Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales

  There’s a new best-selling book out called The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. But this version is told from the wolf’s point of view. According to the wolf, it was the pigs’ own fault that he ate them up. Why? Because they should not have built their houses out of straw and twigs in the first place. The story ends with the wolf blaming the media and saying he was framed. Now, this may sound funny—and on one level it is—but it’s also part of a trend to take the innocence out of children’s books and replace it with a hip, world-weary cynicism. The author of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Jon Scieszka, has written another bestseller called The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. This book’s tone is even more cynical. In one story, the ugly duckling grows up to be, not a beautiful swan, but an even uglier duck. In another story, a frog isn’t really a prince—he just tricks a princess into thinking he is. After she kisses him, the frog says “I was just kidding,” and hops back into the pond, leaving the princess, the author writes, “to wipe the frog slime off her lips.” In each of these stories, the original moral is turned into a cynical joke. The redeeming aspects of these fairy tales are not only lost—they’re openly mocked. A frog is just a frog, and an ugly duckling will never become something beautiful. The author’s cleverness is the smirking, self-satisfied tone of the immature fifth-grader—as though Beavis and Butthead had replaced Beatrix Potter. But kids don’t need cleverness and cynicism. Traditional fairy tales are wonderful because they tap into our longing for the transcendent. Wicked villains are punished, nobility is rewarded, and there’s almost always a happy ending. The great Christian apologist and children’s author C. S. Lewis wrote that fairy tales can create a longing for transcendence. In an essay called On Three Ways of Writing for Children, Lewis, argued that fairy stories have a great power for good. When we read fairy tales, Lewis wrote, we “long to go through the looking glass, to reach fairy land.” This deep longing we feel, Lewis added, “stirs and troubles” the reader “with the dim sense of something beyond his reach.” In other words, fairy tales provide us with imaginary glimpses of heaven—and thus help prepare us for the real heaven. After all, heaven is the true fairyland that we all long for when we read about noble princes, brave knights, and fire-breathing dragons. It’s where we go beyond the looking glass of our own fallen world. So when you’re picking out books for children, go right past those stories about cynical frogs and blame-shifting wolves. Instead, buy the Chronicles of Narnia, the Redwall tales, and other stories about princes and princesses, dragons and knights, and houses made of gingerbread. Because Heaven will be more like these imaginary worlds than today’s world-weary writers realize.  


Chuck Colson


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