Fairy Tales, Children & Guns

Children’s stories and fairy tales are back in the news in both thoughtful and disturbing ways. The thoughtful news article about the differences found in British and American children’s stories is an opinion piece from The Atlantic. The disturbing news arises from the American National Rifle Association (NRA). This organization is now trying to co-opt fairy tales to promote gun ownership and use.

What!??

Yes, you read that correctly.  The NRA (vis à vis, their partner, author Amelia Hamilton)  is revising fairy tales for their own marketing ends.

The NRA started with a Grimm favorite: Little Red Riding Hood. However, their reinterpretation of the Grimm tale also has a new title: Little Red Riding Hood (Has A Gun).

Little Red Riding Hood with a gun. Igor Balasanov.

Now, to be fair, the NRA fairy tale has Little Red Riding Hood carrying a rifle rather than the hand gun shown above from a Huffington Post response. However, by rewriting fairy tales where the protagonists are typically children to explicitly include guns and the use of guns, the NRA is indeed promoting guns in the hands of children as a wonderful idea! Indeed, as this NRA endorsed story goes, both Little Red Riding Hood and Grandmother have guns at their sides:

“The wolf couldn’t believe his luck—he had come across two capable ladies in the same day, and they were related! Oh, how he hated when families learned how to protect themselves.”

This sickens me on several levels. First, as American citizens and also as parents, we know that as this Slate article title declares, Guns Kill Children. The article, which investigates the statistics of guns and children, states:

“The overwhelming empirical evidence indicates that the presence of a gun makes children less safe.”

This article gives the terrible true facts that having guns in our homes results in more lethal family violence, increased firearm suicides, and accidental shootings—domestic gun events that then account for the horrid statistic that “nearly 75 percent of all children murdered in the developed world” are in the United States.

Little-Red-Riding-Hood-largeSecond, the ever so sly way this gun-toting narrative is written. The author positions Little Red Riding Hood toward being viewed as an adult like her Grandmother when they are both characterized as “capable ladies.” Next, she gives us yet another dose of NRA propaganda: the family has learned to “protect” themselves. The shouted subtext here is that a family can only protect themselves by arming themselves with guns.

Third, this distinct method of re-writing our narratives is particularly pernicious because humans are hard-wired to learn from stories. Some have called it “our storytelling brain”: see here, here and here. Whatever you label this capability, it is a key reason why mythologies around the world have been used for millennia as grand cultural narratives; we learn, integrate, and remember facts about the natural world, i.e., botany, astronomy, geography, mathematics, etc. much more quickly and easily through story.

Story is that important.  Therefore, using the format of children’s stories, like fairy tales which themselves contain mythological components, to promote dangerous propaganda warps the very nature of story. Additionally, for children, this type of twisted narrative creates a profoundly unsafe learning platform. Unfortunately, this is yet another fine example of patriarchal myth-making.

And the other news? The Atlantic article, “Why the British Tell Better Children’s Stories” by Colleen Gillard offers the argument that the children’s stories (the examples given are primarily novels) written by British authors are more engaging and much bigger bestsellers because they are fantasies. Because these “fantasies” actually employ a lot of mythological elements, I will be discussing this interesting article at length in my next post.

Thanks so much, as always, for reading.  Please let me know what you think about this NRA fairy-tale takeover by commenting.