Report: Masterclass: Moomins & Pippi Longstocking
- ‘Pippi Longstocking’ was central to re-educating children after the second world war and the end of the Hitler Youth.
- The beauty of Pippi Longstocking as a character is that she is at home doing normal things.
- ‘Moomins’ reflects Finnish society after the war. Men were working and women were more resourceful.
There are parallels between the two Nordic classics by Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren and Finnish writer/illustrator Tove Jansson: both ‘Pippi Longstocking’ and ‘Moomins’ started in an intimate way, are celebrating their seventy-fifth anniversaries, were written by female authors whose lives spanned the twentieth century, and are now being put back on the screen with the ‘Moominvalley’ TV series and a feature film for Pippi.
Children’s writer Frank Cotterell-Boyce talked to four professionals who work with these classic properties, starting with Astrid Lindgren’s great grandson, Johan Palmberg. “My grandmother, Karin, was ill with pneumonia, her mother [Astrid] would read to her every night and tell her stories about the family. When these dried up, Karin demanded new stories and invented the name Pippi Longstocking for Astrid to write for her. It was a name just plucked from the air.”
Rosie Alison of Heyday Films first read ‘Pippi Longstocking’ as an adult and thought the writing was amazing. She is now producing a new film version. She thinks it’s incredible how older characters like Paddington, Winnie the Pooh, and Pippi have such longevity. She understands why Pippi has become so iconic and described her as an “enabling, likable and reasoning character who is several steps ahead of those around her.”
Frank pointed out it was normal for writers to get rid of children’s parents somehow so that they could have adventures, but the beauty of Pippi’s character is that she was at home doing normal things while her father was away at sea having the adventures.
Rosie added that a lot of people now see the connection between Pippi and Greta Thunberg. Rosie was also mindful that the search for an actor to play Pippi was going to be long and they would have to tread with care. She thought that the 1969 TV series got the casting right.
Johan explained the books became popular in Germany and the Nordic countries, and that after the war Pippi was used to help children’s re-education after the period of the Hitler Youth. Frank thought it was no coincidence that you got all these Nordic healing stories coming out from the end of the war. Turning his attention to the ‘Moomins’, he said that it was about little people in a big landscape.
UK publisher of the ‘Moomin’ books, Natania Jansz, thought that the reader wants Pippi to be on their side, but with Moomins, they want to be part of that world. At the end of the war, Europe was on the move and you could turn up in Moominvalley.
“Nature is a character in these stories,” said Marika Makaroff, who is producing the latest TV series. “I’m Finnish, I have lived with the Moomins: it’s in my blood.” To match Tove’s artworks, they had discussed making the series in 2D but ended up with 3D. However, she was confident that they had kept the picturebook feeling to it. The voices are key to its success, with Rosamund Pike as Moominmama and Matt Berry voicing Moominpapa. Marika said that they all started to hear Matt Berry’s voice when they were writing it.
After the first few books, the stories became a little darker. Frank’s eleven-year-old self was traumatised when he first read the final chapter book, ‘Moominvalley in November’, to discover that the Moomins had gone. Natania reassured him that they returned at the end.
Natania thought that Pippi is obviously a feminist. Moominmama supressed things but was a deeply compliant woman. Marika thought that this reflected Finnish society of the time, where, after the war, men were working and women were so much stronger. They would fix the staircase when it broke!
Frank showed a copy of one of his ‘Moomin’ books, which showed flowers magically growing into a Moomin room. He explained that he had ivy growing into his house and couldn’t think of getting rid of it as it reminded him so much of the book. “There are mystical things in the world,” said Marika, “and we can’t understand everything … even ivy.”
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