Thursday, March 26, 2015

On Fairy Tales

When and if I have kids, what kind of stories or fairy tales will I read to them at night?
I more I look back on my childhood in Iraq, the more I realize how much Arabic culture has an inferiority complex towards western culture, fairy tales included.
I remember as a child I had read to me the usual fairy-tale-ee stories like Snow white, Cinderella (not to be confused with Agatha Christie’s Cinderella), the ginger bread house, Little Red Riding Hood (In Arabic it was called Laya and the Wolf, and it scared the crap out of me) etc… and I watched the Disney cartoons, and looked forward to the various film adaptations etc…
A few years ago while chilling with my sister at UNSW library, I stumbled upon a book that went into the history of fairy tales, and how they were used at a time where paper and printing were controlled by governments and elites. These stories were printed in little booklets which were then passed on to the lower population to propagate an ideology of values about good and bad, and gender roles and hero worship etc…
During the 1960s and 1970s there was a strong push towards communism and Russia, and so I also grew reading translations of Russian and communist inspire stories (I wouldn’t call them fairy tales). I remember one story was about a man who was very ugly. He wanted to get married but no one would accept him. He worked with one man for a long time and earned his trust and respect, but when Mr Ugly asked for the man’s daughter for marriage, he was fired and rejected and ended up alone in the woods with only birds and rabbits as his friend. Then the war started, and he served his country honourably and it was then that people didn’t look at his face, but at his achievements and his service for his country.
This was a children’s story, it was illustrated.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I loved reading serials about adventurers which were mostly set in Egypt. I enjoyed it because the heroes were Arab and they had Arab names (one of them was a chubby kid called Tawfeeq Khaleel Tawfeeq al Kharboutly, and his friends called him Tekhtekh for short. Tekhtekh means chubby). I found out later on that those stories were just Arabized translations of English adventure serials, with Arabic names of people and places replacing the English names.
So, back to my virtual kids. What am I going to read to my Australian Muslim Arab kids at night? What values do I want to instil in my daughter? Go to sleep and only wake when a man kisses you? If you turn out ugly, serve your country? Is there a genre of stories for children which espouses a more balanced value paradigm than the usual crap they sell in stores and make movies from?

I guess that’s a bridge I don’t have to cross till I have kids. Saved by the bell! 

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