The Girl With the Orange Pigtails!

Posted October 25th, 2010

Who knew? Pippi Longstocking is the inspiration for Lisbeth Salander, the protagonist in Stig Larsson’s wildly popular Millennium Trilogy of murder mysteries. No wonder Lisbeth is so strange and yet so likeable and sells books in the millions. She’s Pippi!

I love mysteries and I am an avid fan of Stig Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. As a child I was an equally devoted fan of the Pippi Longstocking series, so I am totally baffled that I missed all the signs.

It began, according to an old colleague of Mr. Larsson’s, one day when the two of them were musing about how certain characters from children’s books would manage and behave if they were older. Mr. Larsson especially liked the idea of a grown-up Pippi. He imagined her as a dysfunctional girl, probably with attention deficit disorder, who would have had a hard time finding a place in society but would nonetheless take a firm hand in directing her own destiny. That musing led to the creation of Lisbeth Salander, the central character in Stig Larsson’s trilogy.

Of course, now that I have been enlightened on the subject, I see the obvious similarities between the two. Both Pippi and Lisbeth are abandoned children who live alone, eat exactly what they feel like and drink way too much coffee. Neither takes school very seriously but insist on being taken seriously themselves. If not – well both have awesome skills and tremendous strength, which they know how to put to good use. And there are other references to characters from Astrid Lindgren’s novels as well. The male protagonist, Mikael Blomkvist, is given the pet name “Kalle” after Kalle Blomqvist, a child detective in the Astrid Lindgren novels. Mikael hates his nickname, however, and Lisbeth is sympathetic. She says, “Somebody’d get a fat lip if they ever called me Pippi Longstocking.” (For a more read http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/weekinreview/23ryan.html and http://my.opera.com/dortejakobsen/blog/lisbeth-salander-alias-pippi-longstocking.)

So Astrid Lindgren and Pippi inspired Stig Larsson. But who inspired Astrid Lindgren? I did a little searching and it turns out – hold on to your seats now – it was fairytales! Tada!! In her biography Astrid Lindgren says that it was when she first heard fairytales that her hunger for books awoke. She was also, she says, inspired by H.C. Andersen and Elsa Beskow, writers who themselves were deeply fascinated by folktales.

And there really is something of the folktale heroine in Lisbeth Salander, the abandoned child who fights against great evil, overcomes terrible odds, has repeated set-backs but never gives up, receives help from peculiar friends, breaks the rules if necessary, and emerges triumphant in the end. And she does it three times, the magic number! It’s no wonder the books are such run-away best sellers. They’re fairytales in a realistic mystery format.

This is a winning formula. So winning, in fact, that in some bookstores Lisbeth is called “The girl who pays all our salaries.”

Now what other character from children’s literature could be equally interesting as adults? Encyclopedia Brown? Nancy Drew? The Hardy Boys? Captain Underpants? Harry Potter????? Throw in you suggestion! We may create a winner.