Baked in a pie
The wolf ponders sticky endings.
I’m a big fan of Jan Fearnley‘s Mr Wolf Books. We have ‘Mr Wolf and the Enormous Turnip‘ and ‘Mr Wolf’s Pancakes‘. Missing from our collection though is ‘Mr Wolf and the Three Bears‘. It’s out of print here so, a while ago, I was trying for a copy on Amazon – which is where I saw this review:
We borrowed this book from our local library. The colorful cover and illustrations on first glance enticed my 2 and 4 year olds. Upon reading the story at home, however, we found that this book was very violent – it highly suggests that Goldilocks is killed and baked in a pie and then served to the wolf’s unwitting party guests. I, as an adult, found the story disturbing. If my children had fully understood the book’s implications, they would have had nightmares.
Would they? Unless they’d experienced some early-life, pie-baking trauma I’d think it unlikely.
The review continued:
Maybe if your children are older, you will find this book less objectionable. Even so, with all the violence in the real world, do we really need this kind of stuff in children’s books – even as dark humor?”
YES! Yes we do! Of course, if Goldilocks was dismembered on the page then the book would cross a line. But, for parents concerned about violence, wouldn’t books with strong morals – such as this one – make more sense? The morals in ‘Mr Wolf and the Three Bears’ are: be kind, help others, and don’t get in the way of busy animals, especially if they’re hungry animals with big teeth and claws.
Oh and of course it’s funny! Children love Mr Wolf because of the role reversal: Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks are selfish, greedy and rude, while the bears and wolves are polite and patient (to a point).
However, the UK version of Amazon (amazon.co.uk rather than amazon.com) has all-positive reviews for Jan Fearnley’s ‘Mr Wolf’ books. The humour in UK children’s books does seem to be darker, which is why most of my favourite writers still seem to come from there.
And so, as a wolf and a British ex-pat, I like sticky endings – if they’re well done. I like that the rotten kids in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory‘ get their comeuppance, and I like that ‘The Twits‘ die a horrible, slow and fitting death.
But I have my own line too: Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies is too macabre for me. There’s no warmth or humour to balance the horror, and I’m disturbed by my personal image of Edward Gorey, hunched over his kitchen table night after night, doing these tiny, detailed drawings of doomed and dead children. Why Edward? What where you thinking? At least put a limerick or a pun in there?
The thing is though, I’m pretty sure my own children would love The Tinies and I am avoiding sharing the book with them – so maybe the wolf is being as wary as the above ‘disturbed’ Amazon reviewer.
When I was about 10, I loved Harry Graham’s ‘Ruthless Rhymes’. I thought they were hilarious and highly poetic; I even did a reading at Brownies for my ‘poetry’ badge:
Auntie, did you feel no pain
Falling from that apple tree?
Will you do it, please, again?
‘Cos my friend here didn’t see.
Willie poisoned Auntie’s tea,
Auntie died in agony.
Uncle came and looked quite vexed,
“Really, Will,” said he, “what next?”
I read at least a dozen more of these, along with a few verses of my own along the same theme… until Brown Owl begged me to stop and the badge was wearily handed over. I don’t think they’re quite so funny now, of course.
Here are some of my favourite books with sticky endings:
Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey – In this short and enjoyable page-turner, the greedy, selfish Pig won’t share – so he ends up in head-to-toe plaster. Serve him right.
Asterix – all the books, especially the ones written by René Goscinny. It only recently occurred to me that the Romans, pirates and Goths beaten with hilarious regularity by the Gauls would have sustained serious head and spinal injuries. It’s still very, very funny.
Anything by Roald Dahl, especially The Witches
A Beginner’s to Bear Spotting by Michelle Robinson and David Roberts – “Don’t say I didn’t warn you” is a very good way to end a book. And I’ve always been confused by that black bear / brown bear definition (this book, by the way, does not clear things up).
Not so long ago, someone with passionate feelings on wolfish representation added this defence of Mr Wolf in ‘Mr Wolf and The Three Bears‘ to amazon.com:
Mr Wolf is polite and easygoing; he’s keen to share and tries his very best to go about things the correct way. The thing is: he IS a wolf. When his neighbours (or in this case Goldilocks) try his patience just that bit too much, his wolfish nature takes over and he can see but one solution. And I think we can all work out what that is! Please note that all this takes place in a beautifully-depicted fairy-tale land, nothing like real life. My boys loved this book, along with the other two Mr Wolf books, and we’re desperate for more. I’m sure Mr Wolf would know how to deal with Hansel and Gretel after they’d eaten too much of the candy house, for instance.