Once Upon A Time…

By Nathan Nye

This isn’t a post-Halloween post, but it is about scary stories.

Fairy tales. Folk tales. Bedtime stories.

Who decided these things were for children?

You don’t believe me? You need an example? Fine.

Hansel and Gretel: Two children are taken into the woods by their abusive step-mother, because she isn’t about parenting some other woman’s kids. They unwittingly become ensnared by a witch in a house made of gingerbread and are fattened up to eat, but at the last second Hansel and Gretel overcome the witch and throw her into her own over where she is burned to death. They steal her treasure and return home to their father (no hard feelings).

That’s crazy. Abandoned children and cannibalism are not in any other situation fodder for children.

Still don’t believe me?

Rumpelstiltskin: A girl gets bartered to a manic king who forces her to spin straw into gold or she will be executed. An imp helps her, but makes her promise that she will give him her first-born child. The king agrees to marry her, because of the wealth she has created for him (see, it’s a love story). She has her child, and decides she’s made an error in judgment in promising an imp creature her child, and tries to back out. She thwarts him, and in a rage he rips himself in two. Yeah.

This fairy tales didn’t come with an MPAA rating that warns of a child bride, blackmail, marriage for money, promising away babies, or self-mutilating imps. We tell it to children before they go to bed.

Glad to know we’re on the same page now; we agree that folk tales aren’t all folksy and cute.

There are all kinds of unexpected ethical dimensions to the stories that remain in our collective consciousness.

Let’s talk about them.

Starting Today, Kenan will be hosting a Twitter contest, #EthicsStorytime. We want you to tell us the unexamined ethical dimension of your favorite fairy, folk, or children’s story. No limitations on that, it just needs to be well-known. Points will be awarded for depth, uniqueness, pith, and humor. For full rules, check here.

Happy tweeting!