Friday, May 28, 2010

Just What are Mary's Cockleshells?

It's not all that cute - the nursery rhyme scene, or the fairy tale scene. In fact, the Ambleside reading list we use for Jonah's first grade curriculum gives little disclaimers about nasty old hags chopping up children, just in case we should choose to avoid the gore.

We never avoid the gore.

For some reason it makes my kids laugh. Especially Caroline.

Last night we sat at the table after dinner while I preemptively told them a bedtime story to expedite the really long go-to-bed process. My Mom looked aghast as I started the story of two children whose parents couldn't afford to keep them anymore and led them into the forest to secretly abandon them. . .the bread crumbs, the cottage, the old woman, the oven big enough for children, and the roasted lady.

They loved it. Caroline giggled ceaselessly. "And guess what their names were?" I asked, "Jonah and Caroline." Which just set off fits of laughter.

"Ok," I admitted, "it's a real story about two children called Hansel and Gretel, and I'm sure I didn't get any of the details right."

"That is a true story of things that really happened?" Caroline asked. "Well, not exactly," my Mom said. "It's a story that was written by real people but the things in the story did not happen to real people."

This information was, of course, a little disappointing for Caroline. The image of the two children pushing the ill-sighted old woman into her own oven was impressive - one she had hoped to find truth in.

Jonah and I read "Forty Theives" from The Arabian Nights the other day. This is no tale for weak stomachs - pregnant stomachs being deeply entrenched in weakness - my stomach being deeply entrenched in pregnant. Two brothers want nothing more than riches. Kasim finds himself murdered and body quartered for his troubles, while Ali Baba has the luck of employing his brother's servant, the "shrewd and sharp-witted Morgiana,"- who perpetrates the deaths of 38 of the 40 thieves by pouring boiling oil over their heads while they hide in large clay jars.

We read the tale behind "Mary, Mary, quite contrary...", which includes thumb presses, guillotines, and cemeteries as her infamous growing gardens. We read this because I am now in possession of an heirloom, hand stitched, embroidered quilt made by my maternal grandmother that features twelve congenial nursery rhymes.

Tell your kid the "Bloody Mary" story, throw that quilt on them, blow a kiss, say "good night" and turn the lights off. This is a sure way to elicit formidable dreams, should the kid actually reach the sleeping stage.

But I can tell you this, I'd go for the quartering, and roasted old lady before I'd read another knock-off adventure of that insipid, Disney-fied mermaid that I used to really like.

Bed time stories evolve. So does our family. At the moment we've arrived at a benign rendering of the gruesome, but entertaining. Only classics though - no Chucky or other such modern nonsense. We only like classic nonsense.


Becky said...

We accidentally checked out Heckedy Peg (by Audrey Wood) from the library hoping for more Silly Sally and the like. I read it aloud, horrified, with one eye on the page ahead and the other eye on Whitney, waiting for any signal from her to start "reading" my own version of the story. But it was love at first sight. Sounds like it might be right up Caroline's alley. (And the illustrations are phenomenal!)

Wayne said...

I'd be happy to start an entire new crop of children's stories for you. I think I could out-do the Brother's Grimm on their best day. Plus, I would make them all cautionary tales, like good stories should be.

Naomi said...

Blue Beard... Hands down the most beloved of the gruesome tales. Serial killing of wives a plenty, does it get any better? Welllll maybe Mo Willams, but that is an entirely different post eh?
My kids LOVED the first year list!
I love that yours do too, no wonder they get on so well. :-)