Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Among the huge collection of books that we read with Nia and Alys are a number that either Hazel or I had as children. Now there's a bit of a vetting and weeding-out process that these things have to go through before we approve them for consumption by our own kids, mainly to ensure that they aren't terrifyingly bloodthirsty religious tracts, unspeakably violent in some other way, or over the edge in terms of adhering to outdated sexist stereotype: you know, passive pretty princess in pink awaiting rescue by some muscular square-jawed prince in tights brandishing a MASSIVE SWORD in some eye-wateringly Freudian way.

I don't want to give you the impression that our childhood reading material was a horrendous parade of rape and disembowelment, and most of the books are fine. Which isn't to say that some of the "classic" fairy stories aren't a bit weird, though. There's the health and safety implications of uncontrolled eating of porridge off the pavement, for example, but consider also the hoary old tale of The Elves and the Shoemaker. What's going on there then? I mean, I get the basic thrust of the story, but why were the elves compelled to come in and do all that hard work in the first place? The shoemaker and his wife are basically a nice couple and they reward them in the end, at which point they skip gaily off never to be seen again, but I don't think we're meant to infer that they were doing all the cobbling in the expectation of reward. There's some back-story there that we're not privy to, I think.

Clearly the reason we're not given the elves' back-story in our Ladybird edition is that the authors and illustrators (whoever they were) were too busy shoehorning in a load of lascivious subtext. Take a look at the shoemaker and his wife.

He's a wizened little goblin of a bloke with a luxuriant white moustache, while she's clearly much younger and a bit on the buxom side. No wonder they're practically reduced to penury - he's got no time, still less inclination, to be spending hours hammering shoe-leather together when he could be upstairs hammering her nubile young flesh.

Even the title of the book is a smutty joke in innocent disguise. The Elves And The Shoemaker? Look at the initials: TEATS. Utter filth.

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