Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mercy Killing

I have a two-year-old.  We were watching the Baby First television channel together this morning at my parents and, not for the first time, we saw Baby First Tales, a series in which "9 classic fairy tales are retold and reinterpreted just for little ones."

This morning, it was Hansel and Gretel.  Here's Rumpelstiltskin.

I don't have any feeling either way with the series's sanitizing fairy tales to make them "appropriate" for the youngest of "readers."  We've been doing that for centuries now, ever since fairy tales started to appear in print.  It's the decision of a discerning parent if he or she wants to expose little ones to the sometimes scary realities of fairy tales--because in truth, that's what fairy tales do.  Expose us to realities (good and bad, the depraved and the beautiful) that we aren't mature enough to understand, or may never really understand.

But these stories have so very little in common with the eerie and sublime fairy tales from which they take their names.  Why bother calling them retellings at all?  Why not make the final jump and change the name of the characters?  It's not like a candy-made house or a difficult to pronounce name, in and of themselves, are an intrinsic part of fairy tales.

And that's just it.  I'm not offended that my beloved fairy tales have been altered beyond recognition.  I just don't consider them fairy tales.

As for my son, I continue to read fairy tales to him, in children's books that loyally translate the Grimm's versions into easy-to-digest prose, with pictures.  Straight from my collection of Hans Christian Anderson.  And from my own memory.

Obata Takeshi
(Do click on the picture to enlarge it; it's extraordinary.--C)

It is important to me that he is told fairy tales.  Not a neat lesson wrapped up in a fairy tale package, but the real, true, uneasy experience.  I'm not going to shelter him in this sense, and I don't think I need to.

The uneasiness seems to come to older children or adults who have not been read Grimms, Perrault, or Anderson, when they first hear about them.  Or to adults who sit down to analyze their favorite childhood fairy tales for the first time.

Young children who are exposed to fairy tales for the sake of hearing fairy tales, on the other hand, handle them pretty well.  Witch cannibal in an oven?  Natural.  Queen forced to dance in hot iron shoes?  What else would you do with a sociopath stepmother?  Let her plead insanity and sentence outpatient services?

Chesteron, as usual, sums up my entire feeling on this in one phrase:  "Children are innocent and love justice.  Adults are wicked and prefer mercy."



  1. I'm looking forward to when you start him on Lord of the Rings. :)

    1. He's in a difficult stage right now. When he was very small, he had no choice but to lie there and listen to whatever I read to him. Now he likes books, but he is particular about the kind of paper-pages books. He has lots of board books, but not as much patience for My big volume of Grimms.

  2. Here here! My feelings exactly!

    (Also, I watched the clip and it made me barf, and not just because it has nothing to do with the fairy tale. 'If you can't say my name you can't be my friend' - that's an odd lesson for a show that clearly is trying to bestow a nugget of wisdom on children! My little brother couldn't say my name until he was about 6. Sigh. I got excited when Rumple offered the girl a treat, though...I was half hoping he'd offer not to steal her first born. Alas.)

    1. Ugh, I didn't even pick up on that part.

      And I was sorta hoping that, too!

  3. This phrase is overused, but I really did laugh out loud when I hit that last paragraph. Thanks, I needed that.
    I'm amazed at how many bloggers and commenters I've read say, basically, "These tales are way too brutal. Those were brutal times." etc. As if something disconnects in our brains between the watching of the news and the reading of a story. I suppose some folks want stories to be "nice." And I can see how you'd want to monitor things for the kids (I do, believe me; mine don't watch the news). But fairy tales aren't messing around with "nice." They're trying to be true.

    1. Aw, John, thanks for your wonderful comment!

  4. I also can't understand why filmmakers choose to mangle a plot to the point of unrecognizability but then keep the title-my only guess is that familiarity will boost sales. The new CW Beaty and the Beast show, for example

    1. Yes, I'm at the point where I don't have any interest whatsoever in watching it!


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