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Who needs a wise old king, anyhow?
On the Little Mermaid's father, JFK's nephew, and the need for classic fairy tales to get a harsh vetting by an editor's pen
If someone with a modest fortune at their disposal really wanted to change the world on a generational basis, they could do worse than to subsidize the reimagining of classic children's stories and fairy tales to strip away the kingdoms and castles, the princesses and princes, and replace them with small-"r" republican back-stories. This may, at first, seem like a strange hangup, but the open-minded observer should see that it isn't an anachronistic plea.
■ Certainly, many of the canonical fairy tales that occupy the childhood imagination come from times when monarchs were the rule, rather than the exception: The first collection of the Grimms' Fairy Tales was published in 1812, when even notoriously democratic Switzerland was struggling to reassert rule by the people.
■ But the reliance upon monarchy as a central theme in so many familiar stories -- with wise kings dispensing justice and valiant princes sweeping young damsels off their feet -- undoubtedly conditions children to think of vast concentrated power as a good thing, so long as it is held by someone (almost always a man) with good intentions. Maybe the effect is small, and maybe open minds ultimately come around to seeing things in a more classically-liberal sense.
■ Yet it is hard not to note that, even in the world's oldest uninterrupted democracy, the "American royalty" brand name of the Kennedy clan can still launch a wildly unqualified conspiracy theorist into Presidential contention and millions of voters can remain enthralled by a man whose overriding theory of government amounted to no more than l'etat, c'est moi.
■ Would those proclivities stick with us quite so much if more of the stories that fill childhood involved messy democratic votes and contentious elections with peaceful transfers of power? Maybe not.
■ It's really never too early to begin inculcating children with the idea that all of us are equals, and that cooperation, tolerance, and consent are far better than merely accepting that someone wields divine right over the rest of us. Children can start to understand these concepts early in life, and maybe adults are obligated to do a better job of making sure they hear tales that reinforce them. Someone ought to get writing.