrid Lindgren”, elegantly employs narratology to show how the musical elements of the Emil and Pippi books are enhanced in the film versions. Finally, Jens Arvidson explores the notions of sculptural installations and public art in relation to the conflict around the Astrid Lindgren Memorials in Vimmerby, and Heidrun Führer makes a bold case for viewing the theme park Astrid Lindgren’s World in Vimmerby as a Gesamtkunstwerk comparable to Wagner’s Bayreuth! This section gives evidence of how fruitful an intermedial approach can be when trying to find new things to say about an already well-researched author’s oeuvre. Furthermore, it finishes the volume on a very strong and convincing note.

Having said this, it must also be said that Beyond Pippi Longstocking is a rather uneven volume, as conference publications admittedly often are. For one thing, some articles would have benefited from stronger editorial support, especially when they overlap and, when read successively, seem to argue opposite points of view. Anders Wilhelm Åberg’s and Corina Löwe’s essays, for example, both comment upon the Swedish Folkhemera–i.e. the epoch of the Swedish twentieth century model of welfare society – and the concept of nostalgia in relation to film versions of Lindgren’s texts. Both articles are quite interesting, yet it seems strange that Åberg’s strong case for relating Folkhem-nostalgia and the mythification of a utopian past to less innocent nationalistic tendencies in the Swedish society of the 1980s and 1990s and Löwe’s much less critical, even apologetic, view of nostalgia and traditional ‘Swedishness’ is never commented on. Also, a greater effort to harmonize the use of terminology would have helped unify the collection. For instance, the term Folkhem is referred to slightly differently by different authors. A final concern is the seemingly random inclusion of pictures. Although some articles are generously illustrated others are, without any explanation, not. Their absence clarifies how crucial it is for readers of a theoretical discussion of images to have access to the pictures under scrutiny.

To sum matters up, Beyond Pippi Longstocking is a rewarding – albeit uneven – read. Apart from the previously mentioned articles in the final section on music, sculpture and architecture, I especially enjoyed reading Eva-Maria Metcalf’s thorough overview of the reception of Pippi Longstocking in the USA; Anders Wilhelm Åberg’s enlightening views on how nostalgia in some of Lindgren’s films from the 1980s and 90s mirror a potentiallydisturbing wish to remake a national past; and Elina Druker’s equally sharp analysis of aesthetic and ideological concerns in relation to Lindgren’s and Anna Riwkin-Brick’s photographic picturebooks. Upon finishing the volume,the articles that wrestle with applying an intermedial perspective onto Lindgren’s work stand out as the ones that most obviously manage to say something concrete and new on the subject.

Maria Lassén-Seger
Åbo Akademi University, Finland