Such narrative tales are interesting in terms of how society passes on messages – life lessons – to encourage or control behaviour.
For children, the idea is they learn from monsters and heroes – enabling us to manage our fears in a safe environment. But, I remember my nephew when he was six years old being scared by as a result of tall tales. In Florida, he screamed at a lizard, which he thought was a baby dragon. At CentreParcs, he was worried about wolves lurking in the woods outside our chalet. Of course, we reassured him these were just tales – but it does seem odd to scare a child in this way.
The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead,
A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, “Hello, and do please note
My lovely furry wolfskin coat.”
And then, when asked for help by the 3 Little Pigs:
A short while later, through the wood,
Came striding brave Miss Riding Hood.
The Wolf stood there, his eyes ablaze,
And yellowish, like mayonnaise.
His teeth were sharp, his gums were raw,
And spit was dripping from his jaw.
Once more the maiden’s eyelid flickers.
She draws the pistol from her knickers.
Once more she hits the vital spot,
And kills him with a single shot.
Pig, peeping through the window, stood
And yelled, “Well done, Miss Riding Hood!”
Ah, Piglet, you must never trust
Young ladies from the upper crust.
For now, Miss Riding Hood, one notes,
Not only has two wolfskin coats,
But when she goes from place to place,
She has a PIGSKIN TRAVELING CASE.
I use these tales in a writing exercises for PR students, which is always great fun. The set up is to write a speech for Red Riding Hood for the annual nursery rhyme character conference, warning about dangerous wolves.
The results are always excellent – students learn how to make a speech persuasive and alive with examples, relevance and narrative. We even have the personal connection as she retells the tragedy that befell her grandmother.
Familiar tales make good content for press release and other writing exercises. They are also useful for looking at cultural similarities and differences.
It is also an excuse to read Roald Dahl who has to be one of the greatest story tellers of the 20th century. Not only in terms of his unique writing for children, but also through his “Tales of the Unexpected“. The ending of Lamb to the Slaughter is a pure classic – and a reminder, that sometimes, the scariest stories are those closest to real life.