Books which gave rise to debate

Astrid Lindgren’s books have, on a regular basis, been discussed among children’s book experts, literature researchers, culture experts and ordinary bloggers. Debates have been caused, not least by the uninhibited Pippi Longstocking and by Astrid’s honest descriptions of sickness and death.

As early as 1950, Astrid Lindgren wrote about diseases and death in the Brenda Brave book. This is what she had to say at the time, concerning what children can handle in a book: “I don’t think one should keep such things from children – things that they now and then have to face in real life anyway. Besides, kids love being moved to tears by what they read. They soon get over it.”

“Furthermore, I’m of the opinion that children somehow, themselves, censor the books they read. They see the various scenes with their inner eyes in just the way they’re able to deal with them. Tragic things never become too tragic, and horrific things never too horrific.”

Pippi Longstocking

When the book about Pippi Longstocking was written there was a debate going on in Sweden concerning the moral decline among youth – a debate which Astrid Lindgren no doubt was well aware of.

At the book launch in 1945, it was very positively received. The debate began when a professor in psychology expressed his view that the book was in poor taste, that Pippi behaved as though she was “mentally ill” and that children ran the risk of being inspired by that. Astrid entered into the debate, defending a child’s right to discover the world by itself. She coined the phrase which has often been quoted since then: “Give the children love, more love and still more love – and the commonsense will come by itself.”
In 1995, the debate flared up again. The “Pippi-Cult” got the blame for young people’s lack of maturity. The leader of the debate was now insisting that the books glorified selfishness and self-centredness.

In 2004 there was a discussion as to whether Pippi was a racist since she used the word, “neger”. (Whilst this word is similar to the pejorative, “nigger” it has never had any other connotation in Swedish than a “black person”).

Pippi’s way of dealing with the police gave rise to debate in China in 2008. And to this day there are many discussions about Pippi that pop up on various blog-sites.

The Brothers Lionheart

In connection with the book – and later on the film – about The Brothers Lionheart, a debate arose as to whether or not the ending was a way of glorifying suicide and saying that a person’s life would be worthless if they were paralysed or in any other way handicapped.

Behind the Iron Curtain, in Czechoslovakia, The Brothers Lionheart was controversial for other reasons. The book was not released until 1992 after the Velvet Revolution (1989) when a non-Communist regime took over. But as early as 1981 the book had been smuggled in, translated and spread as a so-called samizdat edition. Using extra thin paper, books were typed and bound by hand to be spread as underground literature. One such handmade copy is kept at the National Library in Stockholm.

Astrid, portraid by Björn Berg, © Björn Berg