Wednesday, April 7, 2010

DeFanging the Dragons

Good article from Jonah Goldberg on one of my favorite topics, the subversion of traditional children's literature. Jonah doesn't mention them, but the Shrek films are high on my list of cultural subversives. Like the modern Grinch, Shrek is merely misunderstood rather than an example of the uncompromising evil of the traditional ogre. As soon as Shrek used pages from a book of traditional fairy tales for toilet paper, I knew I was going to hate him.

Another modern theme that parallels the subversion of traditional icons of evil is the too easily defeated paragon of evil. In Harry Potter, for example, Lord Voldemort is an example of dedicated, mature, adult evil. Traditionally - and in truth - such deep evil can only be defeated by a similarly mature and deep good. Thus Pippin, when he gazes into the magic orb of Sauron, is captured by it and must be rescued by the intervention of Gandalf. Frodo Baggins himself is finally unable to overcome the evil of the One Ring on his own. Yet Lord Voldemort is repeatedly defeated by the schoolboy Harry Potter. This undermines the moral seriousness of the series and, despite all its pretensions, puts it on the level of Home Alone rather than Lord of the Rings.

But pretending that monsters aren't really evil, or that evil is never so serious that it can't be defeated by a child, does not do a child any favors. It only educates him into a dangerous naivete. Traditional literature used to introduce the child to the mystery of evil, not necessarily by scaring the bejeebers out of him, but by revealing to him that there is indeed deep and implacable evil in the world; evil that he cannot defeat on his own but against which he has good and powerful allies - fairy godmothers, handsome Princes and maybe, even God.


EdT said...

It seems the US govt has adopted this naive attitude in our foreign policy.
- Ed

David said...

never thought of it that way, but I think you're right...