Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Changing Endings...

Found this article at the Telegraph about changing the endings of traditional children's stories: BBC gives nursery rhymes a fairytale ending by Paul Stokes

According to recent broadcasts, Humpty Dumpty was not irreparably damaged in his great fall and Little Miss Muffet has no particular fear of spiders.

The examples have been picked up in recent programmes on the network's CBeebies children's channel.

Last Friday's Something Special, aimed at children with special needs but popular with all under-fives, included a singalong feature in which the lyrics were changed.

Instead of all the King's horses and all the King's men being unable to put him together again, they "made Humpty happy again".

Tom Harris, Labour MP for Glasgow South, who watched the show with his sons aged five and three, described the re-worked version as "pathetic".

He was also critical of a previous episode of Big Cook Little Cook in which Little Miss Muffet welcomes a spider that sits down beside her.

And this is the BBC's response also from the article:

The BBC defended its decision to change the words which it says was for "creative" reasons and not to sanitise the rhymes.

A spokeswoman pointed out that the nursery rhymes in their original form were maintained in full on the CBeebies website.

The article also linked back to a January 2009 article: Traditional fairytales 'not PC enough': Parents have stopped reading traditional fairytales to their children because they are too scary and not politically correct, according to research.

Favourites such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and Rapunzel are being dropped by some families who fear children are being emotionally damaged.

A third of parents refused to read Little Red Riding Hood because she walks through woods alone and finds her grandmother eaten by a wolf.

One in 10 said Snow White should be re-named because "the dwarf reference is not PC".

Rapunzel was considered "too dark" and Cinderella has been dumped amid fears she is treated like a slave and forced to do all the housework.

The poll of 3,000 British parents - by TheBabyWebsite.com - revealed a quarter of mothers now rejected some classic fairy tales.

And the article ends with:

Top 10 fairy tales we no longer read:

1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

2. Hansel and Gretel

3. Cinderella

4. Little Red Riding Hood

5. The Gingerbread Man

6. Jack and the Beanstalk

7. Sleeping Beauty

8. Beauty and the Beast

9. Goldilocks and the Three Bears

10. The Emperor's New Clothes

So where do you fall in the controversy? There is definitely no simple answer, to put it mildly. I'm not very upset with rewriting endings. It's been done for hundreds of years in oral tradition.

And don't we all adapt our stories to fit the needs or desires of our audience? I used to regularly drive a carpool of four girls ages 8-11 and they BEGGED me to share the "scary" versions of fairy tales each and every time they got in my car. I think one of the issues is that once children start reading on their own, they don't have family storytimes anymore. I don't read Hansel and Gretel to toddlers, but I think it's a story with a lot of discussion value for the five and older set.

And I see fairy tales as valuable in providing a common experience. With the internet and other medias, so many interests are getting split and splintered over and over again. Pop music isn't as widely spread with the increase of genres, for example, or the explosion of media outlets of all forms. We're losing other common experiences like tv show theme songs. We are inundated with book titles so that only the bestsellers have a chance of being known by a decent portion of the population. Fairy tales, however, can still be part of the common experience and thus common reference. Observe their constant usage in advertising and elsewhere to see their power. Of course I think children should learn about fairy tales, but at appropriate ages and times, not the scariest ones at a 2-year-old's bedtime.


  1. Like you I'm not terribly bothered by the changes either because, as you say, it's been done for years. And how can you be upset when there really is no true 'definitive' source? I am a little disheartened to hear how many parents feel squeamish about sharing fairy tales with their children. We started reading the 'heavier' stuff when my daughter turned five and we've never looked back. She particularly loves the stories of Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood because they feature children protagonists. She's even going to be Little Red for Halloween ;-) She's never seemed the least bit troubled by the more gruesome elements of any of the tales we read. I feel like picture books and stories are one of the first safe ways we can expose our children to darker themes and ideas. But, I suppose every parent knows their child and what they can and can't handle. For instance, I don't believe I'll be sharing Donkeyskin with my daughter for a few more years.

  2. I wrote a post on this an felt I got waaay too opinionated so decided to cancel it, so instead I'll (briefly) weigh in here. I too have no problem with retellings - as long as they don't erase the 'originals' - or should I say the black and white versions. Small children understand black and white - bad guys get punished, bad/silly decisions have consequences. The world is a safer place if it has rules you can understand.

    My son is 2 1/2 and I read/tell him fairy tales. We haven't done Red Riding or Cinderella yet but all the other 'no-longer-read' ones are on the regular list - and I don't shy away from the consequences. Bad guys do not get rehabilitated and forgiven - they become wolf stew (or whatever is appropriate for the story). I've just introduced him to Hansel & Gretel through a (really excellent) Playmobil set and without being told the story he was close to making up the same tale just from his imagination. ("Too many cookies! I feel sick!") The only difference is that Mama and Daddy are good. Because he doesn't see a lot of different families the concept of Mama & Daddy are still synonymous with us (his parents) so I'll wait a bit until I explain they're the ones that leave the kids in the woods, not just that the children get lost.

    While I think it's healthy to be able to tell an alternate/fractured tale and have a good laugh, I'd rather my son didn't try to make friends with the black widow spiders that we have in abundance around our house like the new Miss Muffet apparently does. Spiders can make you sick (or worse) - it's OK to run away to a safe distance. In fact, please do!

    When fractured tales or PC versions are all that are told they lose their humor and any didactic impact they were meant to have (eg be tolerant). What's so funny (or important) if they always become friends and there are no permanent consequences? I find it very sad that many of the generation following mine only know the fractured or PC versions. Personally, I want my kid to know that if he comes across a wolf (of any kind) he should get out of there as quickly as possible. It's not about scaring him. It's about letting him know there's an alternative to getting eaten - for real.

  3. My daughter is four and loves the versions of fairy tales that are darker. I notice in her own storytelling that she gets some very inventive punishments happening for the 'bad guys' I remember as a child adoring the tales such as Hans Christian Andersen that had tragic endings or grisly things occurring. I do think that if we sanitize things too much we are not equipping our children to deal with a world where wolves may wear their fur on 'the inside' Best to have warning to be cautious as you venture down the path into the woods I believe.

  4. InkGypsy - We have that same Playmobil Hansel and Gretel set! It's awesome! I love the witch's nose!

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.