View from here - Pippi needs no help from Mickey

27th August 2010 at 01:00
The theme park devoted to the work of Pippi Longstocking creator Astrid Lindgren radiates a now- unfamiliar bucoloic innocence. Ben Kersley is a fan

It is hard to find an English-language comparison to Astrid Lindgren, author of more than 100 children's books. A Swedish national treasure and champion of children's rights, she is probably best known in the UK as the creator of Pippi Longstocking.

Perhaps Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton come close. But while there may be a Dahl museum in Buckinghamshire, which attracts many school trips, neither of those authors has - as yet - an entire theme park dedicated to them.

Astrid Lindgren's World, which lies just outside her birthplace of Vimmerby, Smaland in the south east, is an ubiquitous summer day out for under-tens from Sweden and Denmark, as well as the rest of Scandinavia and much of Germany.

But this is a theme park like no other. There are no rides, no flashing lights and no hard sell. Instead, it is like walking through the pages of her books - or perhaps more accurately, climbing over, exploring, smelling, touching the pages. The characters and settings are tangible, alive and interactive.

There is a simple brilliance to the combination of theatre and theme park with scenes played out by well-trained, talented actors.

The shows are either short extracts from the books or as simple as a sing-along with unabashed vaudevillian pomp. This is living history and living fiction in one pastoral dose.

The rural narratives of Lindgren's Emil stories are performed in a re-creation of a turn-of-the-century farm. The audience can sit on top of the pigsty for a better view, with all the smells and sounds of real pigs, or get splashed by water as Emil's father washes under the water pump.

But it is more than passively watching. You enter the stories: My children spent half an hour pulling a rope ferry across a duck pond, then jumping into a freshly cut haystack.

Next time we read Rasmus and The Vagabond (Rasmus pa luffen), a story of life on the road set a century ago, they will know just what it feels and smells like to sleep in a barn on a pile of hay.

Refreshingly, the health and safety clipboards have somehow been kept at bay. There is nothing overtly dangerous, but there are plenty of chances to get a grazed knee or a wet foot from slipping off a stepping stone into a brook.

Then again, children learn from these experiences - and that is the point. It is genuinely liberating to watch children take risks and to see their faces when they succeed in climbing a rock or leaping over a stream.

Amid such an innocent, bucolic scene, it is strange to think where many teachers and other holiday-makers will have read references to Lindgren's creations this summer.

When a Swedish journalist wondered what Pippi Longstocking and the detective Kalle Blomkvist would have become in the modern world, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist - the stars of Stieg Larsson's violent, international bestselling Millennium series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo et al) - came to mind.

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