Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Modern Children's Books in the Curmudgeon House

We do have a number of quality children's books around the house—picture books of everything from saints to trucks, story books that are solidly Catholic, that contain decent paraphrases of classic fairy tales and children's stories, a few Little Golden Books and my favorites, Dr. Seuss. But Mrs. Curmudgeon, saint that she is, does take the kids to the public library now and then for a little variety, and with a watchful eye and a decent guide to children's books in hand, she keeps them clear of the Sissy Duckling and the Heather Has Two Mommies tripe.

But even the books Mrs. Curmudgeon does get let them bring home take a little critical work and a little filtering. For instance, Eldest Curmudgeon, approaching her fourth birthday, somehow (without regular access to television) discovered Thomas the Tank Engine, and she can smell those books a mile away. Mostly harmless of course, but when she and Mrs. Curmudgeon were flipping through one about Thomas being afraid of crossing the "Big Big Bridge," she stopped and asked Eldest, "So should you ever be afraid of anything, Eldest?"

To which Eldest replied, "No Mommy."

"Oh yes you should! Sometimes being afraid keeps us safe. Aren't you afraid of going into the street? Should you be afraid of going in the street?"

So much for teaching toddlers and preschoolers courage, eh?

On a couple of occasions, they've brought home books featuring "Lyle the Crocodile," the poor reptile who is loved dearly by his adoptive human family, but feared by the neighbor, and his cat.

"Eldest, why do you think the neighbor doesn't like Lyle?"

"I dunno"

"Do you think it's because the neighbor is just mean?"

"I guess"

"If you saw a crocodile, would you go up and play with him?"


"No, eldest. Crocodiles are large, vicious reptiles with sharp teeth, and they will eat cats, and other animals, and sometimes people, too"

"Oh." And here, a pause by Eldest, "I guess so. But Lyle's a nice crocodile and he wouldn't eat cats or people, would he?"

"Dear, I'd be very upset myself if a crocodile moved in next door and I'd want him out, too, even if everyone said he was a nice crocodile. I'd make them take him to the zoo, too. You never play with crocodiles, or any other strange animals, do you?"

"No Mommy."

Thank God we don't live on the Australian north coast, or I might have already lost a daughter.

Once again, a perfectly rational fear is being worked down. Teaching children that there is nothing to fear, and that the whole world and all persons in it must be approached as tabula rosa is positively wicked. Every marketing guru, every pervert, every PR hack, every political consultant in the world benefits from the destruction of a child's God-given instinct of self-preservation—a child's fear.

There ARE things to fear, and there IS a place for fear in the world, even a place for unreasoned judgments—for prejudice.
Richard M. Weaver (a contemporary of Russell Kirk who I like to think of as a Catholic soul who given time, would have cracked through his own southern protestant shell) had a great essay on this topic many decades ago. Life Without Prejudice was published in the first volume of the conservative journal Modern Age in 1957, and again in a book of the same title shortly after his death, and it has been anthologized a number of times, most recently in Ted Smith's collection of Weaver's shorter essays, In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M Weaver, 1929-1963. What can be said of prejudice can be said of fear as well, and I quote from the key paragraphs of his essay:

Life without prejudice, were it ever to be tried, would soon reveal itself to be a life without principle. For prejudices, as we have seen earlier, are often built-in principles. They are the extract which the mind has made of experience. . . . There is a kind of willful narrowness which should be called presumption and rebuked. But prejudice in the sense I have tried to outline here is often necessary to our personal rectitude, to our loyalty to our whole vision.…
Richard M. Weaver, without using Catholic terminology or appealing to Catholic principles, per se, lays out a Catholic worldview in this and in many other of his essays. In other times and other circumstances, he would have stood beside a man like Michael Davies. He's worth a good read.

But back to my point, as Weaver argued in the essay above with regards to prejudice, and as common sense tells us with regards to fear, these impulses are absolutely necessary. The enemies of the permanent things (to use his friend Russell Kirk's phrase), or the Enemy, is ultimately most effective in breaking the impulses down subtly, in innocuous children's books like Lyle the Crocodile, and slow shifts of everyday patterns, than they are, and he is, with books like Heather Has Two Mommies, coercion by Canadian thought police, and in-your-face protests by pimply, angry Oberlin college girls.

Just as it's been said (by many, including an FSSP chaplain I know) that Frank Sinatra's croon My Way is more satanic, and more dangerous to souls, than any of the crap that gets recorded by Marilyn Manson or other shock-rockers, a steady, uncritical diet of children's books like Lyle can ultimately be more dangerous to a child's soul than blatant modernist propaganda.

1 comment:

CS said...

One's inborn instincts (fear of new and different things and such) are often more 'rational' than those who degrade them in the name of 'reason.'