Tales and Nursery Rhymes
Me A Story
Maggie Van Ostrand
accommodate U.S. personnel stationed overseas, the new-age solution
to the age-old plea from children, "Daddy, tell me a story," is to
have military parents record bedtime stories onto DVDs for their offspring
back in the States.
United Through Reading, a program for military families, helps keep
parents and children connected while separated during long deployments,
through the medium of reading aloud on DVD or videotape.
"This program can be utilized by all deployed personnel as they may
choose to read aloud to a younger brother or sister, grandchild, or
even a child they are mentoring," states United Through Reading's
Whether or not we tuck our children into bed at night with pre-recorded
fairy tales, or read nursery rhymes to them in the flesh, our intentions
are the same: to have them nod off peacefully and have pleasant dreams.
But how pleasant can their dreams be when their sleepy little heads
are filled not with visions of sugar plums but with fear, violence
Their still-innocent minds are destined to be filled with the same
images of blind mice who run but can't escape having their tails amputated
with a carving knife; a boy who kisses girls and makes them cry; an
old woman living in a shoe who whips her hungry children for no reason;
babies rocking in cradles and falling down when branches break; Solomon
Grundy, born on Monday is dead by the end of the week; Tom, the Piper's
son, steals pigs; scary spiders frighten little girls on tuffets;
Humpty Dumpty falls off a wall and can never be fixed; and monkeys
who catch weasels and pop them.
did this bedtime carnage begin?
Some of these tales have been around for a very long time and generally
date from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries as one of England's most
enduring forms of oral culture. Apparently most nursery rhymes were
originally composed for adult entertainment, originating as popular
ballads and songs.
The earliest known published collection of nursery rhymes was Tommy
Thumb's (Pretty) Song Book (London, 1744). It included "Little Tom
Tucker," "Sing a Song of Sixpence," and "Who Killed Cock Robin?" The
most influential was "Mother Goose's Melody: Sonnets for the Cradle,"
published by John Newberry in 1781. Among its 51 rhymes were "Jack
and Jill," "Ding Dong Bell," and "Hush-a-bye baby on the tree top."
on the tree top,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.
to Vikki Harris' "The Origin of Nursery Rhymes & Mother Goose"
(1997), regardless of their malevolent words, the nursery rhymes
that were popular years ago, and still are today, can be placed into
three categories. First are the lullabies, the songs and melodies
with which most of us are familiar. These were far from soothing but
rather are said to have been sung in order to intimidate the child
and/or used as an outlet for the emotions of the parent or nurse:
|Bye, baby bunting,
Daddy's gone a-hunting,
Gone to get a rabbit skin
To wrap the baby bunting in. -1784
Bye, baby bumpkin
Where's Tony Lumpkin
My lady's on her death-bed,
With eating half a pumpkin. -1842
second reason for the development of nursery rhymes was as infant
amusement. Counting rhymes, and alphabet rhymes fit into this category,
and are generally non-violent, even politically correct.
|One, two, three,
Once I caught a fish alive,
Six, seven, eight, nine, ten,
Then I let him go again. - 1888
Here's A, B, C, D, E, F, and G,
H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V,
W, X, Y, and Z
And O, dear me,
When shall I learn
My A, B, C? - 1869
games were readily used for the amusement of infants and toddlers.
Perhaps the two best known are:
Bake me a cake as fast as you can;
Pat it and prick it, and mark it with B,
And put it in the oven for baby and me - 1698
This little piggy went to market,
This little piggy stayed home,
This little piggy had roast beef,
This little piggy had none,
And this little piggy cried,
Wee, wee, wee
All the way home. - 1728
is also possible that the credit of preservation should go to the
nursery itself," explains Henry Bett in "Nursery Rhymes
and Tales - Their Origin and History" (1968) "We owe the
preservation of our nursery rhymes and nursery tales from remote ages
to the astonishing persistence of popular tradition, reinforced by
the characteristic conservatism of childhood which insists on having
rhymes repeated the same way each time."
Rhymes and Tales - Their Origin and History
|In the circle
game Ring-around-the-rosie, links have been made to the Great Plague
of London and Edinburgh. The lines "Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down"
or "Hush! Hush! Hush! Hush! We've all tumbled down" is referring to
the death of the people.
A pocket full of posies,
We all fall down.
Three blind mice
Three blind mice,
See how they run!
They all ran after a farmer's wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife.
Did you ever see such a sight in your life,
As three blind mice?
All around the mulberry bush
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey thought 'twas all in fun.
Pop! goes the weasel.
Georgie Porgie, puddin' and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry.
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.
(This rhyme refers to the amorous and amoral Prince Regent who became
George IV during Regency times in England)
Jack and Jill
Went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down
And broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after.
Little Miss Muffet, sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider,
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.
you carefully reread Hansel and Gretel, you may never again repeat
it to your children:
Hard by a great forest dwelt a poor wood-cutter with his wife and
his two children. The boy was called Hansel and the girl Gretel. He
had little to bite and to break, and once when great dearth fell on
the land, he could no longer procure even daily bread. Now when he
thought over this by night in his bed, and tossed about in his anxiety,
he groaned and said to his wife, what is to become of us. How are
we to feed our poor children, when we no longer have anything even
for ourselves. I'll tell you what, husband, answered the woman, early
to-morrow morning we will take the children out into the forest to
where it is the thickest. There we will light a fire for them, and
give each of them one more piece of bread, and then we will go to
our work and leave them alone. They will not find the way home again,
and we shall be rid of them. No, wife, said the man, I will not do
that. How can I bear to leave my children alone in the forest. The
wild animals would soon come and tear them to pieces. O' you fool,
said she, then we must all four die of hunger, you may as well plane
the planks for our coffins, and she left him no peace until he consented.
But I feel very sorry for the poor children, all the same, said the
The two children had also not been able to sleep for hunger, and had
heard what their step-mother had said to their father. Gretel wept
bitter tears, and said to Hansel, now all is over with us.
"The Truth Behind Goldilocks," Mental Floss - Volume 2, Richard
Zachs writes that we are reading watered-down versions of the
fairy tales and that the originals were far more graphic and brutal.
In the earliest known version (1831) of Goldilocks, discovered in
Toronto, the author, one Eleanor Mure, a 32-year-old maiden aunt,
created "The Story of The Three Bears" for her nephew, Horace Broke.
The original "Goldilocks" was an "angry old woman" who breaks into
the bears' house because they snubbed her during a recent social call.
Once the three bears catch the old woman, they try to figure out what
to do with her. Here's what they came up with:
|On the fire they
throw her, but burn her they couldn't;
In the water they put her, but drown there she wouldn't;
They seize her before all the wondering People,
And chuck her aloft on St. Paul's churchyard steeple;
And if she's still there, when you earnestly look,
You will see her quite plainly -- my dear Little Horbook!
other version has Goldilocks impaled on a church steeple. The gray
haired old lady didn't become a golden haired young girl until 1918.
The tales which we so fondly recall from our childhood will be passed
on to our children and produce yet another generation of nursery lore.
Which of these legendary bedtime stories will be recorded for his
kids by Daddy, serving his country somewhere dangerous, maybe the
Middle East, and what effect might they have upon his little children?
"Who killed Cock Robin?" asks daddy's DVD voice. And the child replies,
"I'll kill him for you, Daddy, if you'll kill Osama for me."