It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Murder and Mayhem, please

Mary reads to the assembled tots. A peaceful little maternal tableau. Our literary choice? The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

You know the tale. Each of three goat-brothers trit-trot over the troll’s bridge, the first two escaping with their hides intact by promising him their older, larger, more succulent brother who follows behind. (A tale of family loyalty, it ain’t.) Then the third goat, the Big Brother, butts the troll into the water. End of story.

Treachery, intimidation, disloyalty, and violence. What more could you want from a children’s tale? Strangely, even with all that, it falls way short of Nigel’s expectations. The boy wants nothing less than carnage.

Mary: so the smallest billy goat gruff goes over the bridge, and the troll jumps up and —
Nigel: And then he EATS him!!!
Mary: No, then he says, “Who’s walking on MY bridge?”

Mary: so the middle billy goat gruff goes over the bridge, and the troll jumps up and —
Nigel: And then he EATS him!!!
Mary: No, remember? He says, “Who’s walking on MY bridge?”

Mary: Then the third billy goat gruff comes, TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP —
Nigel: Then the troll EATS him!!!
Mary: No, the goat bumps the troll with his horns —
Nigel: And he dead!!
Mary: No, then he falls in the water —
Nigel: And THEN he dead!!
Mary: No, he just gets wet and cold and —
Nigel: And he DEAD!!
Mary: Not in this version, bud. Sorry about that. He just decides to leave well enough alone and never bothers the three billy goats gruff again.

Short pause. Nigel weighs my input in his mind and find it lacking.

Nigel: And THEN he DEAD!!!
Mary: And then he dead.
Nigel: And that’s the end.

October 2, 2007 - Posted by | books, Nigel


  1. Something tells me that Nigel will one day be a huge Stephen King fan. hehehe

    Comment by Sheri | October 2, 2007 | Reply

  2. He’s gonna love the Brothers Grimm.

    Comment by Kat | October 2, 2007 | Reply

  3. Ah, the bloodlust of the young. Nigel’s right, though – “dead” most certainly means “the end.”

    Comment by Florinda | October 2, 2007 | Reply

  4. He might like Shakespeare one day, too! Somebody once said that the definition of a tragedy is that all the main characters are dead at the end. Which certainly does provide closure.

    Comment by Alison | October 2, 2007 | Reply

  5. Hi MP–it really is a questionable tale, eh? I tend to vet my little one’s books since books are a source of imitation for our kids. So many of these tales are probably meant for the older.

    I see horror movies in his future (smile).

    Comment by The New Parent | October 2, 2007 | Reply

  6. Ooh, he should love moving onto the original oeuvre of the Grimm brothers… all sorts of gory and gruesome horrors await. Whee.

    I must admit that so far, my versions of fairy tales have been somewhat edited (either to include, exclude, or modify, take your pick) to my liking, since I often just tell them, so they are never the same twice. Also, I can make them shorter if I am on the verge of passing out myself, and can’t make my brain keep going for that long.

    Comment by kittenpie | October 2, 2007 | Reply

  7. Sheri: I think you’re on to something!

    Kat: Indeed. Grimm’s the word.

    Florinda: It is indeed. Full stop.

    Alison: I recall seeing The Duchess of Malfi (John Webster, not Shakespeare) at Stratford when I was 12 or so. As I recall, the stage was absolutely littered with corpses by the end… Way worse than King Lear or MacBeth!

    TNP: I vet the kids books, too, but I’m far more likely to veto the Berenstein Bears than folk tales. I can tolerate a bit of mayhem far more readily than saccharine preachiness. There are limits, of course, but a story in which the Bad Guy’s bad end is simply being shoved into the water? Meh. Does hearing this story make them more likely to shove each other? Not that I’ve noticed.

    Kittenpie: I tend to tell them, too. More fun that way. And yes, I gloss over nastier bits and speed up when I’m bored. Handy feature of told tales vs read tales!

    Comment by MaryP | October 2, 2007 | Reply

  8. I never thought about how terrifying children’s stories can be until we started reading Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Gingerbread Man. Nigel would like the last one, someone gets eaten in that one.

    Comment by mamacita tina | October 3, 2007 | Reply

  9. I’m late to the party, but thought this story was pretty timely to me. My daughter has been very interested in death lately. She’s constantly talking to me about dead bugs and killing pretend monsters

    Comment by ktjrdn | October 3, 2007 | Reply

  10. Mamacita Tina, ktjrdn: I think folk tales appeal to the small ones precisely because of the mayhem. They’re little people in a big, random and arbitrary world. Much as the people around them might try to give them choice and a feeling of control, they don’t really control a whole lot. Beating up a monster, or cheering as the troll gets knocked off into the water — that’s empowering!

    Kind of like how, for a while after I was free of my first marriage, I LOVED stuff like “The First Wives Club” …

    Comment by MaryP | October 3, 2007 | Reply

  11. Hey! In our version of Billy Goats Gruff the troll DOES eat the first two goats… then when the third goat realizes it he butts him and, well, um, it’s a bit unclear how it all works but, the troll burps up the two little brothers and all three knock him into the water. See how I’ve turned it into a lovely tale about taking care of your smaller siblings and teamwork? And burping.

    We used to act out this story with my grandpa on my gran’s gold couch. I still love remembering it.

    Comment by Homestead | October 4, 2007 | Reply

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