Have parents really been listening to the nursery rhymes they read to their children at bedtime? Do they truly want them to hear that after Jack and Jill climbed up the famous hill, that Jack sustained a head injury while Jill was left careening down the hill behind him?
How about the maid in the garden minding her own business and hanging the clothes to dry when a blackbird snaps off her nose? And what about those poor people who are walking on London Bridge when it falls down?
And what would they make of the spousal abuse when Peter the Pumpkin Eater imprisons his wife in a pumpkin shell? Consider also the me-too implications of Georgie Porgy who kisses the girls and makes them cry. And can we talk about religious vengeance when Goosey Gander throws an old man down the stairs for not saying his prayers.
And we’re happily relaxing with Rockabye Baby until the disastrous breaking of a tree limb sends baby and cradle crashing to earth. How can anyone go to sleep peacefully knowing that disaster awaits?
How about the overcrowded conditions and corporal punishment visited on the children of the “old” (ageist) woman who lived in a shoe? She apparently had more kids than she could handle and I would not want to be one of them.
The Mother Goose rhymes were first published in 1697. Was the world more cruel then? Were people more used to violence, trickery and mayhem? Isn’t it scary and sinister when London Bridge falls down? These questions are whirling in my brain.
Could it be that from the safety and warmth of your own bed you can comfortably contemplate the misfortunes of others and rejoice that they are not happening to you? Maybe it is like sitting by the fireplace watching a raging storm from the window and feeling dry and contented.
Which brings me to the ultimate mystery writer, Agatha Christie. She saw these contradictions and used them in her tales of crime, murder and horror.
In Ten Little Indians, the characters are marooned and die one by one each day. (This also appeared under the title And Then There Were None.) We are wondering who is doing this to them. In One Two, Buckle My Shoe, she has the shoe buckle become an important clue. She also used Hickory, Dickory, Dock as a book title.
And of course in her books, the seemingly innocent ones often turn out to be the criminals.
For me, tales of wickedness are more fun to read than the lives of Saints. There is just not much to say about Goody Two Shoes or Pollyanna’s good deeds. Excessive virtue does not a good story make.
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