Burning Books in Sweden

Every so often, somebody in authority will say something that perfectly sums up the mentality behind the ongoing suicide of the West. Today's example: a 2005 press conference at which Lise Bergh, a Swedish integration official, was asked if Swedish culture was worth preserving. “Well,” Bergh answered, “what is Swedish culture? I think I’ve answered the question.”

What is Swedish culture? A lot of people who still believe in such things would put Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002) at or near the top of that list. During her lifetime, Lindgren was beyond question the most beloved figure in all of Sweden. Her books, about Pippi Longstocking and other characters, were translated into countless languages.

I didn't grow up on them, but millions of children did, not only in Sweden but around the world. After I moved to Norway, I caught up with the wonderful television series Emil i Lönneberga, based on her novels about a rambunctious farmboy, and came to appreciate Lindgren's distinctive humor and charm, her skill at handling both the harshly realistic and the extravagantly fanciful, her ability to touch one's heart without being treacly and sentimental, and her striking combination of delight in subversiveness and respect for moral responsibility.

Lindgren's influence in her native country was immense. When she revealed in a 1976 article that her income tax rate as a self-employed writer was 102 percent, it brought down the Social Democratic government that had been in power for forty-four years and resulted in an overhaul of the tax system. In 1979, spurred largely by a speech by Lindgren, Sweden became the first nation to make it illegal to strike children.

Despite her role in bringing down the government in 1976, Lindgren was, like pretty much everyone else in Sweden's intellectual and cultural elite, a committed Social Democrat. And when her books were first coming out, they caused a degree of concern among cultural conservatives.

As the Washington Times noted in its obituary, “Pippi Longstocking was an instant hit among children” but “parents often were shocked by the unruly Pippi, who rebelled against society and happily mocked institutions such as the police and charity ladies.” One admirer, author Laura Pedersen, told the Times that Lindgren's books had a “wonderful subversion. ... She talked about breaking the rules ... we often see rules that are wrong, and they should be broken.” But not everyone approved.

In 2017, however, it's not conservatives who are criticizing Lindgren. The other day came the news that the library in Botkyrka municipality, on the outskirts of Stockholm, had burned older editions of one of the Pippi books, Pippi in the South Seas (1948), because local officials have decided that they “contain racism.”