ren powell THE PRINCE OF Wales married a commoner in 1981, when I was young and impressionable. It gave me some wild hopes. Only a couple years later, when I was still young and impressionable, some people at Walt Disney waved a fairy wand over H.C. Anderson's masterpiece and let the little
accused me of championing didactic literature. The same literature the rest of the creative bunch expelled in the 70s for its finger-wagging and viewobstructing high horse. They threw paper wads in my hair and called me nasty names like “pedagogue”. I should mention here that the
fri-oppdragelse. Loosely translated this means “hands-off parenting”, the best argument against which I witnessed in the checkout line at IKEA a few years ago: A man in his thirties was minding his own business, politely waiting in line to pay for his bendy desk lamp with a plastic stoplight-
In Star Wars, the bad guys are bad guys because of the choices they make. The good guys make difficult choices and don't always get what the want. No matter how thin and good-looking they are. mermaid* walk away with her prince—happily ever after. Today, I admit I’m still impressionable. I’m also the nerd hanging around the periphery of any writers’ circle: the one whose mantra is “writers have a moral responsibility to write responsibly”. They hate me for it. Last month at the guild meeting my colleagues
colleagues to whom I'm referring are Norwegians. And mainly of that hip generation who rebelled against the establishment. Planning a revolt against a liberal, newly wealthy, socialist-leaning society couldn't have been easy. The only option for these all-around nice-guy types was to rebel against their own upbringing. This lead to
*If you've never read H.C. Anderson's Little Mermaid: first, shame on you; second, she dies.
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red base and shade when, for no reason at all (or perhaps for the reason that she was nine-yearsold) a nine-year old girl, holding an ice cream cone in her right hand, used her left hand to repeatedly ram her mother's shopping cart into the poor man's legs. The man brought this fact to the attention of the girl's mother, and made a
polite request for her to prevent her daughter from continuing this particular activity. To which the mother replied, “I’m sorry. We practice hands-off parenting.” Being a more culturally evolved person (probably because he hadn’t fathered any children), the man was puzzled. He then, calmly, deliberately, shoved the little girl’s ice cream into her face. “How could you?” the mother screamed. “My parents also practiced hands-off parenting.” Okay, I didn't actually witness the incident. I heard it described by someone who knew someone who saw it. Or who knew someone who knew someone who saw it. But that's all right. By virtue of the fact that I call myself a writer, I'm not a liar. I'm using “poetic license” continued on page eighteen
kill the mermaid! ren powell and that’s moral behaviour. And that'’s why I put in all the details. You know, to make it seem more real. And while I'm being honest, it wasn’t paper wads. It was bottle caps and stuff. And the names they really called me . . . well, they’re not always a very creative bunch. They are however, vehemently opposed to anyone writing a story with a moral. I keep saying that every story they tell has a moral, whether they like it or not. A protagonist makes choices and there are consequences. The consequences reflect a view of reality. “This is true,” says the writer. At a dinner party once, I had a short discussion with one Norwegian who was uncommonly proud of the picture books her country produces. She said that they win more international awards than any other country. I had to admit that I'd read very few of them.
When my son was small I had asked a librarian to help me find some good Norwegian books to read to him. He suggested one book in particular: a story about a girl who gets so angry she piles all her toys in the middle of her room and urinates on them. That’s where the story ends. I told the woman at the party that I’d decided not to read it to my son. Sure, it’s funny, but I don’t want to have to see the look on my son’s face when, after he's tried it himself (you know, it being so funny and all) he realises his toys are pretty much ruined once they’ve been peed upon. So I asked her, “Don’t you think children's stories should include real-life consequences?” And she said: “Well, I didn't think so when I wrote it.” I actually did witness this incident and I’ll let you figure out the moral of that story.
By now you probably think I’m a super-strict parent when it comes to what I let my kids read and watch on television. If you do, could you whisper that to my neighbours? You see, my nineyear-old has been a Star Wars fanatic since he was four. Other moms on the block think it’s irresponsible of me to allow him a steady diet of all six films on our 36-inch screen. But I’d much rather he watch that than Disney's The Little Mermaid. In Star Wars, the bad guys are bad guys because of the choices they make. The good guys make difficult choices and don't always get what the want. No matter how thin and good-looking they are. “This is true,” says the mom. In our current culture of nature/nurture debates and empathy in regard to social injustices and unfortunate choices made by people in already-
unfortunate circumstances, it's still not all right when Anakin slaughters the tribe of Tusken Raiders responsible for his mother's death. In fact, that event is the one that pretty much sets him on his road straight to Mustafar,** a fire-and-brimstone kind of planet. Best of all, even after all the hideous things Anakin had done as Darth Vader, there’s hope for redemption in the end. I admit, when my son is wearing his black mask and swinging the plastic thing that makes that awful buzzing noise, he’s not playing the Prodigal Dad Vader. But he and I have discussed what happens at the end and how cool that is. We discuss it all the time. Then again, he’s nine. I'm not sure how much I should want him to focus on the end now anyway. My point is: the lesson’s there. So what if legions of critics are throwing
paper wads in George Lucas's hair because he wrote a Christian allegory? He's in good company. Last week I read an online column from The Boston Globe in which Mr. William Flesch says that, as adults, we are put off by the blatant “educating” going on in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. He explains that this is why we don’t want to read it as adults and why Mr. Lewis's books haven’t been included in the Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature. Mr. Flesch does concede that kids enjoy the books, but, well, basically that’s because they are too dumb to pick up on the lessons. In other words, Mr. Flesch seems to be of the opinion that Mr. Lewis wasted an awful lot of effort on the whole allegory bit, but despite that it turned out entertaining. I am really grateful Mr. Flesch pointed out the fact that I don’t want to reread Mr. Lewis’s book.
**I'd like to thank my nine-year-old son, who prefers to remain anonymous, for his help with this essay. Without him I wouldn't have been able to spell Mustafar and we probably wouldn't have cleared up that misunderstanding about when Luke kept hitting those asteroids. Asteroids aren't particularly annoying droids!
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Because if I did, that would mean that I have the literary comprehension of a six-year-old. Either way, I’d like Mr. Flesch to know that reading his column was a real learning experience for me. And I’d also like to ask him what he thought of Spiderman II. Trashy. That's what I think. Grotesque. I'm not talking about the guy with the octopus arms (what does the movie industry have against octopuses anyway?). I mean the story. There are all these parents picking on films because of nudity, extreme language, violence . . . why didn’t someone stand up and protest when they saw the scene in which Spiderman exposes himself? When his mask is torn away and all the people on the train tear up with gratitude and awe and promise to keep his secret?! What secret?! The writers blew it. They blew the whole superhero concept! Forget nudity, this is immoral. A
superhero can't have his cake and eat it, too. Adoring fans who know who you really are is a reward, a huge reward in our fame-hungry society. Didn't those guys see Spiderman I, weren’t they paying attention? Did no one listen to Uncle Ben before he died? Doing the right thing isn't easy. Shouldn’t be easy. That’s not the way the world is. That’s the way the world is for someone taking seriously mood-altering drugs. Fortunately we’d rented the movie, so my kids and husband were the only ones annoyed by my outburst, and they were able to rewind the tape to where I’d begun screaming. We watched the rest of the movie. It got worse. His aunt knows, doesn’t she? And then there’s Mary Jane. (I still have a scar on my tongue because I was told to bite it or leave the room.) He can’t have the girl! Didn't they see Superman II? Superman did the
right thing. In the end. As a mother of two boys, I won’t go far as to say I hate Spiderman. That wouldn’t be nice. But I do intensely dislike him. He’s a bad influence. As bad as that trashy little mermaid. I know. I know you think I’m coming down awfully hard on the mermaid. It’s not like I want to take the streets with a placard saying, “Kill the Mermaids!”, but hey: the moral of the story? Like many of Disney's stories: if I’m a thin and pretty young white woman and want something intensely enough, I’ll vanquish the ugly old woman (and her equally ugly heirs), Daddy will wave from beyond (the ship’s railing or the Great Beyond) and I’ll take centre stage at the side of my rich hubby Handsome. Cue music. Release the doves. No wonder we all want plastic surgery. Or Prozac. Or both.l