Please tell me this is a fairy tale…

Once upon a time, in a far away land called Yoo-Kay, a parenting website polled 3,000 mothers about the stories they told their children. And lo and behold, a significant proportion of them refused to read certain traditional fairy tales to their Precious Darlings, finding them either too ominous or not PC enough.

Quoth the Telegraph:

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.

Now, I can understand that some of the classic fairy tales have some slightly scary parts, and some of them are fairly gruesome in the original (hint to parents: stick to the Disney versions at bedtime). But seriously…Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood are the stuff of which 3-year-olds’ nightmares are made of?! I would have thought that good triumphing over evil (which is the ultimate message of all the stories mentioned) is a comforting message to little tykes, and serves as a safe way to help them make sense of the complex world we live in. Denying the existence of evil is never healthy – children can come up against the real thing all too soon. How can you teach your child to avoid bad people if such terms aren’t even in their lexicon?

And if Snow White’s dwarves aren’t PC enough, how the hell will these parents deal with their preteen wanting to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s books?


I would like to think these parents will come to their senses and we’ll all live happily ever after, but given the increasing tendency to coddle children these days, I think this trend will only intensify. And I think that’s rather sad.


13 Responses

  1. I read about this too, I think it’s crazy that parents aren’t reading fairy tales because they’re “too scary”.
    I wonder if these children are being read anything instead of fairy stories. What with the Famous Five having undergone a ‘modern day makeover’ it won’t be long ’til all the classic childhood books are changed completely, or are banned for being ‘too scary’.

  2. The most recent edition of ‘Mother Goose’ is * very* different from the one I grew up with. ‘Ring around the rosie’ doesn’t mention ashes or all fall down. I took one look at the copy I received as a gift and sold it on Craigslist.

    As for ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ topping the list, these parents may not remember but this was mentioned as George W. Bush’s favorite book when he was running for office in 2000. Enough said.

  3. I have a friend who writes children’s books. She also teaches a class about writing them. She says the biggest mistake people make is to cut you the danger the violence and the conflict. First of all, it makes for boring stories but secondly is misses one of the most important things about children’s literature – that it allows children to imagine what they would do if they had to rely on themselves.

    In all the best stories the parents are gone in the first couple of paragraphs and someone is in danger of being ‘eaten’. Roald Dahl is great for that sort of thing.

    Our children’s ability to be out in the world is so limited these days and now we want to rein in their imaginations too.

    It truly makes me sad.

  4. I started telling the Little Red Riding Hood story to my daughter twice. She took over both times. The first time the wolf convinced the grandmother to let her (the wolf–yes, it changed genders, probably ruining all the freudian undertones) eat her (the grandmother) because the wolf’s cubs were starving and she needed to eat to be able to make milk for them. The second time LRRH convinced the wolf that hummus was better than meat. I guess some of us are just instinctively politically correct. We haven’t started on the other traditional fairy tales yet. Hard to say how they’ll come out…

  5. Esther, I’m honestly surprised you’re accepting this so uncritically. That’s not like you. Since when can we assume the media is giving us a full and accurate report of a survey or study? I haven’t been able to find the original questions on-line (the poll seems to have been run by a site that requires registration, so I don’t want to sign up to that), but you know how much difference the wording of a question can make to how people answer it.

    Looking at the Telegraph article, I notice there are a lot of references to *bedtime* stories and to parents not wanting to read their children anything that scary before bed. So is it possible that the poll actually asked specifically about bedtime stories and what parents read at that time of day? There’s a big difference between vetoing a story completely and deciding you want to go for something a bit more soothing immediately before a child goes to sleep. Personally, I wouldn’t want to draw any conclusions about what fools these parents be based solely on the limited information I’ve got here.

    BTW, call me PC but I also don’t plan to go out of my way to read my children fairy tales. I’m not going to make a big deal about it and I accept that people will give them these stories and sometimes they’re going to end up reading them. That, I can live with – there are going to be too many influences in my children’s life for me to freak out over one in the many. But I’m not going to buy fairy stories, and they’re never going to be my first choice to take off the shelf when I’m looking for something to read the kids. I’d rather they didn’t spend too much of their early years on stories in which a woman’s role is to be a beautiful princess, wait around for a brave man to rescue her, and marry someone she doesn’t even know on the basis that his handsomeness and princely status will be all that’s needed to ensure that she lives Happily Ever After.

  6. Sarah – actually, I did try to look at the poll itself; as far as I can tell, you can’t even enter the polling site if you’re not from the UK. That said, the website itself has a rundown on the poll which is similar to the Telegraph’s. Either way, Internet polls are not exactly models of scientific accuracy, either. You certainly can’t extrapolate the findings to the entire UK population – and you’re right, that’s something that I should have said.

    However inaccurate the figures may be, though, these are still pretty startling findings. I can’t imagine that a few decades ago, you’d manage to find a group of several hundred mothers claiming that common fairy tales were inappropriate for children – at bedtime or at any other time. BTW, I got the impression from the article that the questions related mainly to bedtime stories, but not only…Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs being non-PC no matter what time of day it is, for example.

    You’ll notice I put the post into the category of “risk perception” – I wasn’t trying to suggest such parents are fools, but rather they are, in this as well, influenced by what sociologist Frank Furedi calls “The Myth of the Vulnerable Child” and a symptom of our generally risk-averse culture. One of the reasons I wanted to see the polling questions was to determine if parents avoided these fairy tales as a result of their children being told them and having nightmares, or if they avoided them altogether out of fear their children might be too scared by them…”OMG, I’ve damaged the kid forever!”. If the latter (and I suspect it was that)…IMO it’s not a healthy thing.

    I somewhat see your point about the princess stories (though IME, it’s nothing that can’t be undone by a couple of Nancy Drews some years later…not to mention a mother’s personal example), but I can’t see anything anti-feminist about Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk, or Hansel and Gretel…they’re simple cautionary tales. Could some children possibly find them the stuff of nightmares? Probably. Most kids, though? Not likely. (The kid-oriented stuff I found scary, incidentally, was vetted by child ‘experts’ – specifically, this and this was enough to make me run away screaming from the room with the TV).

  7. I agree with you Esther. Bad things happen. To teach our children that bad things don’t happen would be a disserive to them. To teach them that they are smart strong people is a good idea.

    I think folks are overreacing to fairy tales. The tales almost always have a happy ending with Little red riding hood escaping the Wolf, Peter rabitt escaping Mr Mcgregors garden, even goldy locks was exhonerated by her intrusive manner into the bears house.

    I think this is a case of overthinking. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be reading the pit and the pedulum to my sisters kids any time soon. But Peter rabbit, absolutelly.

  8. ahhh, clearly ou don’t have access to the “real” fairy tale stories. It’s about time you buy some books like this one.

    On a serious note, I regularly read curious george with my 2.5 daughter, I wonder what they thing of curious george smoking a pipe

  9. Actually, Rachel, I had a huge book of fairy tales in their original form when I was a kid (~4-5yo). It was over 1000 pages long (I had to ask an adult to take it off the shelf for me when I wanted to read it for the longest time) and had no pictures, so it may have been one of my mother’s college textbooks – or one of her siblings’. It had no pictures, but had every single story written by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and other less well-known writers from all over the world…and not all the stories had happy endings, either (cf. The Swineherd). No nightmares here…and I must have read the book to bed countless times.

    Interesting you mention Curious George – one of my daughter’s bedtime stories this week was Curious George in the Big City, which was obviously NYC. She wasn’t fazed when I told her she couldn’t visit the Twin Towers any longer because the bad guys toppled them with planes before she was born…but she developed a serious crush on Lady Liberty!

  10. Esther, did you open the link I posted? I’ve read the original cindirella, etc. I know what the original stories are like. The book I sent you is for adults not kids, and it is a reaction to the PC movement. We got it out of the library once, quite funny.

    Interestingly, so far I have found only one kids’ book that I refuse to buy (besides the Dora junk) and that is the runaway bunny. I hate it.

  11. My bad, Rachel! Yep, I’m definitely reading those to my kids before bed! 😆

    Have you seen this series? I’ve read a couple. Myself, that is.

    And I love the Runaway Bunny (and read it to my kids) because of the beautiful artwork. I’ve never liked the sappy, clingy mother bunny.

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