Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Wicked Bad Guys in Far Away Land

In my previous post I mentioned Far Away Land without providing any background.  Time to remedy that!

My wife and I both saved many books from our childhood to share with the children we hoped to have.  Since Smiley enjoys fairy tales, we brought out some of her books of fairy tales that are sentimental because of their wonderful illustrations.

We should have anticipated that Hansel and Gretel would be so frightening...

Smiley knew about plenty bad guys.  But Hansel and Gretel introduced two unprecedented levels of badness.  There was the witch who wanted to eat someone and got burned up in her oven: people eating people was newly wrong, and a person burning in a fire was startlingly horrific.  Even worse was the wicked stepmother who wanted to abandon her own children in the wood.

The part about the oven turned out to be easy to smooth over.  We talked about our stove downstairs in which we burn wood to heat the house.  The fire does not hurt me when I put logs in.  The fire only burns the wood.  Witches are not real people: they burn like wood.

(Not universally true about fairy tale witches, but for now it works.  In his mind a witch is some sort of hybrid doppelganger-scarecrow.)

But thinking about a stepmother abandoning her children was really disturbing.  Smiley had trouble falling asleep that night.

The next night he wanted to read Hansel and Gretel again, and he asked me what the word "wicked" meant.  I saw a great opportunity to help ease his troubled mind.

We talked about the bad guys he knew about.

Most of them were not bad all the time but did make bad choices: his imaginary friend Magalene, the two bad mice, the troublesome trucks of the Railway stories, etc.  I emphasized that these characters wanted to behave but had trouble behaving.  I reminded Smiley that he also had times where he wanted to behave but had trouble behaving--but he was a good boy, not a bad guy.  Some stories are about good people making mistakes.

However, he also knew about a few character that never even try to be good: Goliath, the Big Bad Wolf, the ninjas that try to tempt Magalene, the fierce bad rabbit, the rats who wanted to put someone in a roly-poly pudding.  These were "wicked", I explained.  Someone who is wicked does not even try to be good.

(That is not quite theologically correct, of course.  But it as close as I could manage with a three-year-old.)

Smiley felt much better.  He knew it often required a lot of effort to be a listening boy when he was not inclined to behave.  Yet he almost always tried, and usually succeeded.  Suddenly he saw himself as stronger than Goliath or the Big Bad Wolf, who lacked the willpower he daily practiced exerting.

Then we talked about how in Hansel and Gretel the stepmother and witch are both wicked.  They too were not even trying.  They were scary, but also slightly pitied.

Yet Hansel and Gretel was still troubling for another night.

Then Smiley started to ask whether any of his friends were wicked.  I assured him none were.  Smiley realizes that most of his playmates are not as wonderfully behaved as he is.  (Although his impression is biased.  We host much more than half his play-dates, and disobedience often happens when it is time to stop playing and leave.  Smiley is just as susceptible to those minor fits as his friends, but sees it less often.)  So we talked about all of his friends, and how they all try to behave and listen.

Again Hansel and Gretel was still troubling that night.

Then, the next day, Smiley decided that "wicked people live in Far Away Land".  Ever since that proclamation he has never had trouble sleeping because of thinking about villains in stories.

I am still finding out what Far Away Land is like.  I knew it would be complex because I have read the original Peter Pan:
I don't know whether you have ever seen a map of a person's mind. Doctors sometimes draw maps of other parts of you, and your own map can become intensely interesting, but catch them trying to draw a map of a child's mind, which is not only confused, but keeps going round all the time. There are zigzag lines on it, just like your temperature on a card, and these are probably roads in the island, for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose. It would be an easy map if that were all, but there is also first day at school, religion, fathers, the round pond, needle-work, murders, hangings, verbs that take the dative, chocolate pudding day, getting into braces, say ninety-nine, three-pence for pulling out your tooth yourself, and so on, and either these are part of the island or they are another map showing through, and it is all rather confusing, especially as nothing will stand still.
I have learned that Far Away Land is where pretend things live.  Animals wearing clothes, toys that talk, witches, ninjas, and everything else make-believe lives there.  Despite its name, it is inside Eugene, unlike California which takes days and days to drive to and staying in motels.  It is surrounded by a tall wood wall that keeps the wicked people inside.

1 comment:

Ashley said...

I really like the last sentence. The tall wood that keeps all the wicked people inside. Beautifully written, with wisdom and wit intermittently taking turns to teach and captivate the reader.