Thursday, April 21, 2011
Fairytale parents? No way!
The interesting thing about Western children's books was the utter insignificance of the parent figures in most of the plots. In the few Indian children's books like Swami and Friends, the children's parents do play an important role – from the sidelines.
However, after being smothered with attention from my own parents throughout my life, I was often fascinated by the life of kids like the Famous Five who were more or less left to their own devices most of the time.
Considering that the kids spent most of their days in boarding school, and the mothers had household help, the fathers still resented the noise they made on their vacations. They did their best to arrange conferences or vacations with their wives during school holidays, leaving the kids at the mercy of a fine variety of antisocial elements from smugglers to thieves to spies.
However, a recent re-visiting of the Grimm's Fairy Tales throws up an even greater assortment of dysfunctional parents. For starters, there are scores of deadbeat dads who bring in questionable women into their lives to care for their motherless children.
The awful judgement of fairytale fathers has given us some gems of villainy like Snow White's narcissistic step-mother (who made 4 murder attempts on the child's life) and Cinderella's abusive and nepotistic step-mother who forced her to sleep among the cinders and do all the household work.
Hansel and Gretel's father takes the cake when he actually abandons his two little children – in the jungle, no less – so that he and his wife may enjoy whatever food is left for the family in the time of famine.
Other parents seem to strike dangerous deals with their children's lives – pawning the children so they themselves might live. The most famous of these being Rapunzel's father who plundered a neighbour's garden to fulfil his wife's pregnancy craving for radishes. When caught, he pledges his child to the witch in return for his life and more radishes (do you know these radishes were called rapunzels, which is where the child gets her outlandish name)!
The miller in Rumplestiltskin, who increases his own importance by boasting to all and sundry that his daughter can spin straw into gold, finally abandons her in the King's hands so that he can live, instead of confessing that he was exaggerating her skills. The miller's daughter carries on her father's fine tradition, rashly promising her own first-born to Rumplestiltskin.
Many of the parents are only guilty of neglect. The father of the twelve dancing princesses had no idea that his daughters had a trapdoor in their room. I always wonder why he did not give them separate rooms in the first place. An ordinary manor house had some 50-odd rooms as a rule those days. An infinitely better idea than allowing a gaggle of strange men spending the night watching over them.
Thumbelina's mother seemed to have taken some time and trouble over her. Unfortunately, leaving the ground-floor window open to allow strange toads to kidnap the child shows that she didn't baby-proof the house well enough. Much the same can be said of the King who fathered the six swans. He married a witch. Though he did take precautions to move his children to another castle, later events show that he clearly made a terrible mistake by marrying her in the first place.
The most despicable of all the fairytale parents was perhaps Catskin's father- who wanted to marry his daughter to take the place of his dead wife. The proposal shocked the girl and caused her to run away and work as a scullery maid for a while before she married the prince.
Parents competed with each other to send their children unaccompanied on long journeys or into the jungle. The woodcutter from Little House in the Wood successively lost all of his daughters when he insisted that they bring him lunch in the jungle. Red Riding Hood's mother was clearly used to sending her daughter into the jungle to visit the grandmother – something that would seem like child neglect to the parents of today. And what prompted the Goose Girl's parents to send her to her marital home with just a evil maid for company, I cannot tell!
Apart from such poor specimens, we also have parents who longed for treasures that their poor children had to face much danger and fetch for them (eg. The Firebird) or those who put their children in a quandary by asking them to choose between a small potion of food with a curse or a large potion of food with a blessing. Parents also unwittingly pawned their children with magical monsters when they promised to give them the first thing that they met at home (eg Beauty and the Beast or Nix naught Nothing).
Among this overwhelming majority of poor parenting, a few do stand out. Though Briar Rose's father brought on the sleeping curse by neglecting to invite the thirteenth fairy, he did get all the spinning wheels in the kingdom destroyed . And the Little Mermaid's family seem to have kept up with her all through her life as a human. My favourite remains the King whose daughter ended up with the Frog Prince; he insisted that his daughter keep her promise to the frog. Despite these few good men, having fairytale parents largely seems a nightmare.
Posted by Blogger at 4/21/2011 12:23:00 pm