Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories: "The Two Carolines"

image Vernon Nye
"Caroline Herman was a very nice little girl in many ways" our story tells us at the beginning.  What ways?  Well, she's very pretty, apparently.

But, we are told, there are "two Carolines", the "home Caroline" and the "school Caroline."  At home, it seems, Caroline is quite cross.  But at school, she radiates kindness and joy-- probably, as the story suggests, because "she loved her teacher more than she did even her own Mother."  This points to trouble at home for Caroline, and one can only hope the teacher will intervene and contact the authorities to remove Caroline from what the reader can only speculate is an abusive or neglectful home situation.

We see Mother using Caroline for menial manual labor, as well as sending her young daughter alone to the store to buy groceries for the family.  Caroline always obeys, but she grumbles as she does it--the death knell for any little girl in an Uncle Arthur story.  It turns out that Mother has set up an ambush for her poor daughter, and without any Admiral Ackbar to warn her, Caroline had fallen right into the trap.  Mother has invited Caroline's teacher over so she could hear the girl complain as she set the table.  Caroline loses what appears to be her only ally in the world when the teacher scolds the "trembling" child, who "bursts into tears."

After that, we are told, Caroline never felt safe in her own home and likely never trusted an adult again, because "she could never feel quite sure that there was not someone listening to her in the next room" and judging her.

Lesson learned:
Fear is the best motivator for kids.

Maxwell, Arthur S.  "The Two Carolines."  Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories. Vol. 2.  Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1966.  15-19.
Buy Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories: Volume 1 on Amazon


"Pete's Dragon"

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Per reader request, today I'm tackling Pete's Dragon, that wonderful Disney tale of black-market-child-selling, gratuitous corporal punishment of students, sadistic quack doctors, and hilarious alcoholism.  Also, there's a dragon.  The adults all believe that Pete's dragon, Elliott, is imaginary--well, all except for the town drunk, Mickey Rooney, but who listens to an alkie, am I right?

Remember how, on Sesame Street, Mr. Snuffleupagus initially used to be treated as Big Bird's imaginary friend, but then he materialized as "real"?  Apparently the idea behind this was that it could be damaging to children to think that adults wouldn't believe what they said-- especially since kids need to feel like they would be taken seriously if they confided in an adult about something like child abuse.

Pete's Dragon has no such compunction.  Pete is abused, repeatedly and in numerous ways, by pretty much every adult he encounters.  He was even "sold" to a cruel hillbilly family for $50 as a child slave.  The only friend he has in the world is the invisible dragon Elliott, and now a charlatan doctor is trying to capture the dragon to use his body parts for medicine.  After much peril and trauma, Pete finally finds a loving family and things start looking up for him.  So, of course, Elliott abandons him, vowing Pete will never see him again.  Perhaps he was pals with Puff and this is revenge for his callous treatment at the hands of Jackie Paper?

Lesson learned:
It's spelled "P-a-s-s-a-m-a-q-u-o-d-d-y."

Pete's Dragon.  Dir. John Chaffey.  Perf. Helen Reddy, Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney.  Disney, 1977.
Pete's Dragon (High-Flying Edition)
Watch the trailer on YouTube here.


"Baby Bumblebee"

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"Baby Bumblebee" isn't just a song, it's an experience--most young children learn to sing it while mimicking the actions it describes, so it's just like you're doing it yourself.  And what are you doing?  Well...

I'm bringing home a baby bumblebee;
Won't my mommy be so proud of me?
I'm bringing home a baby bumblebee--
Ouch!  It stung me.

Here is the part where you pretend you have just been stung.  Feel the pain.  Think Uta Hagen; was there ever a time when life really stung you?  Tap into that, use those emotions here.  Next:

I'm squishing up the baby bumblebee;
Won't my mommy be so proud of me?
I'm squishing up a baby bumblebee--
Ooh!  It's yucky.

This is where you tap into your inner sadist and imagine squeeeeeezing the life out of a living being with your bare hands.  Imagine that moment... just when its inner light dims from its eyes.  Relish the feeling of its life ebbing, guttering, then simply dying out.  Ahhh, yes, that's the stuff.

Lesson learned:
Your mother's probably not going to be proud of you after all.

Baby Bumblebee


"Slovenly Betsy"

image Walter Hayn via
You've probably never heard of Slovenly Betsy, and for good reason.  It's a collection of stories from over a hundred years ago that was probably best forgotten, but thanks to the magic of Project Gutenberg, now we can enjoy Betsy's slovenliness all over again.  The author is Heinrich Hoffman, the infamous creator of Struwwelpeter.

Much in the vein of Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories, this book offers a series of morality tales that is intended to teach female children the value of cleanliness, the folly of pride, or the fatal consequences of playing with matches.  Select titles include "The Story of Romping Polly," "The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches," and "The Little Glutton."

The illustrations are crude but quite creative--witness the literalization of "crying one's eyes out" above, and in another memorable drawing, a girl whose neck has stretched from pride must tote it and her head alongside the rest of her in a wagon.  My favorite, however, is when Polly breaks her leg (well, snaps it off, actually) and the text accompanying the illustration reads: "See how her brother bursts in tears / When told the dreadful story; / And see how carefully he bears / The limb all wet and gory."

Lesson learned:
Per "The Story of a Dirty Child"--"A sloven will be always viewed / With pity by the wise and good; / While ev'n the vicious and the base / Behold with scorn a dirty face."

Hoffman, Heinrich.  Slovenly Betsy.  Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1911.
Buy Slovenly Betsy (Wee Books for Wee Folk)



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Things I hate:
1. Just barely missing the green light
2. Fire ants
3. Social injustice
4. Dry heaving
5. Dumbo

It's taken me a long time to work my way up to Dumbo because I really do hate this movie.  There are numerous reasons to detest the film besides the inevitable trauma it will cause to any child unfortunate enough to be subjected to it: the racially stereotyped crows, the racially stereotyped roustabouts, the terrifyingly trippy hallucinogenic "pink elephants" scene, and the creation of the nickname "Dumbo," which anyone with big ears has had to endure through gritted teeth since 1941.

The story is set in a circus (I hate circuses), which means there are clowns (I hate clowns).  Our mute hero Dumbo is brought to his mother by the stork (this is Disney, after all) and everyone makes fun of him because of his big ears.  I'm guessing that Dumbo is an African elephant mistakenly delivered to an Asian elephant, because the difference in ears is the easiest way to tell them apart.  Also, in African elephants, both sexes have tusks, whereas in Asian elephants, usually only the males do.  The more you know!

When some boys at the circus make fun of Dumbo and his mother defends him, she is declared a mad, dangerous elephant and locked up in a tiny cage.  There is a heartbreaking scene where she cuddles Dumbo with her trunk through the bars of her cell.  This teaches parents the valuable lesson that you should never stand up for your child's rights or you might get locked away forever.

Much of the movie is devoted to depictions of animal cruelty-- the elephants are whipped, tied down, made to wear silly costumes and makeup, pushed off of high dives, coerced into building the big top themselves (hegemony!), crammed into tiny train cars, and forced to perform stupid tricks (an elephant pyramid?  Really?).  (Incidentally, it amazes me that there are still touring circuses that use performing elephants.  Do yourself a favor and go see Cirque du Soleil instead; animal-cruelty-free!)

Anyway, Timothy the mouse figures out that Dumbo's large ears can operate like wings and make him fly, but Dumbo just needs the confidence to try it, so Timothy gives him a purportedly "magic" feather to help him out.  When Dumbo loses the feather, he loses his confidence and begins to fall midair.  All turns out right in the end, though, because Dumbo becomes famous as a flying elephant and is still forced to perform at the circus, every day, rapidly shuttled from grim city to even grimmer city on a tiny train car, because that's what every elephant really wants.

Lesson learned:
Believe in yourself and you can do anything!  Why study for a test when you can hold a magic feather instead?

Dumbo.  Dir. Ben Sharpsteen.  Perf. Sterling Holloway, Edward Brophy, Herman Bing.  Disney, 1941.
Dumbo (60th Anniversary Edition)
Watch the trailer on YouTube here.