Full Title: Politically Correct Bedtime Stories: Modern Tales for Our Life & Times
Author: James Finn Garner
Publisher: Macmillan Publishing Company (1994)
Number of Pages: 79
How long it took me to read: 6 days
Where I bought this book: a rummage sale of sorts
Like a Moth to a Flame
Some people only buy their books online. Others swear by used bookshops. I don’t discriminate. I even shop for books on other people’s shelves. That’s where I found this one. I was visiting friends in Florida who’d just purchased a house. The previous owners left tons of memorabilia behind, including piles of books. One evening, I was combing the spines of these orphaned tomes, and among the medical books and political biographies, this little wink of sarcasm caught my eye. I’m curious to see if it puts me to sleep or reignites my love of fables. The fact that Garner admits to this being his ‘first processed tree carcass’ gives me hope.
I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:
5. “Now, this witch was very kindness-impaired. (This is not meant to imply that all, or even some, witches are that way, nor to deny this particular witch her right to express whatever disposition came naturally to her. Far from it, her disposition was without doubt due to many factors of her upbringing and socialization, which, unfortunately, must be omitted here in the interest of brevity.)” (From Rapunzel p.24)
4. “Red Riding Hood walked on along the main path. But, because his status outside society had freed him from slavish adherence to linear, Western-style thought, the wolf knew a quicker route to Grandma’s house. He burst into the house and ate Grandma, an entirely valid course of action for a carnivore such as himself. Then, unhampered by rigid, traditionalist notions of what was masculine or feminine, he put on Grandma’s nightclothes and crawled into bed.” (From Little Red Riding Hood pp.2-3)
3. “After the bears left, a melanin-impoverished young wommon emerged from the bushes and crept up to the cottage. Her name was Goldilocks, and she had been watching the bears for days. She was, you see, a biologist who specialized in the study of anthropomorphic bears. At one time she had been a professor, but her aggressive, masculine approach to science—ripping off the thin veil of Nature, exposing its secrets, penetrating its essence, using it for her own selfish needs, and bragging about such violations in the letters columns of various magazines—had led to her dismissal.” (From Goldilocks p.40)
2. “Cinderella’s sisters-of-step were very excited to be invited to the palace. They began to plan the expensive clothes they would use to alter and enslave their natural body images to emulate an unrealistic standard of feminine beauty. (It was especially unrealistic in their case, as they were differently visaged enough to stop a clock.) (From Cinderella pp.31-2)
…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…
1. “So the wolf huffed and puffed and blew down the house of sticks. The pigs ran to the house of bricks, with the wolf close at their heels. Where the house of sticks had stood, other wolves built a time-share condo resort complex for vacationing wolves, with each unit a fiberglass reconstruction of the house of sticks, as well as native curio shops, snorkeling, and dolphin shows.” (From The Three Little Pigs pp.10-1)
Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.
New Word: rapaciousness (noun)
Definition (Source: WordBook iPhone App): 1) extreme gluttony; 2) an excessive desire for wealth (usually in large amounts)
Synonyms: 1) edacity, assurance, rapacity, voracity, voraciousness; 2) greediness, voraciousness
Origins (Source: Etymonline.com): 1650s; Latin rapaci-, stem of rapax ‘grasping’; from rapere + -ous
As in: “ ‘So, rapaciousness does not depend solely on gender,’ she realized with a sigh.” (From Rapunzel p.29)
Conversation with the Reader
While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:
“I think it’s helpful if you know the original versions of the stories to fully appreciate the value of these rewrites. Little Red Riding Hood put a smile on my face because I understood the archetypes each character represented. The Emperor’s New Clothes flew a bit over my head, though. All I got from it was that the herd mentality was around a long time ago (which could explain why it’s taking so long to disassemble) and that it’s always been important to be careful what you wish for—otherwise, you could end up surrounded by a bunch of naked fools with not a penny to your name.”
“There’s a reason why lawyers and social activists don’t write children’s stories. What light-hearted child would enjoy hearing this before dozing off?
“ ’Next, the middle sibling goat came up to the bridge. This goat was more chronologically advanced than the first goat and so enjoyed an advantage in size (although this did not make him a better or more deserving goat).’ ” (From The Three Codependent Goats Gruff pp.18-9)
“The irony, sarcasm and obnoxiousness disguised as political correctness is less amusing than I though it would be. However, something good that is coming out of this experience is a desire to start building a personal library of fairy tales and timeless stories. If any of you have favorites, I would love to hear from you.”
“I had dinner with some friends recently. They have a young child whose books and toys dotted every corner of their warm home. Just before the red velvet cupcakes, we started looking through some of their children’s books. My mind was already preparing for this review, so I think part of me wanted to get into a discussion about fairytales. It seems my friends are finding many of the stories we’re meant to read our children these days as self-indulgent—all about making ‘me’ first, proclaiming that ‘I’m’ special. Then there’s another school of thought that believes that the timeless stories of our grandparents are so sexist and exclusionary that we have no choice but to emphasize the glory of individualism in more modern tales.
“I’m not sure who got confused along the way. I don’t think either perspective is needed. The stories we read to our children are meant to speak to our children; they’re meant to open their eyes to the world they just entered, provide them with hints about how to make choices, and most importantly, they’re meant to inspire them to feel comfortable enough in their own skin to be who they came here to be. I don’t think that using the masculine pronoun throughout an entire story will create sexists, but I do believe that stories that reach out from the pages and tickle the imaginations of blossoming little persons will change how they turn out.
“There’s another thing that bedtime stories are meant to do: they’re meant to remind their readers—the all-knowing adults who have seen and done it all already—that there’s a lot they’ve probably forgotten about themselves while being caught up in gender equality and political correctness. Tickle the heart and let the mind rest. There will be plenty of time to be smart tomorrow.”