Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish children's author, was loved by children all over the world. She wrote more than 100 short stories, plays, song books and poems. Her books were translated into at least 76 languages, sold over 100 million copies, and more than 40 films based on her novels have been made. The story behind this queen of fairytales is relatively unknown though.
Astrid was born on 14 November, 1907, on a farm called Näs, not far from the small town Vimmerby in Småland, Sweden. She was the second child of four and, according to herself, had a very happy childhood.
This was the world she was familiar with, and she described it in several of her books. The Bullerby children, Emil in Lönneberga, Rasmus and the Sunnanäng children all live right in the heart of the countryside. Pippi Longstocking, Master Detective Blomkvist, the children in Troublemaker Street and Mardie all live in small towns.
At the age of 19, Astrid moved to Stockholm, where she trained as a secretary, worked in an office, got married and had two children; Lars and Karin. Her children asked her to tell them stories, and this was the first time Astrid thought about writing a book, but decided not to.
In 1941 her daughter Karin, who was in bed with pneumonia, asked her mother to tell her a story. Astrid asked 'What about?' and Karin made up a name and answered 'Pippi Långstrump' (Pippi Longstocking). With a strange name like that, Pippi turned out be a strange girl.
In March 1944, Astrid slipped on an icy pavement and hurt her foot quite badly, and had to stay in bed for quite a while. To pass the time, she started to write down in shorthand the Pippi stories she had been telling Karin and her friends.
In May 1944, Karin celebrated her tenth birthday, and Astrid decided to write out the stories and give her daughter the manuscript as a birthday present. Later on she also sent a copy to a publisher, and this was the start of a long writing career. Among Lindgren's characters are:
Pippi Långstrump is probably one of Astrid's most well known characters. Pippi is a girl with red pigtails, mismatched stockings, and who is strong enough to lift a horse single-handedly. She lives alone in a big house with a horse, an ape and a chest full of gold coins. The book became very popular with children, but their parents were sometimes shocked by Pippi, who happily mocks the adults, refusing to grow up.
Karlsson på taket (Karlsson-on-the-Roof) is another popular character with a propeller on his back who describes himself as 'handsome, remarkably wise, and just plump enough'. This story is set in Stockholm.
Ronja Rövardotter (Ronia the Robber's Daughter) is a story about adventure, love, hate and supernatural beings. A film full of colourful characters was made in 1984.
Not all of Astrid's books describe idyllic life though; Bröderna Lejonhjärta ('The Brothers Lionheart') is a book about death, or rather the fear of dying. When Astrid was asked if she really thought this was suitable reading for children, she answered that a child who is about to die knows it, and if the parents try to deny it, they deprive their child of the chance of talking about it and thereby abandon their child, leaving him or her facing the agony of death on their own.
To many children, Astrid appeared to be one of them, understanding exactly how children feel and think. She said:
I am writing in order to amuse the child within myself and I hope that by doing so other children will have some fun too.
Astrid was concerned with defending children's rights and animal welfare. In 1998 she successfully lobbied an animal rights bill into law. In the same year Astrid Lindgren's Children Hospital in Stockholm was opened, named in her honour. It is one of the biggest children hospitals in northern Europe.
Astrid also took an interest in political concerns. In 1976 she wrote an article that criticised tax legislation in Sweden called 'Pomperipossa in the World of Money', which helped change the law.
Astrid was awarded dozens of international prizes for her work, among them the prestigious HC Andersen medal in 1958 and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1973. Although she never was awarded the Nobel literature prize, she was still voted the most popular person in Sweden, year after year.
Astrid died on 28 January, 2002, 94 years old. Her death was deeply grieved by the Swedish people as well as children all over the world, and adults as well as children put lighted candles and flowers outside the apartment in Stockholm where she spent her last years.
Official Astrid Lindgren Site - (only in Swedish)
Astrid Lindgren's World - themed holiday destination based on the characters of Astrid Lindgren