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Youngsters need some grim reality

PUBLISHED: 11:09 21 February 2012 | UPDATED: 14:36 21 February 2012

Disappointing Daleks: Even Doctor Whos deadliest enemies have gone soft now. Here's one attacking an ice cream at a Dr Who festival in Holt. Photo: Steve Adams.

Disappointing Daleks: Even Doctor Whos deadliest enemies have gone soft now. Here's one attacking an ice cream at a Dr Who festival in Holt. Photo: Steve Adams.

One in five parents refuses to read fairytales such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Rapunzel on the basis that they are too "gruesome" for children.

Nearly half of mothers and fathers refuse to read Rumplestiltskin to their offspring because its main themes are “kidnapping and execution” while Goldilocks and the Three Bears was felt to “condone stealing”.

The message is clear: there needs to be some serious manning and woman-ing up before our kids turn into the kind of namby-pamby wet blankets that start blubbing when they realise that fish can’t actually speak and godmothers tend to be mum’s friend from school and not a real fairy.

Fairytales are grim(m). Life is grim. And at some point, your kids are going to realise that we don’t all cross the finishing line holding hands – at least someone will be wearing the red-hot iron shoes or be seduced by a witch with a house made of sweets.

A recent poll found that a quarter of parents wouldn’t consider reading a fairytale to their child until they had reached the age of five because “they prompt too many awkward questions”. No one wants awkward questions at bedtime, Lord knows there are enough of those to face when you grow up.

This burning desire to shield children from the darker side of fairytales has even leaked into Doctor Who in recent years, formerly a bastion of behind-the-sofa viewing.

I remember, years ago, whipping up the children into a lather of excitement over the appearance of Daleks on Doctor Who only to sit back and watch the ruthless killing machines showing mercy and weeping.

I’d been hoping for a little bit more “Exterminate! Exterminate!” and a little less “what does the sunlight on your face feel like?”

Had the Dalek in question not topped itself, it was about five minutes away from cross-stitching some kittens in a basket and icing some fairy cakes.

It had started promisingly enough: having sucked a scientist’s face off like a randy teenager, it quickly downloaded the entire internet meaning that it possessed all the knowledge in the entire world and, presumably, could bootleg its own porn if money got tight.

From there on, things went swiftly downhill, like a Dalek on Gas Hill.

The only genuinely chilling moment of the entire episode was when we realised that Jeremy Beadle (RIP) was inside the Dalek. The Dalek made the Cybermen look hard, and everyone knows they’re just models made from leftovers at the vacuum stall on the market. I was brought up on the very darkest fairytales. I was even read Struwwelpeter, a selection of life-affirming stories about the consequences of infant bad behaviour.

A girl plays with matches and burns to death. Three boys bandy racist abuse and get dipped in permanent black ink. A mother warns her son not to suck his thumbs and, when he ignores her, the thumbs are snipped off by a roving tailor.

A boy won’t eat his soup, so he wastes away and dies. Another goes out in a storm despite being warned not to and is blown away to his doom. All good, clean fun with a smashing moral: step out of line, and it’s curtains, sunshine.

All this reminds me of the self-righteous lava that erupted when the government announced it was introducing gay fairytales into the National Curriculum.

Thanks to Clause 28, a bill which in my day banned schools from ‘promoting homosexuality’ in case children became gay overnight after discovering that there’s more to love than boy meets girl, I never read ‘Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin’.

Poor old Jenny caused uproar in the 1980s when the Daily Mail discovered that the Labour-controlled Inner London Education Authority had placed copies of the book about a little girl living with her father and his gay partner in school libraries. She was quickly removed and replaced with lots of staunchly heterosexual books about morally-upstanding subjects like algebra, geography and the Cold War. By God, no one was going to catch gay from a school library, or if they did, it’d be because they’d looked it up in an uncensored dictionary.

Personally, I’m all for dark fairytales, gay fairytales or indeed any fairytales which can be drafted in quickly before reading becomes something quaint which used to happen in the olden days, like riding side-saddle or smiling at a stranger in the street without being shot.

Despite having force-fed my own children a diet of the darkest fairytales imaginable (they never sucked their thumbs, that’s for sure) they let the side down by preferring the most appalling travesties of literature available.

I challenge anyone in full possession of a working brain to read The Scooby Doo Storybook Collection without mentally assessing any nearby beams for their potential to bear the weight of a noose and a swinging body.

Hours of my life have been squandered to that damnable book, which was clearly written by a revengeful depressive attempting to bring the rest of the world into their dark nightmare.

Struwwelpeter should, I think, be on the National Curriculum. And it’d be handy if he was on-call during holidays and at weekends too, for babysitting duties.

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