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Literature / Mrs Pepperpot

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There was an old woman who went to bed at night, as old women usually do, and in the morning she woke up, as old women usually do. But on this particular morning, she found herself shrunk to the size of a pepperpot, and old women usually don't do that.

Mrs. Pepperpot ("Teskjekjerringa" in the original Norwegian) is the main character in a series of children's books by Norwegian author, singer and entertainer Alf Prøysen. She's a little old woman who's mostly a completely normal person — except for the fact that she occasionally, and at seemingly random times, shrinks to the size of a pepperpot (in the original Norwegian, she's likened to a teaspoon). Usually this is a great inconvenience and happens just as she has some small job to do — which all of a sudden becomes a humongous task. However, with a lot of courage, resourcefulness, quick thinking, and the curious fact that while shrunken she can talk to animals, she always perseveres. And on a very rare occasion, it so happens that shrinking down to miniature size is exactly what the situation calls for.


Though Mrs. Pepperpot takes her shrinking well, she's not eager to let other adults know about her condition. She has no problem with animals or children knowing, and the majority of her adventures do seem to involve either helping out or being helped by a child or an animal, but she never tells another adult about her shrinking, nor does she let them see her in her shrunken state (unless she's impersonating a doll or something similar). This might simply be because of her husband, Mr. Pepperpot, the only adult who knows about her shrinking and who treats the entire thing as an embarrassment more than anything else; he's certain that he'll become a laughingstock if it ever came up that his wife is occasionally the size of a pepperpot.

The character's first appearance was in 1955, on the Norwegian Children's Hour radio. Since then, she's appeared in several books and radio stories which have been translated into over twenty languages. There was also a Swedish-produced live-action TV series in 1967, a 130-episode-long anime ("Supūn Obasan" or "Auntie Spoon", featuring an episode written and storyboarded by Mamoru Oshii) in 1983, and even an opera in 2011.


The books provide examples of:

  • Acting Out a Daydream: Once, Mrs. Pepperpot imagines herself as a detective and says, "Hands up!" to her husband. Who mishears and thinks she's talking about supper.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The anime expands greatly on some of the stories — that is, when it doesn't just ignore the original plots and just tell its own stories instead. The most notable expansion is in the very first episode, which takes quite a bit of time to show Mrs, Pepperpot's initial confusion at her first shrinking, as well as her difficulties in adapting to her new size. This doesn't come up at all in the original story, where she immediately treats her first time shrinking down as no big deal, focusing more on how she's going to get her household chores done than on why she's suddenly the size of a pepperpot.
  • Animal Talk: Both played straight and subverted. When more than one animal is present in a scene, they can generally understand each other just fine, but it's hinted more than stated that they all have their individual languages. One story also reveals that animals from different countries also have different languages, which sometimes gets confusing even for Mrs. Pepperpot.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: A frequent trope in the stories. Usually invoked with animals who help out because Mrs. Pepperpot has been kind to them in the past, but happens with people sometimes too.
    • A curious subversion is when Mrs, Pepperpot goes out of her way to help a little girl who starts out as nothing but rude and unfriendly. When the girl at the end of the story asks why Mrs. Pepperpot wanted to help her out when she was so horrid to begin with, Mrs. Pepperpot answers: "Perhaps it was because you were so horrid."
  • Berserk Button: Mrs. Pepperpot is amiable for the most part, but there are two things she can't stand: Cruelty to children and cruelty to animals. Anyone who indulges in either had better be prepared to be "taught a lesson" by her.
  • Canon Foreigner: Lily in the anime. She's a major character in the series but never appears in the original stories; she's more of an amalgamation of the various children who appear in the stories.
  • Cool Horse: The cat, who often lets Mrs. Pepperpot ride on her back. Subverted in Mrs. Pepperpot's Outing, where the kitten is too small and weak to carry her — so it resolves to just dragging her along by her skirt instead. It's neither as cool nor as quick as riding a cat, but Mrs. Pepperpot plays along because she realizes that this is all the kitten manages.
  • Cunning Like a Fox: Played with. Whenever a fox appears in the stories, it tends to believe itself to be the wiliest and most cunning of creatures — only to get tricked itself by Mrs. Pepperpot.
    • It's even lampshaded in Mrs. Pepperpot's Outing, where a fox laments that everyone accuses him of always tricking others and being dishonest, when in these stories he's usually the victim of trickery rather than the instigator. Mrs. Pepperpot admits that probably his reputation as shifty and untrustworthy isn't wholly deserved.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Mrs. Pepperpot can't control or even predict when she'll shrink down, or how long she'll stay small; it tends to happen at the most inconvenient moments and makes her life a lot more difficult... but her shrinking also allows her to have a lot of really cool adventures, help out a number of children and animals, and learn a lot of useful things that she wouldn't have been able to at her normal size. Especially with the additional ability to talk to animals that the shrinking brings.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Though a frequent plot-mover and provider of motivation for his wife, Mr. Pepperpot usually doesn't play a big role in the stories. This is actually Lampshaded in one story, where the narration points out that we've got to know Mrs. Pepperpot pretty well now, but we barely know her husband at all. Needless to say, this is one of the few chapters where he's the main character.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mrs. Pepperpot is a fairly mild example. Usually she's at her snarkiest when she's talking to herself and nobody else can hear her; when actually talking to people her sarcasms are a lot subtler.
  • Failed a Spot Check: A recurring trait in almost all the humans in the story. How many times does the shrunken-down Mrs. Pepperpot end up in a difficult situation because nobody saw she was there?
  • Friend to All Living Things: Mrs. Pepperpot loves animals and will go out of her way to help or care for any animal in distress. The animals repay her by helping her when she's in need.
  • Guile Hero: By necessity, Mrs. Pepperpot becomes one whenever she's shrunken. Too small to handle most normal tasks, she relies on trickery, bribery, scare tactics, or just asking politely, to get others (usually animals) to help her or even do the entire job for her.
  • Housepet Pig: In one story, Mrs. Pepper-Pot adopts a pig, whom she names Squiggly because his lame leg makes him unable to walk in a straight line.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: Mrs. Pepperpot, of course. She can never choose when to shrink, and it's never explained just why she randomly shrinks — she just does.
  • Injured Limb Episode: In one episode, Mrs Pepperpot adopts a pig with a broken leg named Squiggly.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mr. Pepperpot, who can be blustery, self-centered and unreasonable, but who genuinely loves his wife and at the end of the day will do the right thing.
  • Karmic Trickster: Mrs. Pepperpot often takes on this role when shrunken down. A lot of foolish or nasty people and animals find themselves humiliated or inconvenienced by her and her animal friends.
  • Magic Realism: For the most part, the stories are pretty mundane, everyday happenings — made remarkable by the two consistent supernatural aspects: Mrs. Pepperpot's random shrinking, and her ability to Speak Fluent Animal. There are occasional stories that hint of a bigger magical world, but this is only very briefly seen — for the most part, the stories take place in a quite normal, rural setting.
  • Named After the Injury: In one story, the eponymous old woman adopts a piglet with a lame leg and names him Squiggly because his injury renders him unable to walk in a straight line.
  • No Antagonist: There aren't any villains in the Mrs. Pepperpot stories. The closest they get are unreasonable or petty-minded people, who are mostly presented as laughable rather than threatening — or the occasional predator who wants to eat one of Mrs. Pepperpot's animal friends, which is generally treated as just being hungry.
  • No Name Given: The original Norwegian books leave the majority of the characters nameless. Even Mrs. Pepperpot is never actually named; she's just nicknamed "Teskjekjerringa," which means "The Teaspoon Lady," on account of her occasionally being the size of a teaspoon. It's the English translation that gives her the name "Mrs. Pepperpot," and a bunch of other characters who weren't named in the original story are similarly Named By The Translation.
  • Overly-Long Gag: In Mrs. Pepperpot's Outing, while getting water for his overheated car, Mr. Pepperpot worries that his wife may have shrunk down and got lost, so he asks the farmer whether he's seen a little doll somewhere. The farmer says that he hasn't seen any dolls, but he'll ask his wife. The wife, when asked, says that she hasn't seen any dolls, but she'll ask her oldest daughter. The daughter, when asked, says that she hasn't seen any dolls, but she'll ask her sister. The sister, when asked, says that she hasn't seen any dolls, but she'll ask her other sister — and so it goes until the question has gone to all the eight children on the farm and none of them has seen any dolls. Mr. Pepperpot then decides to hurry back to the car and look for his wife there, and then he can't find the bucket that he was carrying the water in. So he turns to ask the farmer whether he's seen a bucket somewhere. The farmer says that he hasn't seen any buckets, but he'll ask his wife. And they go through the entire thing again.
  • Reading Tea Leaves: In one of her stories, Mrs. Pepperpot reads her tea leaves. According to her, tea leaves in the shape of a heart means a new loved one will arrive (which she generally interprets as getting a new pet or a new animal to look after), a cross means she'll need a doctor, and a clear drop means tears. In that particular story she sees both a cross and a clear drop, and spends most of it dreading the tears and injury that's coming her way — at the end of the story her husband comes home having crashed his bicycle. and she realizes that she accidentally read his tea leaves and not her own.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Mr. Pepperpot has traits of this at times, often thinking that he's a lot more clever and competent than he actually is.
  • Secret-Keeper: Mr. Pepperpot knows about his wife's tendency to shrink. He really doesn't like it, partly because he worries about her and partly because he thinks people will laugh if they find out.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Mrs. Pepperpot, but only when she's shrunken down. In one story, her pet cat keeps following her around and meowing, clearly trying to tell her something, and she laments the fact that she doesn't understand animals when she's her regular size.
  • Vague Age: The Pepperpot couple. From the different illustrations, we can state that the mrs is a married woman in her prime - somewhere between forty and fifty. The word "Kjerring" as seen in the citation, does not determine a woman as particularly old, however, just that she is married. That is the conventional use of the word in the home area (rural) of the author. Norwegian language conventions can be tricky. On the other hand, it is stated somewhere that she has grown children - which still may render her in the same age slot as stated.
  • Women Are Wiser: Played very straight with Mrs. Pepperpot and her husband. While she does have her moments of folly, on the whole she's a clever and resourceful person. This is definitely not the case with Mr. Pepperpot.