February 1, 2012

Fairy tales for today’s tots

One of the great joys in life is to read to a young child. If you are the parent, grandparent or friend of a tiny tot, the classic fairy tales are a perpetual source of fun and enjoyment. Nothing can spark a child’s imagination like Mother Goose, Aesop or The Brothers Grimm.

However, when you read these classic tales to today’s sophisticated tot, some of the events can seem nonsensical. So why not bring them up to date with a few modern touches designed to appeal to today’s discerning toddler?

Much like adult stories, such as “The Taming of the Shrew” or The Bible, fairy tales have been autocorrected over the centuries, making them more accessible to new audiences and evolving tastes. For example, most people don’t know that “Little Bo Peep” started out as a tale of European invaders killing 50 million natives in the New World through the introduction of syphilis. So there’s no reason we shouldn’t update classic fairy tales to fit better into our mores. The next time your tot is ready for story time, be sure to add some contemporary flourishes as you go.

Some stories might need to be radically changed or even need entirely new titles. For example, children today might relate better to “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” if it were renamed “Seven Emotionally Needy Little People and an Attractive Young Woman Whose Skin Color and/or Virginity Have No Relationship To Her Worth To Our Society (and Are Quite Frankly None of Our Concern).”

Other examples of tales that probably warrant wholesale changes are “Jack and the Frankenfarming Experiment Gone Awry” and “The Duckling Who Lost His Health Insurance and Can’t Afford the Cosmetic Surgery He So Desperately Needs.”

But most stories just need a little tweaking to bring them up to date. For instance, you’ll want to edit the section in “Hansel and Gretel” where the children leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find their way home. Instead, give them iPhones with Google Maps and an unlimited data plan. Also, instead of Gretel pushing the witch into the oven to burn her alive, you might prefer to have the girl waste her with an Uzi, which is more contemporary and arguably less painful for the witch. Likewise, you might want to substitute “Gogurt” wherever “porridge” appears.

Here’s a handy snippet you can use to replace the ending of “Little Red Riding Hood” to avoid the somewhat implausible happenstance of a hunter randomly passing by to save the day: “Thanks to an urgent text from Little Red, a helicopter appeared in the sky and hovered menacingly overhead. A rifle poked out, aimed directly at the jugular of the helpless wolf by the unmistakable silhouette of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. A shot rang out. The end.” This same ending can come in handy wherever a big bad wolf appears, including “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” “The Wolf and the Lamb” and “The Three Little Pigs.”

In a similar vein, modern pharmaceuticals, street drugs or binge drinking can replace poisoned apples, evil spells and other archaic hallucinogens in a variety of tales, such as “Sleeping Beauty,” “Snow White” or “Alice in Wonderland.” Whenever a young girl seems ominously wasted, meth or Jagerbombs just seem more plausible, especially to those tots who have teenage siblings.

But if there is one element most sorely in need of an update, it’s the common fairy-tale ending where the beautiful damsel in distress lives happily ever after with the handsome prince charming, which seems like a pretty high-maintenance parting gift, since most real-life princes are neither handsome nor charming. To reward the heroine’s tenacity, quick wittedness or forbearance, a college scholarship or — what the hell — a federal judicial appointment seems more in order.

However you decide to renovate those charming tales of yesteryear, you’re bound to bring hours of reading enjoyment to the youngster in your life. Whatever you do, don’t let a few old-fashioned story elements keep you or your precious tot from enjoying the beauty and enchantment of the classic fairy tales.