Read something like the Arabian Nights tales in an uncensored version - these were clearly not intended for children anymore than 50 Shades of Grey are for children. The children's editions are heavily sanitized.
I suspect their change into children literature was because of cultural changes - educated 19th century adults couldn't take folktales serious anymore (except as anthropological studies) and found them childish. The same way that 19th century popular literature like Dumas and Verne became children's books in the 20th century.
Walt Disney is often criticized in this context, but both Snow White and Cinderella are actually pretty faithful to the source material. Cinderella is just based on the Charles Perrault version of the story, not the Grimm version which contain a lot more maiming.
I learned this the hard way. I purchased a beautifully made "Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales" to read to my then toddler. There are some particularly disturbing stories but I was surprised by how many were flat out nonsensical or silly (like The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear ). It's fascinating to read these in their (translated) original form. Not your typical bedtime story.
The tale wouldn't make nearly as much of an impression if, let's say, the crabs just roughed the monkey up a little bit and then they all made up and lived happily ever after.
Nor would it be a realistic or helpful lesson, because that is not now reality works: sometimes actions have serious consequences.
That reminded me of GOT... the ending was a disappointment to an otherwise interesting tale.
Do you have any evidence for this? Nothing I’ve ever read in anthropology supports it. When most children die before their fifth birthday, the average family lives in one room and a family is rich if they have two beds, a table and six good chairs people think very differently than the fabulously wealthy Victorians. And they were pretty much ok with children working in factories or as chimney sweeps.
Life used to be nasty, brutish and short. Attitudes were substantially less delicate as a result.
2.) The other is that "folk" likely did not told stories to kids every evening the way we do. This I gather as unprobable after reading book about childhood in Germany before wars. The kids did not get as much individual attention and general attention.
Demographic that was ok with kids working in factories had both parents working 12 hours a day with no weekend. These had 5 years old whole day alone on the streets or "responsible" for gooses with no adult present. There was no one to gently tuck them to bed and tell them story so that they learn "morals" or what. These were overworked adults desperately needing a bit of rest for themselves.
Your kids are not getting bedtime stories at all in that situation.
3.) My observation from kids: We push stories and reading on kids a lot and very soon. Sooner then they actually like it. Small kids like shorter super simple stories. The original form is not for kids not just because it is dark, but also because it is unnecessary long and slow moving for such kid.
Children got less attention because there were more of them and people were busy but they weren’t feral. When it’s dark and cold outside they were mostly inside. There’s always work but if you spend a lot of time in cramped quarters with no tv, radio or books people’s people want entertainment apart from gossip. That means music, song or story telling. You’re not going to get a five year old to sit still for half an hour to listen to a recitation of a book of the Iliad or Odyssey but ten minutes is an unremarkable attention span.
Total agreement on reading. Be like Finland, leave it til primary school, which starts at 7 years old.
I meant we as a society. Not everyone does it, but it is general recommendation. It was not even recommendation back then. The point is, we as society are collectively doing it a lot more. We as a society also push parents to do it a lot more. In 19 century, you would not had people claiming that someone must read to babies every night - although you do see people and even educators pushing this one.
> Children got less attention because there were more of them and people were busy but they weren’t feral
The origin of kindergarten are German cities with poor kids in city running around whole day. Middle class kids lives were highly controlled, including a lot of control over their entertainment, hobbies and so on. But poor families could not afford any of that.
In rural villages, even my grandmother remembered being responsible for gooses along other kids while adults worked fields (they were comparatively rich family with rather larger farm). It was the normal way of raising kids even in 20 century.
> People want entertainment apart from gossip. That means music, song or story telling
Yes, but these are songs and story telling for adults. The kids can listen, but the original claim is that these stories were aimed at adult audience. Which is true. The fun things for children and for adults are much different. And the original stories when I read them while ago tended to be much longer then what I read to small kids. As kids grow they start to have preference for older and 10 years old will like long version. But 4-5 years old less likely.
> Life used to be nasty, brutish and short. Attitudes were substantially less delicate as a result.
I don't think you can draw a simple correspondence between brutality in real life and brutality in fiction. For example there is a lot more explicit violence in TV today than 50 years ago, even though by all account there is less violent crime in western society overall. And it is not like Grimms Cinderella is exceedingly brutal compared to say Saw or Game of Thrones. On the other hand we don't consider public executions appropriate entertainment for the whole family anymore.
Disney hired Pixar to put out Tolstoy 1 and 2, then they acquired Pixar and have since released Tolstoy 3 and 4.
Also all the Russian stories published translated to English by Pravda involved a lot of violence and head cutting and men trying to sleep with daughters and whatnot.
Turned out all right.
0: Pretty sure that's where I learned the word 'cavorting'.
In addition to that you can't tell exactly if the Grimm brother weren't doing some editing on their own behalf.
How does this apply? What is this in response to?
Tolstoy's stories weren't based on folk tales, and were specifically meant for children.
Yet they are, at times, pretty grim, and often lack a punchline or a clear point, other than "such is life".
Which might have been the point anyway.
For instance, in the version of Cinderella by Charles Perrault - the version that we all know - one of the evil stepsisters was advised by her mother to cut off her toes in order to fit the slipper. She almost fools the prince, but doves warn him about blood dripping from her foot. He then goes back again and tries the slipper on the other sister. She cut off part of her heel in order to get her foot in the slipper, and again the prince is fooled. While riding with her to the king's castle, the doves alert him again about the blood on her foot.
How about that for a good night story?
Or, "The Little Match Girl." Yikes.
I don't understand how people in those times would be less sensitive to such themes.
Older societies? Every farming family in Western Europe would have been familiar with how to slaughter and process their own animals until the 60s at the earliest. There are very few people more than three generations removed from agriculture, and most of those would have seen animals slaughtered up until the rise of industrial cold chains in the early 1900s.
That would not work, nowadays...
And ideally, most of that sanitized away by the media which just talks numbers, shows air strikes from 50 km away, and tells you how many "insurgents" were killed today.
Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop.
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall.
And down will come Baby, cradle and all.
It’s raining, it’s pouring,
The old man’s snoring.
He went to bed
And he bumped his head
And he couldn’t get up in the morning.
A pocket full of posies
We all fall down
(actually this is not at all related to the plague but it makes a more scary story if we say it does)
And this is why the original folktales emphasize the gore. You can basically chop off the last quarter of any folktale and replace it with a direction to the story-teller, i.e. "[and now you shall carry on about bad things happening to the child protagonist, in as visceral a manner as you have the mind and words to render, until the children listening have been thoroughly traumatized as to the consequences of their misbehavior.]"
I also read the article as lighthearted and humorous and so assumed some things may have been exaggerated it embellished slightly for effect.
The story is more grim and heart-wrecking.
And there is no obvious take-away, everything just sucks.
But it's a story of a loss that one can relate to. Depressed people are known to listen to sad songs, and get relief from that.
I'm not in a very good place now, and reading the Lion and the Puppy story in Russian somehow was a relief. It melted the numbness away.
And that's what Tolstoy was going for, perhaps. No ham-fisted morals. Just carefully crafted vignettes of grim life.
I do think that Tolstoy never had an appreciation of the many dimensions of human happiness. "Every happy family is alike, but unhappy families are miserable in their own ways", he wrote. I disagree; I see commonality in misery, and it's the path to happiness that has to be crafted and often ends up unique. But I digress.
Which is great and a meaning in itself. Much of what’s grim in life happens without deeper meaning. Terrible things happen to those that don’t deserve it and terrible people don’t get what they deserve. The only thing is to accept that that’s how it often is. Which is not a bad thing to expose children to IMO
The series starts with books that are allegories for World War II like "The Moomins and the Great Flood" and
"Comet in Moominland". Good reading in these pandemic times not gory but all about seriousnes of the world we live in and how small humans and families can cope with that.
Wow. The author seems to be missing the morals entirely. Just from browsing their story descriptions, the lessons seem to be about, respectively:
- The overwhelming power of grief, which you may wind up suffering when you choose to love
- Don't be tricked by people trying to get you to enjoy yourself in a dangerous situation
- The feeling that makes you uncomfortable destroying beauty is a kind of conscience, so listen to it, for there is an intrinsic connection between beauty and life
- Happiness is misunderstood by nearly all -- it doesn't come from material possessions, it comes from within
- People are supported by those around them, not diminished, so don't treat those who surround you as unimportant or take them for granted
- If you tame an animal, you're responsible for their well-being. You can't "go back" or shirk your responsibilities, so think twice before you take on a personal commitment or you may generate suffering you never intended
Writers for the LA Review of Books are generally... supposed to be literary and really good at finding meaning in texts, heck even way more meaning than the author sometimes intended.
This author seems to be being deliberately obtuse about these stories. I'm not sure why. But these stories seem incredibly stimulating food-for-thought to talk with your children about.
If I doubted my dismissal of this article, I felt vindicated by this line. Is the author really so blind as to believe that popular fairy tale endings are archetypal for any reason beyond the fact that they became popular? They were just as nasty and surprising back then, and it's only repeated listenings and social acceptance that has made them appear to be any more child-appropriate than a screaming, dying tree.
FWIW, I generally believe kids are way more resilient to any of these things than we think they are. Like the poplar tree, in trying to protect them, we lead them to their own downfall.
Moyshele and Sheyndele
Once upon a time there was a poor woodcutter who had a wife and two small children, a boy and a girl. The boy was called Moyshele, the girl Sheyndele. The woodcutter’s wife died and he married a second wife who was a very wicked woman and a cruel stepmother to the children. One day the woodcutter left the house to chop wood in the forest, and the stepmother got ready to go to market to do the Sabbath shopping. Before she left, she gave the children some food, putting Moyshele’s in a pot and Sheyndele’s on a plate. She said, “Moyshele, if you break the pot I’ll chop off your head, So you’d better not.” She told Sheyndele, “Sheyndele, Sheyndele, just you wait, I’ll chop off your legs if you break this plate.” Then she slammed the door and went to market. The children were afraid to eat lest they break something, but the rooster suddenly flew up on the table and knocked over the pot. It fell to the ground and broke into teeny-tiny pieces. Moyshele, seeing them, was terrified and began to cry. Sheyndele comforted him, saying, “Hush, Moyshele.Don’t cry.” And she took the shards of the pot and pushed them into a corner of the room. When the stepmother came home, she couldn’t find the pot. “Where is the pot?” she asked Moyshele. “The rooster broke it,” he said. The stepmother was very angry, but she pretended that nothing was the matter. Later she said to Moyshele, “Come with me and I’ll wash your hair.” So Moyshele went with her. She took him into another room and cut off his head, after which she cooked it for supper. When the woodcutter came back from the forest he said, “Where is Moyshele?” “I don’t know,” said the stepmother. Then they sat down at the table and ate the soup and the meat. Sheyndele, unaware of what she was eating, sucked the marrow from the bones and threw them out the window. A little mound of earth covered the bones and when the glad summer came again, a new Moyshele grew up out of it. Moyshele stood there on his little mound until, seeing a tailor pass by, he called, “Tailor, tailor, make me a pair of trousers and I’ll sing you a song:
Murdered by my mother,
Eaten by my father,
and Sheyndele, when they were done,
Sucked the marrow from my bones
And threw them out the window.”
Murdered by my mother,
Eaten by my father,
when they were done,
Sucked the marrow from my bones
And threw them out the window.
One log there,
One log gone.
As for my tale—
My tale is done.
> I’m all for showing your kids reality, and bringing them to the hospital or the wake or the funeral. But Tolstoy’s tales read more like an undigested rage at the world, unfortunately misdirected at children.
Yeah no. What's the point of such a teaching story as the one above? Perhaps it's a story to teach resilience; Even if the world treats you so badly, that it sort of chews you up and spits you out, you can still make your way, though perhaps it might just be by telling your sad story and playing on people's sympathies.
My mother, she killed me, my father, he ate me,
My sister Marlene gathered all my bones,
Tied them in a silken scarf,
Laid them beneath the juniper tree,
Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I.
Remember that plenty of the original Grimm stories had been meant to entertain adults, too.
Yeah, it's disgusting. It's incredibly hard to find actual stories now, they are always screwed up by talentless editors. Reminds me of drawing fig leaves over Renaissance pictures when protestantism took over.
This is possible but unfortunately the author of the article decided not to answer his children:
> “Daddy,” my stunned four-year-old son asked, “why did the lion die?”
> “Daddy Daddy,” my daughter asked, still wondering about the now-dead lion’s lifestyle, “why did the people feed the lion puppies?”
Instead he "took the book away and hid it from" them. Not good parenting IHMO. Don't read from that book again, OK, but find an answer to those questions.
Taking the book away and hiding it is good parenting. Better parenting would be reading the book ahead of time and never sharing it with them to begin with.
I really don't think that's why children's stories used to be macabre. Nobody ever claimed these were accurate representations of reality.
They are not meant to be read at bedtimeto small children, but thoughtful reading material for kids of all ages who are learning to read. The kids who are old enough to read the stories would be old enough to appreciate the (often very sad) stories.
Nobody, including the author, seems to have mentioned the cultural aspect in all this. Allow me:
Q: What is the difference between a Russian optimist and a Russian pessimist?
A: A Russian pessmist thinks that things can't get any worse. A Russian optimist thinks they not only can, but will.
There's one in the Grimm Brothers called "The Knapsack, the Hat, and the Horn" that's an incredibly bleak fable about power and corruption.
Edit: seems to be back up with everything in order.
"12 days of Christmas" and other tales and sings have hidden Christian symbolism due to persecution.
The lion in the zoo? He lives off other animals, but when he stops to get to know one he becomes so attached he can't live without it. Could be a simple message about animal cruelty (IIRC, Tolstoy was vegetarian?). Could be a parable about aristocrats & peasants, or capitalists and workers.
Escape of the Dancing Bear? The bear was recaptured because he fell into old habits. Be careful not to do the same.
Death of the Cherry Tree? Could just be a message that all things are living, stop and consider the damage you're causing. The blasé attitude of the woodcutter is shocking: people can get used to anything. Possibly an analogy for war or other cruelty which we casually accept.
The King and the Shirt: money doesn't buy happiness. It's not sad, the poor man is legitimately happy. Possessions and worldly ties can bring unhappiness. And it's ironic and thought-provoking, for kids.
The Old Poplar: obvious lessons about family ties. Don't send grandpa to a home. And a neat lesson on systems: the obvious, common sense approach backfired because things were more complex and interdependent than they looked at first sight.
The Little Bird: some things are meant to be wild. Some things, when done, can't be undone.
I honestly kinda like these stories. Not sure I'd read them to my 4-year-old, though.
I doubt Tolstoy wrote his stories without some kind of purpose, but I agree it would be a mistake to try too hard looking for meaning in case he just felt like writing up some sad shit.
The reviewer is Disney's useful idiot. Gotta stay away from Tolstoy — it's not just disturbing, it's actually dangerous!
Only Bowdlerized and Disneyfied happy happy joy joy for your kids!
And if you aren't perpetually happy all your life, it's not not that the universe is indifferent to human suffering, it's that there's something wrong with you.
> There isn’t even that much to talk to your children about: trees are nice, don’t cut them down so much? People are not all that happy?
Yeah. Maybe "People are not all that happy" would be a good thing for kids to learn.
We're trying to have a community that manages not to succumb to the default of internet-acidic. I'm sure you know this, because we've had to ask you about this several times before. If you wouldn't mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and using HN as intended, we'd be grateful.
In the big picture, it's jarring that I'm regarded one of the problem children around here considering how few of my posts I perceive as risky or potentially transgressive of HN norms (which yes, I have thought over quite a lot). But I suppose it makes sense (sigh). Tech is my second career and I'm generally horrified by the tech culture I parachuted into, especially how the hacker ethos which could be so iconoclastic and egalitarian is so exclusionary in practice. HN is more friendly than many tech haunts thanks to the moderation, but it remains alien.
How people respond to adversity and suffering matters.
Disney is brainwash for children.