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Sunday, April 16, 2017

"Fable"

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) was clearly the greatest poet of the 20th century, and he shaped more minds than anyone else ever.  Don't argue.  It's true.  You know it.

I recently read a book about Eva Braun, Hitler's girlfriend which talked quite a bit about German fairy tales.  The author's idea was that the viciousness of German children's stories had a part in the attitudes of the German people during WWI and WWII.

I don't know about that.  I wasn't there, and I'm not German.  What I do know is that my father (who had some German ancestors, so I guess I'm sort of German?) was thrilled when he came into possession of an archival-quality copy of Grimm's fairy tales.  He settled us kids around and read us Cinderella.  Dad was a great story teller.  He pitched his voice for drama, used funny voices, and everything.

I went to bed that night and screamed every time I fell asleep.  I had visions of the evil step sisters bleeding and mutilated, because in the original story, one sister cut off her toes to get her foot into the glass slipper, and one cut off her heel.  Even though my young self had a problem imagining how to cut off a heel, I understood cut off toes easily enough.  Screams rang through the night.  Screams kept my family awake for two weeks.  Apparently, my German ancestry is too diluted for me to handle the brothers Grimm -- though sufficient for a book burning.  After two weeks of night terrors, Dad reluctantly built a fire in the back yard and let me toss the horrible book into the flames.  My nightmares stopped.

I was given a Dr. Seuss album, a record -- you know, that object with magically recorded sounds in the dark ages before CDs, DVDs, and youtube.  I sat on the floor, with my eyes wide open and cheeks pink with the thrill of story time.  I also owned a Yertle the Turtle book which I read in sync with the magical voice coming out of the spinning machine.  Clearly, Dr. Seuss understood how to talk to children better than the Grimms.

I've pondered the Eva Braun author's theory about German fairy tales stressing obedience at the threat of dire punishments.  She might be right that stories and attitudes made for a militant society, but I'm glad I grew up in a time of Dr. Seuss and Yertle the Turtle.

The story in brief, is that Yertle the Turtle was the king of all the turtles.  He wanted to see farther than his pond, so he made the other turtles stack themselves up and he climbed on top for a better view.  This was pretty punishing for Mack on the bottom of the pile, who politely complained.  Mack burped and the pile toppled...

"And today the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
Is King of the Mud.  That is all he can see.
And the turtles, of course... all the turtles are free
As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be."

Did you know Dr. Seuss wrote this about Hitler?  I didn't either.  Seems like he could've written for some of the people alive today.  Maybe we should do a fundraiser and send copies of the book to some of these people?

Oh, right.  We have youtube now.  Watch it here.

10 comments:

  1. Love the illustration!

    It was Hansel and Gretel that freaked me OUT as a kid. The original story is horrific, but I do vaguely remember the Cinderella's step-sisters hacking away at their feet, now that you mention it.

    I don't remember reading Yertle the Turtle until I had kids, and it was definitely a fave story. I still think of it whenever I'm in a high vantage point and "queen of all that I can see". I didn't know it was about Hitler, though. Great ending!

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  2. Thanks! Hansel and Gretel is another horror story for sure. Why would they ever think killing children made for good kiddie stories??

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  3. It's so true Linda about the fairy tales..they were grim indeed! I'm not really sure why on earth they were written for children! Dr Suess stories were great but it was Green Eggs and Ham in our house! Hooray for fun! I hope you had a restful Easter xx

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  4. Any Dr. Seuss book has wisdom. I was pretty fond of the Lorax too. I'm glad you had a happy Easter :)

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  5. I know enough parents who have carefully shielded their children from the Grimm Tales. I didn't take them seriously, luckily, but I agree with you. Reading about caged children outfoxing a cannibalistic old hag by letting her feel a stick instead of their chubby fingers is outrageous.
    I know that these sort of tales gave parents, grandparents, teachers, uncles and aunts power over children, call it an old way of fear based parental management. Parents don't do that any more, mainly because the difference is that parents assume that the future of their children will be predictable, full well being and decided by local powers and the church. Modern parents assume precisely the opposite; our children might as well be less better off than we because of multiple scares, like local wars, antibiotics resistance, a bad job market, pollution and overpopulation. There is no enthusiasm any more for implanting fear within our children so that they pray more and yield to (political) powers. Instead, we aim to give our children a well balanced upbringing that helps them with confronting multiple issues later on in life.

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    1. I think you've made an interesting point. We get overloaded with fear mongering by the politicians these days. Maybe we've just moved out of fear in children's stories to the mass media? Not a good thing :(

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  6. I guess I missed out on an important educational experience since I hadn't heard about Dr. Seuss before I was in my late forties. Actually I think that is the case for most non-American children. I did grow up with Grimm's Tales, though. I think it's interesting that Walt Disney in his first full featured movies took many of the stories from Grimm. They all became classics, didn't they. But, yes, besides the Disney versions, I think Grimm's Tales aren't really for kids.

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    1. Maybe the way to world peace is shipping Dr. Seuss books around the world?

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  7. Those books certainly endure. Great writing indeed! I'm partial to a good rhyme too.

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    1. Sometimes when I'm in a good mood I talk to myself in a Dr. Seuss cadence :)

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