Tonight, I read some of Silverstein’s Runny Babbit to the Kaiser. It’s a little mature for him, but he likes the rhyming, the silliness, the incoherence of the language. Some of it is dark. I skip those bits. For now. But — I did read one poem in which the mother hangs her runny babbit on the clothesline to dry him after a romp through the mud. The Kaiser was puzzled. A little concerned. We talked about it, that it was a joke, that no, mommy would not hang him on a clothesline. That no, mommy doesn’t even have a clothesline. He got it. He was intrigued. And I remembered that feeling — being a child and reading something that seemed ever-so-slightly… off.
A UK survey shows a majority of parents reject telling traditional fairy tales to their children. You know, the stories you (I hope) read when you were a child, stories that are….off. These survey takers rejected Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel, ostensibly citing child abandonment, gender stereotypes and teenage pregnancy (Did you know the princess gets all preggers and junk? I didn’t either.)
Utter silliness. No, I don’t think it’s appropriate for a three-year old to listen to stories of elderly consumption (Little Red Riding Hood) or attempted filicide (Snow White), but come on. By age 18, a U.S. youth will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence (American Psychiatric Association). And violence? Madness? Rape, murder and pillage? Just pull out the Old Testament. I think I’d rather my kid have a copy of Grimm’s Fairly Tales by his bed.
The originals… Yeah, they can be harsh:
- The Three Little Pigs
In the original story, the pigs dished out justice – by boiling the wolf alive. And eating him.
- Little Red Riding Hood
The huntsman cuts the wolf open, retrieves the stupid kid and feeble Grandma. He sews the wolf back up, full of stones. Wolfy wakes, tries to run and dies.
- Hansel and Gretel
Dudes, the wicked harpy stepmother harassed the dad into taking the kids in the woods to leave them there. To die.
She’s gets pregnant. The prince is blinded by thorns. (Fun fact: People suffering from Rapunzel Syndrome eat their own hair.)
In an effort to fit into the tiny slipper, one nasty stepsister cuts off a toe, the other hacks off her heel. And when it’s all said and done and Cinderella gets her man, a couple of birds bring her a gift – her stepsisters’ eyes. Yahtzee.
- Snow White
The queen doesn’t just want the pretty girl’s heart. In the Grimm version, she wants the liver, intestines, and a single toe in a vial of blood. Oh, and did I mention that the evil queen is actually Snow White’s mother? Holy bitchiness, Batman.
- The Little Mermaid
This is Hans Christian Anderson, who is just as wicked cool as the Grimm Bros. The witch cuts out Ariel’s tongue. And yeah, because she can’t win the Prince’s love, she’s supposed to kill him, else she’ll die. So she offs herself. Fun times under the sea.
Are they violent? Yep. Disturbing? Sure. Exciting? Intensely.
The tales, in all their creepy, disgusting detail, fuel the imagination. The stories are meant to be fanciful, eye-widening and shocking. We’ve (by we, I mean Disney®) watered down everything, taken away the danger, bastardized the stories.
Most children are perfectly capable of understanding that stories are just, well, stories. Don’t underestimate little minds. They can process, enjoy and glean something from these myths that are integral to our cultural cannon. Life is not a Hallmark card. Teaching children that nothing ever goes wrong, that everything is always fair, that life is sunshine – that’s dangerous.
Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed. –G. K. Chesterton