May 20, 2016

Beloved Fantasy Classics I Hate

        It is my policy in this blog to celebrate the things I love, and if I don’t have anything nice to say, I generally say nothing at all, (or at least not much).  So why am I breaking that rule, fully aware that by criticizing these classics, I may be upsetting the many people who love them?  Maybe I’m trying to raise awareness of some issues that I see as problematic, or maybe I’m trying to boost my blog ratings by being controversial, or maybe I’m hoping to give permission for others who feel as I do to break their silence, or maybe I’m just in a cranky mood.  Whatever it is, feel free to read if you’re curious about my thoughts, or skip if your opinions are different and you think mine will just annoy you.  I know I get upset when my beloved favorites are criticized, so I won’t blame you!

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers - Mary is so narcissistic, peevish, and self-absorbed that the only possible explanation of the children’s affection for her is that they’re pathologically neglected by their parents.  Yes, Mary can do magic, and magic is cool, but (superheroes, please take note), being able to do nifty tricks doesn’t give you free license to be a complete jerk.  Mary, as portrayed in the sweeter Disney version Travers famously hated, is so much better (though the movie’s implication that a woman in favor of equal rights is unfit to be a mother is another issue…)

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie - A privileged, immature boy’s dream of the universe revolving around him, where everyone in the world exists merely to gratify his ego.  Females in Peter Pan’s world especially are permitted only in roles that serve his precious man-ego (more here).  Ditto the comment above that being able to take people to magical new places doesn’t mean you have the right to be a self-centered jerk about it.  Plus Tinkerbell is a homicidally jealous psycho.  I never found that as adorable as Disney apparently did.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams - As a child I had a stuffed Panda for whom I cared very lovingly, and I deeply resented the implication that because when he lost an eye I carefully sewed on a new one, it somehow meant I didn’t love him as much as if I’d abused him.  Do we really think it’s sweet to teach our children that being abused proves how much they’re loved, and that they should gratefully submit to every abuse in the hope of a better hereafter?  I don’t.  When you truly love something, whether it’s a toy or a living thing, you take care of it.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak - It was lovely that Max’s mother could forgive him for his bad behavior to her, but I, alas, could never forgive him for his bad behavior to the Wild Things.  He terrified them, punished them when they’d done nothing wrong, and then abandoned them.  It was always unclear to me why they were sorry to see him go, as Max seemed to be just about as concerned with the good of his people as dictators usually are.  Not that I read politics in the book as a child; I saw it as being about injustice - the Wild Things’ love for Max, but his lack of true friendship in return, and Max’s mother’s love for her son, but his lack of repentance or apology for his misbehavior toward her (and the dog).  I do love the illustrations, though!

        So that’s my curmudgeonly rant for today, and now it’s time to go read something enjoyable.

[Pictures: “Mary Poppins admiring her reflection in a shop window,” illustration by Mary Shephard from Mary Poppins Comes Back, 1935;
“Max bent on mischief,” illustration by Maurice Sendak from Where the Wild Things Are, 1963.]


Georgeann Rose said...

I agree with you 100%. Thanks for bringing this up.

SAC said...

I completely agree with you about Peter Pan and Max, though it has been too long since I've consumed the book version of Mary Poppins for me to remember for sure. It is lovely for me to find that I'm not the only one who dislikes them.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Thanks for the support. I, too, am glad to hear I'm not the only one.

Pax said...

Add me to the list of those who dislike Marry Poppins, have found Peter Pan problematical, but enjoy the illustrations by Sendak so much it almost makes me like the book. Thanks for allowing us a vicarious vent. I suggest adding Pinocchio to the list, although after reading a thoughtful essay by John Hooper in "The Italians" (2015) I can begin to understand why the story is so popular in Italy.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

It's true I don't particularly like Pinocchio, but I don't consider it really beloved in the English-speaking world. I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone rave about how they love it.