Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gory stories

There are always two kinds of people, right? Those who like Winnie-the-Pooh and those who don't. Those who like broccoli and those who don't.

When it comes to children's stories, there are those who like them sweet and mild - and those who like them grim!

I come by my own predilection for grim stories naturally. My mom told me The Hobyahs over and over again when I was a wee lass, and while it does end happily for one character, it's pretty much death by dismemberment or ingestion for all the rest of the characters, especially the canine hero of the tale. It's not that I relish violence (no, really) - it's more an appreciation of the story, even those uncomfortable bits.

Should two of the three pigs get eaten and the big bad wolf get boiled? Yes! Forget about those pigs getting away (as a librarian friend of mine told a library school class last week, "those pigs made bad choices.") and forget about the big bad wolf learning to repent. Let's let the fur and bristles fly.

I must admit that I have never told The Hobyahs to kids at the library (although my own kids have heard it - and so our penchant for peculiar tales gets passed on), but I stand by the Bloody Version of the Three Little Pigs. Parents look faintly shocked sometimes, but then, I've had parents express dismay about the Gingerbread Man getting eaten. Hey, that Gingerbread Man is one of the most obnoxious characters around! I have no qualms with him being eaten by pigs or foxes or whoever manages to trick him.

And what about the wolf who gobbles up Little Red Riding Hood? He's a baddie, so it never bothered me as a child when his stomach was filled with rocks and he was tossed in the river (or was it a well?). It was so vivid an idea that I could almost hear the rocks scraping and clattering against each other and see their lumpy outlines through the wolf's stomach.

Sometimes it's teachers who are the sensitive ones. I was recently told of a preschool teacher who curtailed her class's trip to the library after the librarian read The Super Hungry Dinosaur by Martin Waddell, in which a boy talks a dinosaur out of eaten him and his family. Apparently it was too violent and taught poor values, according to the note the teacher left for the librarian. Oh dear.

I could go on and on, quoting Bruno Bettelheim and mentioning red hot shoes and poked-out eyes. But I will never convince tender-hearted folks who don't like that stuff. We wolf-boilers and gingerbread eaters will just have to carry on, telling stories the Intense Way.


  1. I tell Gingerbread Man with him being eaten at the end - there are always parents with slightly horrified faces, especially as I finish it off with a loud SNAP, clapping my hands to show him being eaten. But as I tell the kids "that's what happens to gingerbread." And they are always in complete agreement.

  2. I guess I'm on the other side of the fence here. I write stories that tend to avoid violence. Even in Shadow Demon of Oz, the hero can bring himself to kill off the most evil creature in Oz. Instead he... well, that's another story.
    I never liked violence in children's stories. It runs contrary to my beliefs. But that's just me!

    1. These ol' children stories were made to teach the little ones a lesson. Without the consequence shown, how are they supposed to know what really happens? The little ones must know the truth or they will grow up confused about those peculiar stories that have been told to them.

  3. "Those pigs made bad choices" hee hee hee.... (although, in David Weisner's pig book, the straw and the wood house look like lovely, eco-friendly buildings, such as one might like oneself....)

    I don't mind some violent dismemberment, but there has to be a reason for it, and there have to be breaks in said dismemberment for Character Developement to happen...

  4. One of the strangest reference questions I ever got: a student was looking for picture books where the main character gets eaten for a college paper. We pulled a lot, which was pretty cool!

    Speaking of softies, another odd reference question I had was from a 5th grade teacher who was looking for books about The Donner Party which didn't mention "what happens to them at the end." Can you imagine those poor kids? Going through life, not knowing what really happened. History shouldn't be re-written like that!

  5. I've also had parents get upset when the The Little Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly dies at the end. But of course, she swallowed a horse! She was lucky to digest the cow!

  6. There was a really fun post about this sort of thing on 7 Imp a few years ago: http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=1242

    I for one am a big fan of cannibal witch Baba Yaga! And my first graders adored There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. I read them the Sims Taback version with the excellent cut-outs.

  7. Hi, do you know any books with illustrations showing those scenes - like the wolf eating pigs or goats or humans, or the fox eating birds or Gingerbread man? Or at least being pictured with a fat stomach? I look for that kind of books, bacause i need them for my research. Thanks in advance!


  8. Hi Nelly, I'd say your best bets for finding modern-day illustrations like that are in various Gingerbread versions (there are SO many - some do have a happy and satiated-looking fox) - and there are some big-bellied wolves in some old versions of Little Red Riding Hood feature a full-bellied wolf. There's a rather intense scene of a clay monster eating (a cow, I think) in Mirra Ginsburg's Clay Boy. If I were you, I'd visit the folktale section of a large library and spend a few hours - you'll find lots of food for thought (so to speak).