Shocking glimpse of Stocking

March 21, 1997

The news sent a chill down the spines of a whole generation of Germans: Pippi Longstocking, one of their best-loved children's literary figures, had been censored!

The rebellious, freckle-faced heroine of Astrid Lindgren's books was much better behaved and much less surreal in the first German version than the anarchic Pippi of the original Swedish version, an academic study has found. And it was not just the German translators who cleaned up Pippi's act: the first translations of Lindgren's books published in France, Britain and the United States in the late 1940s and the 1950s also toned her down.

Research by Astrid Surmatz, a PhD student at Gottingen University, has revealed that all the translations of this period tended to alter or leave out text in a way which imposed prevailing views of what was considered suitable reading for children.

In the earliest US and British editions, of 1951 and 1954 respectively, Pippi's father is changed from a negro king to a cannibal king, presumably to avoid any reference to skin colour. The earliest British translation was more faithful to Pippi's zany character than other translations of the same period, perhaps testament to a long British tradition of nonsense verse, Ms Surmatz says.

The first German edition added cautionary tales. When she and her friends find a pistol, the German-speaking Pippi says: "That's not for children." But in the original: "Tommy was enthusiastic" and Annika said she wanted a gun too, as long as it wasn't loaded.

Ms Surmatz believes the changes were the result of Germany's postwar climate. "Some critics feared that Pippi would be a bad influence," she said.

But Ms Surmatz, who has one Swedish and one German parent and so first discovered the translation discrepancies at an early age, says all the translations reveal the prevailing views of childhood at the time.

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