Friday, April 29, 2011

Lions Eat Zebras, Unless The Zebras Can Guess Their Names. Or Something Like That. Jerks.

There is no Disney version of Rumpelstiltskin.   Probably it’s because most of the characters are jerks, and the plot is driven mainly by the quandary of who can out-jerk the other jerks.

It’s also one of Preschooler’s favorite stories as of late.

Now, I’m not one to shield my kiddos from the harsh realities of life.  For example, one of our favorite board books meant for the three-and-under crowd explains to the reader, “Zebras eat grass....” [cue picture of cartoon zebra munching on grass], “.... But lions eat zebras!” [cue picture of cartoon zebra running away from the word ‘ROAR’ in a speech bubble.]

I’m ok with this.  At least it’s true.  And it’s not like they actually SHOW a lion eating a zebra.

But Rumpelstiltskin ... that’s kind of messed up.

It starts with a poor miller, who boasts to the king that his daughter can spin straw into gold.  Even my three-year-old knows this is a flat-out lie.  Miller = jerk.

The king calls his bluff, and demands the miller’s daughter spin straw into gold.  He locks her into a room filled with straw, and says if she cannot spin it into gold by morning, she will die.  King = jerk.

After doing absolutely nothing to help herself out of her predicament, the miller’s daughter is all out of ideas, and begins to cry. Just then, a little man shows up and offers to spin the straw into gold.  But not for free.  Little man = jerk, sorta. 

The miller’s daughter gives the little man her necklace, and he spins all the straw into gold, and then disappears.  The king is amazed, but he is also greedy.  He brings the miller’s daughter to another room filled with more straw, and orders her to spin it into gold, or she’ll die.  Again, king = greedy jerk.

Once more the miller’s daughter sits on her ass and does absolutely nothing.  But she’s a pretty good crier, and the little man shows up again.  Once more, he’ll spin the straw into gold, but only for a price.  So the miller’s daughter gives the man her ring.  Again, little man = entrepreneurial jerk.

The king is so pleased to see all the straw spun into gold, that he sets the daughter to a third task.  This time, if she spins all the straw into gold, he will make her his wife.  Right.  Because every girl dreams of the day some man will kidnap her, set her to impossible tasks on pain of death, and then marry her.

Because the miller’s daughter is nothing if not resourceful, she just gets right on down to crying, and the little man shows up a third time.  But she has nothing left to give, so our favorite extortionist demands her first born child.   The miller’s daughter agrees, reasoning that, “who knows if that will ever happen.” The straw is spun into gold, and the king marries the miller’s daughter.  Honestly, I kind of think this is a jerk move by the miller’s daughter, but she was in a tight squeeze, despite all her crying.  Miller’s daughter = understandable jerk with little foresight.

A year has passed and the miller’s daughter, who is now the queen, gives birth to a daughter.  She had forgotten all about her promise she made under duress to the little man, when one day he appeared in her chamber, demanding the child she contracted out to him long ago.  Queen = possible jerk who wants to renege on her contract, but hey, she only made the promise after her life was threatened and I’m a mom too, so that little man can go fuck himself.

So, the Queen brings out the big guns, and starts crying.  The little man takes pity, and tells her she has three days to guess his name, if she guesses correctly she can keep her child.  She guesses all the names she can think of, to no avail. 

So she sends out a messenger to travel the kingdom to find out all the names of the land.  And on his travels the messenger overhears the little man dancing around a fire, singing “Rumpelstiltskin is my name.”  You’d think the little man would just wait another day to close the deal before prattling around like that, but there you have it.  The Queen guesses “Rumplestiltskin” and here’s where things get bizarre. 

Upon hearing his name, the little man shouts “The Devil told you that! The Devil told you that!” (oh yes he does, it’s in the book) and becomes so enraged that (in our version) he stamps his feet so hard into the ground that he sinks through and is essentially buried alive.  I’m not sure whether this is better or worse than other versions of the story that hold the little man becomes so irate that he literally tears himself in two. 

So, what’s the lesson?  If you cry enough aid (albeit evil aid) will always come to your rescue?  That it’s ok to withhold aid to those in need unless they can pay your named price?  That it’s ok to make extravagant promises about your child’s abilities to those who set out only to use her? 

Gah.  Give me lions eating zebras any day.


dbs said...

You need to check out Ninja Mom and her Character Assassination Carousel. Her next guest post features my take on The Boy Who Cried Wolf which is quite disturbing too for similar reasons. This very clever treatise should be reposted on her blog, if you're interested.

Handflapper said...

I never could figure out the lesson of that stupid story, either. You're right; everyone in it was a jerk, and misogynistic jerks at that.

Did I spell that right? I shouldn't make comments after midnight. . .

Betty Fokker said...


Angela@BeggingTheAnswer said...

@dbs - I went ahead and contacted Ninja Mom about the Character Assassination Carousel. I can't wait to see your take on The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Thanks for the idea!

@Handflapper - It seems misogynistic is spelled correctly. You can now confirm your rock star ability to comment after midnight.

Marianna Annadanna said...

I loved this! Nice job.

I mostly just read Robert Munsch (sp?) as a kid. "I haaaave to go PEEEEEEE!!!"

Sandra said...

I think the moral of the story is that the price of gold keeps going up and crying ain't gonna change that...or something along those lines. I've never read fairy tales to my children because they scare the crap out of me. I'm with you: lions eating zebras!

Angela@BeggingTheAnswer said...

@Marianna - I never heard of Robert Munsch until a year ago when we got some hand-me-down books from a friend of my mother-in-law. Among others, we have the "I have to pee" book. I missed out as a child.

@Sandra - Hmmm.... Preschooler loves fairy tales, and not just for the princesses. Hopefully it will lead to nothing worse than her participating in renaissance festivals when she grows up. Actually, that would be pretty cool.