POLITICALLY CORRECT BEDTIME STORIES (1994)
by James Finn Garner
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
“Political correctness” is one of those cultural concepts that some abhor, some wholeheartedly embrace, and some treat selectively. It’s had a profound effect on our language, but not always for its betterment. It’s caused us to rethink certain attitudes and approaches to people and situations and alter our behaviors accordingly. With both positive and negative attributes, it’s ripe for satirizing, and that’s exactly what James Finn Garner has done to it in Politically Correct Bedtime Stories. As he points out in an introduction, “When they were first written, the stories on which the following tales are based certainly served their purpose—to entrench the patriarchy, to estrange people from their own natural impulses, to demonize ‘evil’ and to ‘reward’ an ‘objective’ ‘good.’...Today, we have the opportunity—and the obligation—to rethink these ‘classic’ stories so they reflect more enlightened times.” We used to call these stories “fairy tales,” but that term, Garner says, reflects a “heterosexualist bias” and must thus be done away with.
This slim, undersized volume (it runs seventy-nine pages and measures seven-and-a-quarter by five-and-an-eighth inches) contains thirteen very short renderings of familiar stories. Without giving away too much lest I spoil the surprises, I’ll try to convey a sense of what the author has done. For instance, in “Little Red Riding Hood,” we’re told of the titular character that “One day her mother asked her to take a basket of fresh fruit and mineral water to her grandmother’s house—not because this was womyn’s work, mind you, but because the deed was generous and helped engender a feeling of community.”
The tailor in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” tells the vain monarch, “...I have brought with me a special fabric that is so rare and fine that it can be seen only by certain people—the type of people you’d want to have in your realm—people who are politically correct, morally righteous, intellectually astute, culturally tolerant, and who don’t smoke, drink, laugh at sexist jokes, watch too much television, listen to country music, or barbecue.”
The “economically disadvantaged” miller in “Rumpelstiltskin” “was very ashamed of his poverty, rather than angry at the economic system that had marginalized him, and was always searching for a way to get rich quick.”
In the longest story in the book “Snow White,” fleeing from the wicked queen, runs into the woods and comes upon a cottage inhabited by “seven bearded vertically challenged men” who refer to themselves as “the Seven Towering Giants.” When the queen learns where the girl is, she disguises herself as “a chronologically gifted woman,” goes to the cottage, and begs Snow White to buy an apple. “Snow White thought for a moment. In protest against agribusiness conglomerates, she had a personal rule against buying food from middlepersons. But her heart went out to the economically marginalized woman, so she said yes.”
The other stories, which in “updating” Garner turns on their heads so their endings are not usually what readers have come to expect, are “The Three Little Pigs,” “The Three Codependent Goats Gruff,” “Rapunzel,” “Cinderella,” “Goldilocks,” “Chicken Little,” “The Frog Prince,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.”
Readers whose taste runs to satire will most likely enjoy Politically Correct Bedtime Stories. They may not want to read it at bedtime, however, lest their laughter give them a second wind and consequent insomnia. The book is available in both physical and e-book (Kindle, Nook, Smashwords) editions. There is a sequel, Once Upon a More Enlightened Time, as well as Politically Correct Holiday Stories: For an Enlightened Yuletide Season. I also just discovered that the author has put out what appears to be (so far, at least) a Kindle edition only, Tea Party Fairy Tales.
I may eventually have to look at all of them. In any case, this one is recommended.
Barry Ergang © 2012, 2018
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