Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Fairy Tales Revisited

As part of our bedtime routine, I've been reading stories to Elliot. He mostly writhes around, trying to eat the pages. But the idea was that he'd start to enjoy the story sooner or later.

Now, after reacquainting myself with children's books, I wonder if I want him to be able to follow the stories. Some of them are MESSED UP.

I won't even go into "Goodnight Moon," which was clearly written to talk people down from bad PCP trips. What surprised me most are the plain old fairly tales.

Exhibit A: "The Princess and the Pea." What on earth is the message here?

Here's how it ends:
The next morning the Queen asked the guest how she had slept.
"Very badly indeed!" groaned the young lady. "I hardly had a wink of sleep all night. I was lying on something so hard that I must be black and blue all over."
At that the Queen smiled happily. "Here at last is your real Princess," she whispered to her son. "Nobody but a real Princess could have such a tender skin as that!"
The Prince, who had fallen in love with her the night before, begged her to marry him, and the Princess liked the Prince so much that she was pleased to marry him and so they lived happily ever after.


The moral? Marry a high-maintenance bitch lady. (There also appear to be some innuendos here that don't seem appropriate for a child.)

Even worse is Exhibit B: "The Frog Prince."

As you may recall, the frog helps the princess recover her golden ball — on the condition that she be his friend and let him stay with her afterwards. After the frog retrieves the ball, she tries to renege on their deal and generally treats him like crap.

It ends like this:
The Princess had to carry the frog up to her room, but she laid him in a corner of the room. He soon jumped away from there.
"I want to sleep in your comfortable bed or I will tell your father," he croaked, unkindly.
At that the Princess was so cross that she picked up the poor frog and threw him across the room.
"Be quiet, you ugly old frog!" she cried.
But as he fell the poor frog changed into a handsome young Prince with a face and form not at all like that of a frog.
"I was bewitched and I had to stay in the shape of a frog until a kind Princess became my true friend," he told her.
"I was not kind," said the Princess, feeling ashamed.
But the Prince already loved her very much indeed and that was why they married and lived happily ever afterwards."


What a Monday-to-Friday princess! And again, what's the message here? Use violence and people will love you?

The last paragraph feels tacked on to save the story from becoming a bleak death-match. Kind of like that last chapter Anthony Burgess added to "Clockwork Orange."

(I also seem to recall that the princess kisses the frog. But maybe interspecies romance was too risque for this edition. Even so, they've managed to make the frog seem pretty pervy.)