I filched a title Charles Dickens wrote an article under defending fairy tales. Dickens deplored the dreary moralism in stories whose goals were to institute in children such traits as sobriety, vegetarianism and pacifism. He also–I believe–fought the remnants of the Puritan belief that children were innately evil and that fairy tales encouraged the evil within them to run amuck. Dickens argued that their childish imaginations were given reign to healthy play by these stories, and that anyone who denied children the simple joys of a good story, with its simple encouragement towards kindness, honesty, hard work and curiosity, was denying the children what they needed to grow to adulthood. Of course, today there are those who make the claim that stories like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” and “Puss in Boots,” are no longer suitable for children. Some of them make an especial target out of Walt Disney films, of which I believe that though they can be illuminating experiences for children can also be overindulged in. Usually the person who makes the claim is an ideologue of some sort: Marxist, feminist, or some other ism. Not all of these “isms” are bad in and of themselves, but the fact is that most of them are capable of taking a partial truth too far. I will not go into why I think so tonight; perhaps I will someday.
Anyway, over time I have written books to try to counter the position that stories like those edited by the Brothers Grimm or Perreault or Joseph Jacob should be disbanded. I am not, of course, arguing that later stories, like the current day work of Maurice Sendak’s, Kate DiCamillo, Grace Lin or William Steig, cannot delight young readers just as much. I am just suggesting that not educating children based on past classics can leave them with a truncated sense of history, and also that the older, established classics deserve to be loved anew on their own right for the same reasons Leon Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen do.
However, the three largest successful compilations were A Child’s Haggadah; A Pocket full of Stories; and The Magic Orchard and Other Stories. All of these are collections of children’s stories. The Magic Orchard and Other Stories in particular aims towards stories like the traditional folktales. A Child’s Haggadah are Jewish stories for children. And A Pocketful of Stories is a small collection of stories I also wrote, some Jewish and some not. Of course, successful is a relative term: none are published, and I have even more trouble finding a publisher for original children’s stories than adult ones if they are written in fairy tale or similar format. I do have some longer adolescent’s novels which include magic and magical creatures: Grace; or, in Search of the Leviathan and it’s sequel The Cycle of Ahriman.
My magnum opus, though, for children’s writing is a children’s book it may take some years for me to get to: Jeanie and the Gentle-Folk. It is a story about Jeanie, an orphan, and her escape from a malicious creature, Father Ogre. In her escape she is rescued by some fairies, and then sent on a magical journey involving meeting figures like St. Francis, Rabia (a female slave who founded Sufism) and “the Besht” (the Baal Shem Tov). Traveling in “Other World” where she meets them, she also meets such figures as Judge Ooka (a Japanese judge known for his wisdom). All of the people she meets are followers of their faith, not its founders–she never gets to meet Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, or the Buddha. Even God, though his reality is implied, does not speak directly to Jeanie ever. Instead, the people Jeanie meets are guides on a mysterious path to salvation. They may not know all of the answers, but they are doing the right thing to walk that path. At a key point in the book Jeanie will be called upon to destroy two evil dragons: the red dragon of hatred and the black dragon of indifference. They have been let out into the world in which Jeanie lives, and it is up to her to stop them.
When I write this story, I hope to write a preface defending the folk story as the oldest kind of fiction, and the legend as the oldest kind of history. I hope to say that Dickens was right and that as one awful book tried to disprove Wonders Will Never Cease. I think that Wonders Will Never Cease was intended to be a frontal attack on God, focusing on–of all things–the Arthurian Legends. I don’t know if many people outside of England are really heartbroken that Thomas Malory is portrayed as being an even worse person than he probably was. I myself believe the view that I think Wonders Will Never Cease mocked, that Malory probably wrote his last (he was a murderer) believing that it redeemed a life that was not, admittedly, well lived. I guess all I would say to the book’s author is that in reality if the real King Aurthur turned out to be a really bad person, I was an American enough that I am not sure I felt the pain that deeply. It was only British people whose faith I guess could have been hurt. I am ashamed to say that I read all the way through Wonders Will Never Cease. It was a good read in terms of its entertainment value, but I couldn’t help wondering how the author missed that his book’s main appeal was the books it was based on. If you really hated the Arthurian Legends, this book would have been just as tiresome.
After reading it, I decided it needed an answer. I am not sure why I thought it needed an answer, save for those famous lines in Proverbs,
Answer a dullard in accord with his folly,
Else you will become like him. (Proverbs 26:5)
It is true–for all sceptics reading this–that Proverb 26:4 begins “Answer not a dullard in accord with his folly,” but it explains in the Talmud that the first case is when a dullard is inviting you to become involved with sinful doings, whereas if the dullard in the second case is arguing theology, you have a duty to correct him.
Hence, I started work on Jeannie and the Gentle-Folk.
However, before I get to Jeanie and the Gentle-Folk–a children’s book, I admit–I am now working on Oz Revisited. Oz Revisited is a “fantasy” novel, based on the Oz books–but unlike the other books I have written about it is for adults. I need to get back to working on Oz Revisited–but cannot until–alas–I have finished my work on The Many Faces of Abraham.
In the meantime, I am writing tonight that I hope someday to prove in writing–insofar as such matters of the heart can be proved–the value of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. I want to prove it as badly as I want to prove that there are transcendent values that do not need to be measured in laboratories or in the language of mathematics. I want to prove that because of these unmeasurable things, human beings were made to live.