Astrid Lindgren is without doubt one of Sweden’s most well-known and loved authors. If you have children, or remember her books from your own childhood, then head for Vimmerby where she was born. Here you can visit her birthplace Näs with its gardens and exhibition about her, but also head for Astrid Lindgren’s World, a theme park where scenes from her many books have been recreated at a scale suitable for the young ones. If you have a car, you can also head for the villages and forests where she got the inspiration to her stories, and where many of her books were turned into films. This is the area where my grandmother’s family comes from, and one I love a lot.
Astrid Lindgren’s World
Pippi Longstocking is perhaps the most well-known book internationally, and the strong redhead with her horse and her monkey is just one of all the characters you will meet at the Astrid Lindgren’s World. The park is more than just big business around these characters though. You walk through a miniature model of Vimmerby town with its old shops, and in parkland where you can stroll around in relative peace in between the various themes.
To Lindgren, it was important to give children space, and to understand them. This comes through in all her books, whether they are about harmonious family life or the dramatic theme of death. She never thought a topic to tough for children to tackle since they were always exposed to them in real life. A way of thinking which we seem to have lost a bit today. To give children the opportunity to play and imagine was a must to Lindgren too, and the park certainly gives them just that, with plenty of opportunities to climb, chase and explore.
Every major character has its own area in the park so if you know the stories, it is easy to recognise where you are. Throughout the day there are short plays about the characters in their different areas. These are mainly in Swedish, but in a way which makes them possible to follow for anyone as you can see what is going on, who is being chased and so on. Very often the actors also interact with the visitors, asking questions and such. Afterwards, the children can reclaim the sets and use them as playgrounds. When you get hungry, there are plenty of picnic areas if you have brought your own food, but also park restaurants with everything from pancakes to steak.
Hidden beyond the little village of Rumskulla is the settlement of Gibberyd, which is so famous as the location for the films about That Emil, that the sign these days just call it Katthult. As you get out of the car, you will instantly recognise the house, the farmhand’s house and the woodshed where Emil spent countless hours making wooden figures.
The Children of Noisy Village, known as Bullerbyn in Swedish, where shot in different places. If you remember the old series, you will have to head for the Stockholm archipelago, but the 1980s film was shot in Sevedstorp between Mariannelund and Storebro. This is where Lindgren’s own father grew up, but the stories are not about him but rather Lindgren herself.
A national park and a record oak
Not least That Emil is full of references to local folklore and scary stories, some which were well known to my grandmother’s father and others in that generation living in the area. They all make perfect sense when you travel around this landscape with its deep, hilly forests, here and there giving way to a stony glen with a little farm.
There are two things you should not miss in the area if you want to really get a feel for it. One is the Norra Kvill National Park which is one of Sweden’s smallest national parks, but nevertheless magnificent with its ancient spruce forest and evocative tarn. This is one of few places in the south of Sweden which give you a glimpse of what the scenery in the north is like. You walk along plank gangways between tufts of cottongrass, and peat, all along expecting an elk or a rare bird to make an appearance, which they will if you manage to stay quiet.
You can round up a visit here by continuing to the famous Kvill Oak nearby. Today, the oak is slowly dying, but then you should know that it is more than a thousand years old! In fact, it is probably the oldest and widest tree in Scandinavia. It has been the story of legends for centuries in literature and I love it. Resting here, listening to the grazing cows in the nearby field, you cannot help but start thinking about how many world events this tree has lived through.