James Finn Garner, Politically Correct Bedtime Stories: Modern Tales for Our Life & Times (Macmillan Publishing Company, 1994)
James Finn Garner, Once upon a More Enlightened Time: More Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (Macmillan Publishing Company, 1995)
Retelling fairy tales has become a major sub-genre in the last few years. We've heard them from the point of view of the traditional villain or of a minor character, we've had them with alternate sexual or political orientations, we've seen them in different cultural contexts. It's always dangerous to try to force yesterday into today's sensibilities, as satirist James Finn Garner sets out to prove.
Garner has freed a selection of twenty-two Western European fairy tales from the shackles of sexism, ageism, anthrocentrism and any other forms of bias he could detect, offering us gems like "The Three Codependent Goats Gruff" and "Sleeping Persun of Better-Than-Average Attractiveness." He uses spellings like "wommon" and "womyn," refers to Hansel and Gretel as "pre-adults" and talks about "three goats who were related as siblings." He carefully specifies that Red Riding Hood's grandmother "was in full physical and mental health and was fully capable of taking care of herself as a mature adult."
Some of this heavy-handed equality annoys me, as I'm sure it's meant to. Does anyone still believe that refusing to use terms like "brother" or "child" when appropriate has made anyone's life better? Or that a "mother-of-step" is better than a "stepmother" is? Do no English speakers realize that the "son" in "person" has nothing to do with progeny? (If it did, then why is it spelled "personne" in French and not "perfils"?) I dare say an earnest few still do, and they are Garner's targets.
Here I must insert a Garner-esque qualification: I don't deny, and I don't believe that Garner denies, that there are some passing strange things in fairy tales. The satirist's mark here is the absurdity of some of the efforts to eliminate them.
James Finn Garner has a point to make in these two slim volumes, and he certainly belabours it. Whether you appreciate it or not will depend directly on whether you have a sense of humour. The over-earnest would do better to avoid them, and all satire for that matter.
Politically Correct Bedtime Stories: Modern Tales for Our Life & Times and Once upon a More Enlightened Time: More Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, along with their companion volume, Politically Correct Holiday Stories (which I have never seen, only heard about) are apparently out of print. Pity. (editor's note: There are, of course, many ways to acquire out-of-print books. Try your local used book store, or check out The Advanced Book Exchange or other used book dealers online.)
Lisa Amoroso did the illuminated initial letters of each story. These are clever little drawings full of details like Goldilocks' clipboard and the Three Little Pigs' weapons. Carter Goodrich did the cover illustrations.
[Faith J. Cormier]
James Finn Garner's Web site is www.jamesfinngarner.com. His latest work is Apocalypse WOW!: A Memoir for the End of Time.
A final note to those who love their fairy stories with a twist: I recommend The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch.