On Stories and Childhood Curiosity

For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by stories.

As a child, I remember reading any and every thing that I could lay my hands on. From fairy tales to westerns to mysteries to newspapers… and there was that one romance novel from my sister’s room that made me physically ill in the pit of my stomach, but  that is another story for another day.

(Actually… that day will not come, because I cannot think about it without making myself nauseated all over again).

storiesWe should talk about those fairy tales though. I would have liked to meet some of the authors because I had a host of questions.

You see, I had my eyes tested for free when I attended primary school, so I always wondered how it was that no one noticed that Little Red Riding Hood was visually impaired, prior to her encounter with the demon-possessed talking wolf. The illustrations showed Mr. Wolf all dolled up in Grandma’s spectacles, so it was a logical thing to ponder. Did they only have large spectacles back then?

That this little girl could not tell the difference between a dressed-up wolf and her own grandmother was cause for concern. It is the kind of thing that makes you want to scream at the character – “Are you blind? You need glasses!”. If the aim of the writer was to evoke a reaction, they sure succeeded in getting my 6 year-old self riled up.

For years, I thought wolves swallowed their victims whole, because Grandma was still alive when Mr. Woodcutter slaughtered the wolf to rescue her. I have no idea if other children considered such things because I never asked them, but there was a lot going on in my head.

Mom always told me to refrain from eating things from folk I did not know, so I could not help but wonder about Goldilocks’ home training (and sanity). Even if we ignored the fact that she was out there roaming all by herself, I had questions: Why were there no berry bushes or small fruit trees along the way in this woodland/forest? Which sane child, raised by sane parents, would march right up into a strange house and unceremoniously dig into food prepared by hands they knew not, under conditions that they knew not of?

Fear of my mother’s paddling would be enough to make talking bears the least of my worries. I would have high-tailed it out of there so fast that Usain Bolt would have had trouble keeping up with me.

It has often been said that truth is stranger than fiction, but I have trouble wrapping my mind around that. There are some really strange stories out there, not unlike Snow White and her apple-induced coma or Gulliver and the Lilliputans. The human mind is extremely inventive and writers of fiction wield words in ways that can make your head spin, but it is the blurred line between what is possible and what is not that I find unsettling.

The curiosity of children know no bounds and they will not always ask their questions out loud. More often than not, they will experiment and test boundaries, and parents tend to learn of their experiments one “uh-oh!” later. Crystal clear guidelines are vital in every sphere, because more is often caught than taught.

In light of this, I made different choices when I became a mother, and our son got up to enough monkey business all by himself. Will he be somehow deficient, not having been immersed in stories of Jack and his beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel or Peter Pan? I have no evidence of that.

Is there literary value in reading material that answers the Biblical criteria of “whatsoever things are true…honest… just…pure…”? Yes, there is. Beyond that, however, such material promotes an appreciation for that which builds character and encourages the reader in his pursuit of knowledge, as opposed to mere amusement.

It has been more than three decades since that first question and my love of words, and the books that hold them, has not waned. I have fewer questions these days… which is a good thing, because our son has enough questions for all of us.

Did you have unanswered childhood questions about stories you read? Or was that just me?

Image credit: Hermann on Pixabay

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