Dickens, fairy tales, and contemporary parenting

Over at Bookninja, George Murray points to this depressing, though slightly inflammatory article about parents who won’t read their children traditional fairy tales because they’re insufficiently PC and positive:

Favourites such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and Rapunzel are being dropped by some families who fear children are being emotionally damaged.

A third of parents refused to read Little Red Riding Hood because she walks through woods alone and finds her grandmother eaten by a wolf.

One in 10 said Snow White should be re-named because “the dwarf reference is not PC”.

The mind reels.

As is so frequently the case with modern absurdities, Charles Dickens was on the case 150-odd years ago (I’ve posted this before, but will re-post as events demand):

In an utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that Fairy tales should be respected. Our English red tape is too magnificently red ever to be employed in the tying up of such trifles, but every one who has considered the subject knows full well that a nation without fancy, without some romance, never did, never can, never will, hold a great place under the sun. The theatre, having done its worst to destroy these admirable fictions–having in a most exemplary manner destroyed itself, its artists, and its audiences, in that perversion of its duty–it becomes doubly important that the little books themselves, nurseries of fancy as they are, should be preserved. To preserve them in their usefulness, they must be as much preserved in their simplicity, and purity, and innocent extravagance, as if they were actual fact. Whosoever alters them to suit his own opinions, whatever they are, is guilty, to our thinking, of an act of presumption, and appropriates to himself what does not belong to him.

. . .

Now, it makes not the least difference to our objection whether we agree or disagree with our worthy friend, Mr. Cruikshank, in the opinions he interpolates upon an old fairy story. Whether good or bad in themselves, they are, in that relation, like the famous definition of a weed; a thing growing up in a wrong place. He has no greater moral justification in altering the harmless little books than we should have in altering his best etchings. If such a precedent were followed we must soon become disgusted with the old stories into which modern personages so obtruded themselves, and the stories themselves must soon be lost. With seven Blue Beards in the field, each coming at a gallop from his own platform mounted on a foaming hobby a generation or two hence would not know which was which, and the great original Blue Beard would be confounded with the counterfeits. Imagine a Total abstinence edition of Robinson Crusoe, with the rum left out. Imagine a Peace edition, with the [97/98] gunpowder left out, and the rum left in. Imagine a Vegetarian edition, with the goat’s flesh left out. Imagine a Kentucky edition, to introduce a flogging of that ‘tarnal old nigger Friday, twice a week. Imagine an Aborigines Protection Society edition, to deny cannibalism and make Robinson embrace the amiable savages whenever they landed. Robinson Crusoe would be “edited” out of his island in a hundred years, and the island would be swallowed up in the editorial ocean.

Nobody likes it when a kid has nightmares–but it happens.  Just two nights ago, our 5-yr-old dreamed of a talking female statue who kept telling him, “BELIEVE IN GOD OR YOU WILL DIE.”  Believe me, he’d not read anything with that sort of imagery anytime recently . . . it was just a nightmare.  Dickens is right: The imaginative space of fairy tales, and of art in general, is worth defending against the suffocating desire of parents to protect their children from untoward thoughts.

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