There's a reason that many fairy tales and nursery rhymes were written by the Brothers Grimm. They really are quite terrifying (the stories that is. I'm sure the bros were fond of just chillin' by candlelight and chewing on their quills). The weird thing is, they mainly get creepier the older that you get. The idea of Hansel and Gretel living in cages and stuffing a witch into her oven brings on a mild case of claustrophobia nowdays, but as a kid, all I thought about was the gingerbread house. Yum.
Taken in context, you could really read alot of fairy tales as old school stranger danger education. Don't wander around in the woods and talk to witches, or, er, cross-dressing wolves. In today's version, Little Red Riding Hood's old man just chases the wolf away, and doesn't cut him open and get Granny out and then happily feast on black forest cake next to a corpse spilling entrails. I know - soft! But the modern version is a bit like the end of Silence of the Lambs...the wolf is still lurking around, somewhere, waiting for a sequel. At least the first version finished him off, fair and square.
Today Tonight "exposed" a nursery rhyme that was sitting happily in the pages of a book in a primary school library, but rather disturbed a little girl who read it as part of her classwork. It basically involved a girl drowning her baby brother in the bath. Horrible, yes? A friend of mine just pointed out that we happily hand-clapped to it in primary school without a second thought. Not sure which is more disturbing - the rhyme, or the fact we didn't notice the macabre undertones. Or is the most disturbing thing the fact that kids of the 21st century do pick up on such things?
Now for once I do prefer the Wiggles' more sanitised version of this particular ditty. But it got me thinking about how we're making things complicated for the poor little buggers for no good reason. Take Baa Baa Black Sheep. Now there's a verse about a white sheep and a rainbow sheep too, because to have just a black sheep as the different one is somewhat racist. But a kid would just see a black sheep. A sheep with black wool. Simple. We're teaching them unneccessarily to be PC when they already are inherently so. They don't think that a kookaburra living "a gay life" is a homosexual bird, they think he's having a good old time singing away in his tree. Which he is. Until we tell them otherwise.
So maybe we should tell them the original versions of these fairy tales, because like a big game of chinese whispers (are you still allowed to call it that?) one day the stories as they were, as pieces of history, will be so diluted and altered that they'll have lost all significance. It's part of the magic of childhood to let your imagination run away with you, to scare yourself silly, and/or believe that you could grow a magic beanstalk in your backyard or have a handsome prince awaken you from a hundred year's slumber.
Ultimately, despite the creepy bits in fairy tales, good always triumphs over evil, and it's important for kids to understand that both forces exist. We shouldn't erase them or colour them differently and hope they go away. As adults, we can make judgements on things. As kids, we simply see and enjoy them as they are. We did, so why can't our kids?