Aug 12, 2020–In my role as grand-pere I’ve had to dust off my repertoire of fairy tales.
There is nothing as effective as a repetitious story for sending an 18-month-old off to naptime, and my standbys are Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Billy Goats Gruff, and The Three Little Pigs.
Since getting the little guy to sleep takes a not insignificant amount of rocking, I’ve had the opportunity to embellish those chestnuts so they last as long as his bottle.
Repeated tellings have also afforded me the opportunity to analyze these stories that we dredge up from our own childhoods. I’ve found it best not to think of them critically. If you do, you will become mired in swamps of illogic.
I know, I know… they are fairy tales. But even a fairy tale should adhere to some level of inner consistency.
For example, while I can easily accept that a family of bears would own a nice cottage on a wooded site with stunning views, and engage in casual breakfast conversation, I find myself puzzling over the science of porridge cooling. How can Papa Bear’s porridge be too hot; Mama Bear’s too cold; and Baby Bear’s just right? Assuming Mama dished up the porridge from the same bubbling pot, the Baby’s bowl being the smallest should have cooled off the fastest. Thereby Mama’s bowl would have been the one that was “just right.”
And those three pigs. I can see Pawpaw Pig sending off his litter to set up housekeeping in a volatile real estate market. Straw, twigs, and bricks are useful and plentiful building materials. The part I can’t wrap my head around is when they trap the wolf in a vat of boiling water, cook him, and eat him. Never in my rural upbringing in the hog capital of the world have I heard of farmers feeding wolves to swine. I know pigs are indiscriminate in their dietary habits, but it never made sense to serve wolf casserole.
The tale of the Billy Goats Gruff hews most closely to its internal logic. I can understand those goats coveting that fresh browse up on the mountainside, and deciding to cross the rickety bridge over the rushing river. I can even accept the troll barring the path.
But there it ends. After the troll threatens to eat the smallest goat, the wily little Gruff talks him out of it by promising a bigger treat to follow. Here’s where this story breaks down. If I’m the troll, I’m thinking, great, there’s a better meal coming. I’m hungry; I’m greedy; I’m impatient. That doesn’t mean I can’t tear into this goat in front of me. Eating him has no effect on the appearance of subsequent goats. So I’d devour the littlest goat as an appetizer and wait for the next course to stroll into my parlor.
Of course trolls aren’t known for their intelligence, or they would have moved up to ogre status.
The fairy tale literature is rife with inconsistencies. Why would Cinderella want a man who couldn’t recognize her after spending an evening dancing?
Or was Little Red Riding Hood really that close with her Granny if she couldn’t tell the old lady from a wolf in a bonnet?
And why didn’t that peasant wife who cooked up a sentient gingerbread man sell her formula to genetic modification laboratories?
I guess fairy tales aren’t supposed to make sense.
All that matters is that the stories last as long as the bottle.