Daily Archives: October 20, 2017
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
“Eight more days ‘til Halloween, Halloween . . .” OK, maybe not the most appropriate way to lead into a blog about scary-but-not-too-scary creatures who live in children’s books, by invoking a jingle used in the classic horror film “Halloween,” starring the fabulous future kid-lit author Jamie Lee Curtis, but with that tie-in, how could I not?
The Wild Things
First in our no-particular-order list of creepy creatures: the Wild Things inhabiting the island where Max sailed his private boat in and out of weeks and almost over a year in Maurice Sendak’s fabulous classic Where The Wild Things Are. Being the King of all Wild Things was a blast for a while, what with having no homework, no bedtime, and no rules, but Max became terribly lonely “and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.” So he abdicated his throne and sailed back into the night of his very own room, to find his still-hot supper waiting for him. The lesson here, in my opinion? Those who truly love you will forgive your occasional monstrous behavior, and maybe even make you a grilled cheese sandwich.
“You’re a monster, Mr. Grinch/Your heart’s an empty hole/Your brain is full of spiders/You have garlic in your soul.” Hence, the next monster in our Monster Mash-Up, that grouchy green grump who lives on Mount Crumpit. Yes, friends and fiends, the antagonist-turned-protagonist of Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas is next in the roster of scary-not-scary monsters. Let us ponder for a moment the classic literary juxtaposition of Good vs. Evil. After a busy night of animal abuse, cosplay, and totally highjacking all the boxes and bags and the last can of Who-Hash from Whoville, yet waking up to the sound of Cindy Lou Who and all her friends and relatives singing and celebrating anyway, the Grinch has an epiphany. “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” The Grinch’s heart “grew three sizes that day,” making him not so monstrous after all.
I implied at the beginning of this article that the monsters listed here wouldn’t be too ghastly. Darling Reader, I lied. You should now take the opportunity to fortify yourself with some chocolate before proceeding onward, because the Dementors from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (and subsequent books in the series) are making their sinister presence known in our melange of monsters. According to Professor Remus Lupin, “Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself – soulless and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.” According to the website Pottermore.com (and if you don’t know about this marvelous site, you must visit as soon as you finish reading this delightful and not frightful blog), Dementors are the true scary beasties of the mystical realm. Oh, it is also imperative to note that Dementors cannot be destroyed, but only driven away temporarily by using the Patronus Charm.
Yikes. Okay. Let’s flee the darkness of the Dementors and continue onward in our odyssey of oddities. Do you know the gruffalo? No? Oh! The Gruffalo is a children’s book written by Julia Donaldson that was inspired by a Chinese folk tale in which a fox borrows the terror of a tiger. In Donaldson’s story, a mouse is taking a walk in the woods and encounters several creatures—a fox, an owl, and a snake– who would like to make a meal out of him. The clever mouse declines the “invitations” to their homes by telling them that he already has lunch plans with his friend the gruffalo, who is a monster-like hybrid of half grizzly bear and half buffalo, whose favorite snack happens to be whichever animal that the mouse is trying to evade. Terrified by the description of the fictional beast, each animal flees. Mousie is so proud of himself, and taunts them: “Silly old fox/owl/snake, doesn’t he know? There’s no such thing as a gruffalo!” But here comes the plot twist! The mouse is shocked to encounter a real gruffalo, who threatens to eat him. Again, Mousie’s cunning saves the day. The mouse tells the gruffalo that he is the scariest monster in the forest, and proves it by leading the gruffalo past each creature that menaced him earlier, causing them to run away again when they see them walking together. The gruffalo is increasingly impressed by this, and is apparently clueless that *he* is the scary one, so the sly mouse further presses it to his advantage by threatening to eat the gruffalo, who then hightails it into the forest. Personally, I find this to be an excellent instructional tale for those among us who are physically diminutive (I’m 5’2”, Darling Reader) but make up for it in confidence.
So there you have it, Darling Reader, some charming-and not-alarming (well, with the exception of those foul Dementors) monsters who inhabit the pages of children’s books, and now your own imagination. Have a frighteningly good Fall, and don’t be afraid to keep exploring the vast forest of literature that is available to you at WCPL. Happy reading–
***The opinions and viewpoints expressed here are, as always, solely a product of the sometimes-disturbing contents of the author’s head and are in no way representative of the employees of WCPL, their families, or their Halloween-costumed housepets. The author also wishes it to be known that while the nickname “Scary Stacy” was bestowed upon her by some sorority sisters in college, she really is trying to mellow into a kinder, gentler sort of modern monster.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Fairy tales come from many places; mythology, folk legends and even news headlines of the day. Hansel and Gretel may have hearkened back to the great famine of the fourteenth century when parents abandoned children and cannibalistic old ladies were not unheard of. The Pied Piper of Hamelin refers back to the children’s crusade when thousands of children left for the holy land to convert the Muslims. Cinderella has elements from the original King Leir folk tale (evil sisters who steal a throne) mixed with the myth of Rhodopis, a high class escort whose sandal is stolen by an eagle and dropped on a prince’s head causing him to search the kingdom for the owner of the mysterious footwear. Snow White and Rose Red hearkens back to the mythology of animals turning into gods. Snow White and her sister help a bear and an ungrateful dwarf. The dwarf tries to get the bear to eat the girls but is himself killed. The bear turns into a prince and the girls marry him and his brother respectively. Interestingly, in the original German folktales there are two different snow whites; Schneeweißchen has the sister, while Schneewittchen has the dwarves.
Time has removed the darker parts of many fairy tales. Many of the events of early versions of the fairy tales we know and love would be unfit for children (and some adults).
- In a very early version of Sleeping Beauty by Giambattista Basile the princess is raped by a king and then gives birth to twins that revive her. She tracks down the twins married father only to have his queen try to eat her babies. It’s all happily ever after though, the king has the queen burned alive for her attempted infanticide so he can marry sleeping beauty.
- The Grimm Version of Snow White is truly grim. The queen isn’t her step mother, it’s her mother. The prince finds her dead and she is woken when he is carting off her body and the poisoned apple falls from her mouth. I don’t care to speculate as to why he is carting off a beautiful, dead girl. Finally as punishment for what she’s done, the queen, who in this version asks the huntsman to bring her Snow’s liver and lungs to eat, is made to wear iron shoes that have been kept in a fire all day and dance until she dies.
- Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm don’t bother to take out the gory details of Cinderella. Their version has the step-sisters cutting off toes to fit their feet into the slipper, and when Ella is finally proven to be the prince’s one true love, they get their eyes pecked out by doves.
- In early versions of Little Red Riding Hood, prior to the polish and lightening of the Brothers Grimm, Red is fed bits of her grandmother before being eaten by the wolf. Oh, and there’s no passing woodsman to rescue her so she just gets eaten. She doesn’t learn her lesson, only the reader does.
- Ariel, not her name in the original Little Mermaid, didn’t always end up with Eric (not his name either). In the original Hans Christian Andersen version, the mermaid was given legs but every movement felt as if swords were impaling her extremities. As she truly loves the prince, she dances, despite the pain, to win his affection, but he marries a princess from the neighboring kingdom. In one last grasp at gore, the little mermaid’s sisters bring her a knife and tell her to kill the prince and let his blood drip on her feet so that she becomes a mermaid again. She declines and, brokenhearted, dissolves into sea foam. So much for the Disney ending.
According to a study by Durham University anthropologist, Dr. Jamie Tehrani, many of these tales are thousands of years old, going back to before the indo-european langauge family began to split. Tehrani believes that this is why so many of these tales are found in multiple cultures. But Fairy Tales are finding themselves pushed to the foreground once again. Television, film, books, and comics have all revived classic tales with new twists. Disney’s revived princesses are seeing a further recreation into live action movies and their show, Once Upon a Time, has brought these characters into the real-ish world of primetime soap operas. Bill Willingham’s Fables series has done something similar with the characters of our children’s stories living in modern Manhattan and a farm upstate for those less human and more anthropomorphic. New books are written retelling old tales all the time. Anne Rice, writing as A. N. Roquelaure, wrote a series of erotically charged sleeping beauty tales in the mid-1980s with a follow up that came out in 2015. Jasper Fforde turned the nursery rhymes into nursery crimes with his books The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear. Neil Gaiman has taken elements of fairy tales and made them even darker. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked went from best-selling novel to Broadway where it joined Into the Woods in modern retelling musical history. All of this shows the endurance these tales have and the future traction for their continued popularity.
Perhaps the most fascinating question of all this is, where our great x8 grandchildren will find their fairytales. Will their parents lull them to sleep with the tales of diminutive people trying to destroy a magic ring? Will their grandparents recall nights listening to the story of the beautiful girl who fell in love with the handsome vampire? Will their dreams be peppered with stories of magical children in a sorcerous school making the world safe for everyone? Histories suggests that they will; that the tales of our modern pop culture will traverse the ages, slightly bent, occasionally warped and find themselves sitting on the nightstands of children for generations to come, probably with some of the darkest parts edited out right next to the copies of Jack the Giant Slayer and Cinderella.