Wednesday, 15 February 2012


I know I've already said that this blog is going to focus on reviews of books that I've read, but something caught my eye on BBC Breakfast yesterday, and continued to play on my mind for most of that day and today. The particular story was, that apparently, 'some parents are choosing not to read classic fairytales to their children, because they have deemed them too frightening or politically incorrect' (the full video can be seen on the following link: ). Now, this got my hackles up for a myriad of reasons.

Firstly, it seems to border on the ridiculous that, in a world of  increasingly-realistic video games and violent images all over the TV and web, that someone would deem something like a fairytale to be too frightening. Sure, if you're going to read your children stories from the original Brothers' Grimm collection, then alright, you're probably going to scare your little ones witless. I read them for the first time about two years ago and I'm not going to lie, some of them surprised me with some fairly horrific elements. But 'Goldilocks'? The scariest thing about that particular story is that the bears come home to find a little hooligan squatting in their cottage, having chomped her way through their breakfast. And as for 'Red Riding Hood'? Okay, there is a wolf masquerading as an old woman, having eaten said old woman, and alright, when the huntsman comes along and chops him up, that could be a bit frightening. But there's a way round that; explain to your children that, quite simply, it's not real - wolves can't talk, much less cross-dress, and there's only wolves in Scotland anyway, so if you're south of Edinburgh you're laughing. In fact, the best way to avoid scaring your little 'uns is to remind them, as the woman towards the end of the video points out, 'It's a fairy tale, it's not real life.'

Secondly, and this I do feel very strongly about, if you're not going to read a child fairytales, what are you going to read them? Don't get me wrong, I know there are millions of books and novels for children, and that if you are wealthy enough you could purchase a different storybook for every day of the formative years of a child's life, but let's not forget how central the old fairy tales are to childhood. I for one can't remember ever not knowing Cinderella, or Jack and the Beanstalk, and I certainly can't remember ever being frightened by them. These are tales that have been around for centuries, the kind of stories that you grow up simply knowing, that seep into everyday life. For example, what if you decided to not read your child fairy stories; would you then not take them to the pantomime at Christmas? And if you're not going to read your children fairytales, you might as well not let them know the nursery rhymes either - after all, the three blind mice have their tails cut off by the farmers' wife, and in that summary you've already got animal cruelty, and  lack of sympathy to a disability being highlighted. Plus, Tom Tom the Piper's Son steals a pig and away did run - never mind Goldilocks, that's real theft! And once you've started that particular snowball there's no stopping it, and then you risk ending up with a child like Eustace from Voyage of the Dawn Treader  - one with so little imagination, it takes being turned into a dragon to convince him that Narnia is real and not a dream. Given a choice I'd definitely not run the risk of my child turning into a dragon.

The irony that I found in this was that these parents who have decided not to read fairy tales to their kids are choosing to read them more modern classics, such as The Gruffalo. I think The Gruffalo is a great story, but I remember reading it for the first time and I'll be honest, I was kind of frightened by the titular character (and I was about 19 then). He's a fearsome beast! With fangs! And a boil on his nose! And yellow eyes! How is that less intimidating than, say, a wily imp who's good at spinning, a la Rumpelstiltskin? And let's not forget that the mouse in The Gruffalo tells lots of fibs throughout the entire story - sure, it's to save his own neck, but still, if you're going to get all up-in-arms about a little girl having a cheeky nap in a bear's bed, you should probably not be happy about a lying mouse.

My point is that, whilst they may've once been tales of woe and warning against bad behaviour in little ones, they're now as much a part of childhood as climbing trees, stealing biscuits when your mum's not looking and not wanting to go to school. Take them away, and you're taking away a part of childhood. Sure, some children may be a bit frightened at first, but every child can come up with the monster under the bed by themselves; they don't need fairy tales for help with that. Maybe I'm just clouded by nostalgia, but one of the things I look most forward to about having children of my own is telling them fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, or Sleeping Beauty, and you know what else? I'm going to tell them the Greek myths too, and I can guarantee they're more likely to scare a child than any Big Bad Wolf. You know why? Because I don't want my children growing up not knowing the old stories, because how would they appreciate the new ones without them?

No comments:

Post a Comment