Just as many Czechs commonly use excerpts from Jára Cimrman’s plays (or about him) in conversation, so do popular and popular twigs from Astrid Lindgren’s books (or movies according to them).
I didn’t know that until recently. However, I attended a discussion at the Czech Center in Prague, dedicated to this lady – a legend of children’s literature, 100 years after her recent birth, in November 2007.
Among the charming illustrations from the studios of leading Czech artists who accompanied the Czech editions of the books with their photos Astrid Lindgrenthe editor-in-chief of the Albatros publishing house Zuzana Kovaříková and the translator Jitka Vrbová spoke about her life.
In November, the writer’s biography was written by Margareta Strömstedt, a longtime friend of Astrid Lindgren. I haven’t read the book yet, I’ll get it as soon as possible – and yet I’m already writing this article. In this one I want to explain what brings me to this, when so far I only have a general knowledge of writer Astrid Lindgren. That she has written many very successful children’s books, which have been translated into several languages, and that, according to some, beautiful children’s films have also been made. That the writer did not hesitate to comment on various political, environmental and economic causes, and that his opinion was very important in Sweden.
So why do I mention the author so extensively, of whom I have read only two books – still a child herself, and I saw the film from one book? (It is said that she participated in all the scripts based on her books).
Even though Astrid Lindgren only wrote Children of Bullerbyn and Pipi Long Stocking, I would consider her the best children’s writer next to writer Karel Čapek with his Nine Tales, which I loved the same way, although they are completely different.
The Children of Bullerbyn for me, at the age of ten or twelve, and even later, when I came back to them, they represented the most marvelous world. An idyll in three adjacent farms, far from the city, where six children went to school in the summer on foot, sometimes by sleigh in the winter. Where they played somewhat different games in the gardens and fields or in the woods that I knew, where somewhat different customs were followed during the year than in the Czech countryside, where good but very democratic parents and other adults intervened little with their children. They regulated them only slightly, but they mostly loved them, mothers cooked hot chocolate when the children were sick, dads built new bedrooms, grandfathers told fairy tales. It’s not that Czech fathers and mothers wouldn’t, especially my parents and grandparents created a beautiful home and childhood for me and my brothers. But it was generally a bit more authoritarian in our country. Stricter education.
And what about school! We weren’t talking about democracy there, us system-driven children, and the Pioneer was decorating the red billboards, while the children of Bullerbyn were caring for the sick teacher to get well soon .
Extreme comfort breathed not only the description of the peaceful life on the farms Sörgården, Norrgården and Melangården, but also the Swedish nature with which the children lived all year round. It was appealing, I think, especially to us children in Prague, when we read the book at home in the dust of Vysočany, once a neighborhood full of smoking CKD chimneys (today it’s undergoing great transformation into a pleasant place to live). I felt a sense of belonging to nature from an early age, I also spent most weekends and whole holidays with good grandparents in the village or at the lodge near Berounka.
But no one farmed there privately, plowed oxen and horses, rode large sleds in the winter, only gardened. And that wasn’t quite it. In short, the children of Bullerbyn did better. My grandfather and grandmother still grew potatoes in the big garden and had at least the evil ram and sheep, like in the book, and a few chickens and rabbits. At least I could picture it beautifully when Book Bump (or was it Lasse?) had ram issues – kind of like my brother, whom my grandfather’s ram rammed into a tree in the garden .
The Bullerbyn children were my friends. I envied Lisa, who tells the story, two older brothers (I have two much younger ones, but over time I see that’s great too.) (It really wasn’t possible in the buildings of Vysočina apartments.)
And what about hot chocolate in small porcelain cups! There was nothing like it in my childhood, chocolate was just a bar, quite common, at most with nuts. I had no idea that I could drink.
Grandma’s hayloft was also romantic, but there were no friends hiding in the much larger hayloft, where the tangled hallways of fresh hay and secret messages could be led. I had never befriended my grandmother’s country children, they were somehow completely different from those in Bullerbyn. During one of the rare attempts to meet me, they wanted to spit on me. So in our hayloft, at least on vacation, I was lying in a skylight, basking in the sun and reading and reading.
One of the best extracts I can remember quite accurately to date. Lisa and Anna go shopping in a remote town. During the whole trip, they remember – so as not to forget – that they sing a list of things to buy. And at the end of the sung list, they always sing with sensitivity: Kousek and a piece of Falun sausage – the best! (exactly like infected mom). In the shop, they give everything to the saleswoman, pile the goods in wicker baskets and leave when they return that something else is missing. The girls must go back and sing again … A piece of Falun sausage, the best! It turns out that they have to come back again, because they forget the sausage again on the first return.
And this story of Falun sausages immediately came to mind when I heard in the Czech Center about the popularization of some of the stories of the heroes A. Lindgren. I almost burst out laughing because I remembered how my best friend Hanka and I used to go shopping during our trips with our grandchildren to the countryside. Hanka also loves Children of Bullerbyn and knows the same passage very well. (After all, we both read the book to the kids.) We went to a little country store and remembered what we needed for our kitchen. Usually we forget something and with the saying about Falun sausages on our lips, we started laughing on the way home or home when we found out. Fortunately, we were much closer to the store than Lisa and Anna.
My next encounter with the heroes Astrid Lindgren was already on the television screen, although still in black and white. On the first television set, which the parents bought at home in the early 1970s, they gave a series about Pipi Long Stockings, one of the few exceptions where Czechoslovak television bought something from the West.
Pipi fascinated me above all because she had no mother or father (he existed, but he sailed somewhere in distant seas). It seemed very strange to me, and I felt sorry for the heroine, who was able to do whatever she wanted.
It was out of my mind, but I liked it. Unbridled, red-haired and cheeky, Pipi had already had problems with adults, she didn’t go to school, she took care of herself (something unheard of!) in her large villa with its garden invaded by vegetation. And she had her monkey and a horse that she could lift. She (an otherwise good and righteous girl) seduced her friends, siblings Anička and Tomík, children of a decent family, into free-spirited wilderness. It was also said to be a breakthrough for Swedish tolerant education, and as Pipi became the most popular child heroine, various associations of child psychologists, parents, teachers and other professionals who spoke up to raise children revolted. In our country, too, Pipi was full of pages of children’s magazines, and children’s carnivals could not do without freckled girl masks with sticky red braids.
Pipi with Andulka and Tomík and Bullerbyn’s seven children, Lisa, Anna, Brita, Lasse, Bosse, Olle and little Kerstin, have remained deep in my heart. The well-being and paradise of the children of Bullerbyn and the rage, courage and sense of justice of Pipi and his friends, is what appealed not only to me, but also to my friends at the time then our children. And I think they will appeal to future generations, even if raised a little differently.
Illustrations from Czech translations also contributed to this beautiful relationship, as Bullerbyn and its people simply couldn’t be different from what Helena Zmatlíková had invented and painted. Pipi and his crazy company illustrated with great genius and thus visually created Adolf Born for Czech children.
In addition, his illustrations perfectly matched the art form of the series, which followed a little later. It was accompanied by lively music, the central melody that many people still remember well. In the end, perhaps the pearl is that this concise music for the “most Swedish” children’s series was composed by the great Czech jazz musician and composer Georg (Jiří) Riedel. He has lived in Sweden since he was young. That’s why she remembered us so well in Czechoslovakia…
I will end with the personal confession of Astrid Lindgren thanks to a rather large and shimmering stone in the mosaic of my happy childhood. And I have a feeling that several generations of adults and children around the world would like to thank her on her hundredth birthday.