Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Things that Should Not Be Separated

Some people delight in pointing out that the Bible is "grittier" or "more raw" than people commonly perceive it to be. They point to the irony of teaching "Noah and the Ark" to children, for example, given the fact that nearly the entire human population dies a horrible death in this story. I recently heard someone argue that such Bible stories aren't children's stories, that they "aren't fairy tales."

Let's smash some false dichotomies, shall we?

False Dichotomy 1: Fairy tales are mutually exclusive with violence.

As anyone who has read Grimm's Fairy Tales knows, the closer a fairy tale is to its original form, the more violent it is likely to be. G. K. Chesterton is the best writer about fairy tales that I have encountered. The best use of your time at this point is to stop reading me entirely and read this instead. (By the way, modern fairy tales that stay true to the nongratuitous violence that is integral to the genre include That Hideous Strength and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.)

Now, the reason that False Dichotomy 1 has arisen is because of an earlier mistake, mentioned in the opening paragraph of Chesterton's essay linked to above:

False Dichotomy 2: Children's stories are (or rather, should be) mutually exclusive with violence.

This is the more controversial point, so I should have more of an argument on this one. My argument, which will not satisfy everyone, is that the violence in fairy tales (and in the Bible) is not inappropriate for children, because it is not gratuitous. It is not present in the story for its own sake, because the authors were violent or delighted in violence. It is not an affectation, designed to titillate the senses (like obscenities such as the Saw movies) or to acquire credibility as "gritty" and "raw". The drownings and beatings and murders of fairy tales are necessary and unobtrusive elements of the story that serve the main theme: "If one does the thing forbidden, one imperils all the things provided."

From all I've heard, children growing up surrounded by real acts of violence are permanently damaged. But real violence is not story violence; I imagine, though I can cite no data, that story violence is processed differently by the child's mind. (In narrated form, at least--movie violence is a different story, since children don't separate movies from reality very well before a certain age.)

All this is to say: don't freak out. Keep teaching Noah and the Ark to kids. They like the animals, you can teach them about God's promise symbolized by the rainbow, and the deaths of thousands (which aren't even narrated in Genesis!) won't imprint them for violence.

No comments: