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Is this really a children's story? Really?

Is this really a children’s story? Really?

“…Mother said, with humor quaint,/’There now, Will, don’t mar the paint.”

“The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out; they play pinochle upon your snout…”

“There’s a place in France where the ladies wear no pants; and the men go around…”

Sagacia had had enough!

“Simplia, would you step on it?! Why must you dawdle every time we pass the schoolyard during recess?”

Simplia responded with a shrug. Then she said, “I dunno. I guess it makes me happy that kids are still jumping rope and doing hand claps to the same silly rhymes we chanted when we were kids. At least, I did. I don’t know about you.”

Reluctantly, Sagacia admitted that she, too, had spoken the very lines that she now found so disgusting.

The path took them past an arcade. Through the front windows, the Simpletons saw bigger children staring intently into video screens, and clenching controls that fired virtual missiles, hurled virtual maces, and brandished virtual sabers that eviscerated their virtual enemies in lurid detail.

“Must be a teacher work day for middle and high school,” Sagacia observed. “Unsupervised children make me nervous.”

The movie theater sat next door to the arcade. It was an old-fashioned double screen affair with actual projection booths housing actual projectors and actual projectionists. This week’s classic films were Christian Marquand’s “Candy” and  “Apocalypse Now.” Both of them rated “NR.” A line of teenagers was queueing.

The Simpletons continued around the corner and down the street to the Fairy Tale Lobby.

“I wonder if we offended anybody by putting that letter from Naive in Nashville up on the bulletin board,” Simplia said. “The one about fairy tales with unnatural themes.”

“Maybe,” Sagacia said. “But probably not. Our Magical Friends are, generally speaking, pretty open-minded.”

Simplia said, “Open-minded is one thing, but sanctioning incest is altogether something else.”

“Interesting choice of participle,” her friend observed. “‘Sanction’ goes both ways — penalty as well as permission. And look, just because a fairy tale tells a story about someone who commits or survives incest, that doesn’t imply approval of the act.”

“Seems to me, though,” said Simplia, “the less said about it, the better. Especially if your audience is kids.”

“Oh, look! There are a couple of post-it notes and index cards tacked up next to Naive in Nashville’s letter. Offensive or not, it elicited some responses. Let’s see what folks have to say.”

“Wow! Look. Naive in Nashville struck a chord with Erica. She’s got a card and a sticky note on the board.”

“So this is one side of the story…that stories are older and are magical, and talk to us in ways that our judgmental minds cannot even begin to fathom… so not to over think a story too much and cut and snip and fit it into the ‘correct’ box too much. Children need to know about incest and the cunningness of the world and everything else, and stories introduce these in a non threatening way.”

But Mary Grace Ketner disagreed: “I do think it’s fine for children to learn to be wary of cunning, but I don’t know what you meant by children needing to ‘know’ about incest. I would like them never to know about it, not while they are children. I think that preparing children to trust their discomfort with some adults and to be prepared to act on it (run, call for help, etc.) is certainly good. I’d prefer that they think the worst that may happen to them is that the wolf may gobble them up for dinner — a bloody idea that is horrifying enough but that they will partially cast aside when the story is over and they remember that animals can’t talk.”

And Erica replied: “I agree, children need to know…that their discomfort is enough, irrespective of what the adults intentions may or may not be. The worst is that a wolf may talk to them kindly and then try to gobble them up…”

“Eaten alive, huh?” Simplia muttered. “And that’s less horrifying than some things that could happen to you?”

Nick Smith wrote: “There are also tales…of siblings separated and later falling in love. …That kind of ‘innocent’ incest seems like it’s an awkward problem, as opposed to the more predatory form of father-daughter or mother-son.”

“Varying degrees of heinous?” Sagacia wondered. “Hmm… Now that I think about it, yes. There are varying degrees.”

Simplia was getting herself worked up. “But how do you know when a kid is ready to know about being torn apart by a ravening beast? And how long after that are they ready to contemplate romance between siblings? And after that, how long until it’s time for full-scale atrocity — predation, incest, infanticide, cannibalism (It’s right there in Snow White!), bestiality?”

“Good question,” Sagacia agreed. “Fairy tales are full of those themes. You and I both deplore the way a lot of them have been ‘declawed,’ so to speak.”

“Bowdlerized,” Simplia declared. “Censored. Disneyfied.”

“All those words,” said Sagacia.

The Simpletons looked at each other, and simultaneously they both said, “It’s a conundrum.”


Jacobs, Joseph, ed. More English Fairy Tales. John Batten, illustrator. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, n. d.