Guns, cannibalism, and ubiquitous death: they don’t write children’s stories like they used to - and that’s a bad thing.
With Winnie-the-Pooh dangling high in the air from a balloon after a failed attempt to obtain some honey, Christopher Robin lifts his gun, takes aim, and fires.
Ow!” said Pooh.
“Did I miss?” [Christopher Robin] asked.
“You didn’t exactly
miss,” said Pooh, “but you missed the
“I’m so sorry,” [he] said, and [he] fired again, and this time [he] hit the balloon.
Though he was apparently left unscathed by the gunshot, the ordeal left Pooh with other problems: “[H]is arms were so stiff from holding on to the string of the balloon all that time that they stayed up straight in the air for more than a week, and whenever a fly came and settled on his nose he had to blow it off.” Why is this detail relevant? The narrator explains, “And I think – but I am not sure – that that is why he was always called Pooh.”
Ah yes, the heart-warming story of how the beloved bear got his name.
Not how you remember Winnie-the-Pooh? A more recent version published by Disney has bees pop the balloon and excises the gun and problem with his arms.
It’d be easy to point to Disney’s always smiling, flower throwing, magical rainbow gazing monstrosity and chalk it up to another big corporation destroying a classic, but after having read hundreds of children’s books over the last few years to my small children, it’s clear Disney is just a prominent player in a much wider trend to sanitize, censor, and to all-around-make-bland-and-boring our culture’s rich treasury of children’s stories.
And Death Was No More
The first time I read my young son the classic story The Three Little Pigs, it was from a scanned copy of a 1904 book courtesy of the Library of Congress’ fantastic website, Read.gov (yes, the federal government is capable of making useful websites). It tells the story as I remembered it: The Wolf blows down the homes of the first two Pigs and eats them. He’s unable to blow down the brick house of the third Pig, and tries to enter the house through the chimney. The text is clear on what the third Pig does next:
Opposite the text is a full-page, color illustration of the Wolf falling into the large pot surrounded by huge flames, and the third Pig smiling, ready with the lid.
My son loved the story and has frequently requested it since. But when I read him the same story from a recently published collection of children’s stories, there were some significant differences. First, upon having their homes blown down by the Wolf, the first two Pigs escape to the home of the third Pig, rather than get eaten by the Wolf. Second, the death of the Wolf in the boiling pot is left somewhat vague, and there is no mention of the Pigs eating him.
Other examples can be given: A newer version of The Gingerbread Man we picked up from the library has the Gingerbread Man escaping the Fox (rather than being eaten by him) and instead getting caught by a young boy who made a gingerbread house for the Gingerbread Man to live in. A recently published children’s story collection had a version of The Little Red Riding-Hood in which the grandmother hides in a closet from the Wolf, Little Red Riding-Hood is merely “seized” by the Wolf once she arrives, and the woodcutter who comes to their rescue only chases the Wolf away.
The common thread to all of these new versions? The removal of death.