As a child, I loved cartoons, and my favorite was the Fractured Fairy Tales on the Rocky and Bullwinkle back in the early 60s. The stories were very silly, but with a cleverness that cut the sugary fluff of many stories aimed at children. It was like the grown-ups were slipping us a wink that they knew we children were paying attention.
One of my favorite parts of Fractured Fairy Tales was that the book would not stay open and would smash the fairy. Her magic was not as strong as the book–a telling theme. None of the characters in any of the stories was supremely powerful–no superheroes here, just everyday folks who had their magical problems.
Some of the stories were carried out to their more logical ends. In the three little pigs, the wolf continued to go after them, killing them all, and in the end, the wolf and everyone else died. Edward Everett Horton said, in his narrator voice, “Nobody lived happily ever after.” as the wolf rose into the sky with his angel wings and harp. I thought it was funny that the bad guy got to go to heaven after all.
I even remember wondering if the government realized what ideas of subversive thinking were being promoted by the spy-vs-moose stories of international intrigue and the twists on history. I learned it was possible to fly under the radar if the right kind of humor was used. Since these were just cartoons for kids, it didn’t matter.
But it mattered to me. I learned that there was much to be said by way of absurdity, and even a stupid moose might occasionally do something right by mistake. I could see that people who thought they knew the answers were often wrong. They weren’t looking at what was right there in plain sight–congress, anyone?
As the show went along, however, there was more moose and less squirrel, more of other stories and fewer fractured fairy tales. I liked Mr. Peabody and Sherman for their history of the world in pieces, as well as Aesop and Son. After all, there’s only so many of Perrault’s stories that are familiar enough for writers to parody. I’m finding that to be true in my own research.
But I still like to twist the tales, and keep looking at more and more resources to find themes to work with, even if I have to go back to the moose and squirrel to find them.