Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (by James Finn Garner) has been on my radar for quite a while. I’ve seen it quoted online a few times, and finally got my hands on a copy to read it.
First published in 1994, I thought that this must be relatively outdated, and so I was interested to see just how politically correct this book really is. One thing that I’d gathered by the time I’d finish the introduction was that James Finn Garner was ahead of his time. Not by long – a decade or two. He ended his introduction by referring to his novel as a ‘quest to develop meaningful literature that is totally free from bias and purged from the influences of its flawed cultural past’. Which essentially means that any criticism I may have found, Garner has already acknowledged and apologized for.
The first short story was Little Red Riding Hood, and one of the first lines:
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.
I was immensely pleased by this. It wasn’t exactly subtle, but it got the message regarding gender roles across. Great start.
After this, I realised pretty soon that this a humour book – I’d envisioned it to be a lot more political than it actually was. Not that I minded. This book had me grinning insanely
the whole time I was reading it, and I found all of the stories really accessible and fun to read.
Another extract I enjoyed from Little Red Riding Hood was:
Then, unhampered by rigid, traditionalist notions of what was masculine or feminine, he put on Grandma’s nightclothes and crawled into bed.
This is a second instance in which Garner smashes gender norms. However, in other stories, I felt that he backtracked slightly, and still referred to some of the characters actions as either masculine or feminine (I think at one point, he puts the queen’s attempt to get rid of Snow White down to a ‘masculine power trip’), which I just found a little inconsistent.
In places I found it slightly satirical. The actions of each character, man or beast, was followed by a long, comical sentence which aimed to justify said actions. When it was a beast being described, for example the troll in The Three Codependent Goats Gruff‘s carnivorous tendencies, it became a little ridiculous.
That said, Garner did hit upon some very important points, and I didn’t find anything I would consider politically incorrect. One of my favourite quotes was from Snow White:
Now, years of social conditioning in a male hierarchical dictatorship had left the queen very insecure about her own self-worth.
This is very relevant, and again shows how modern and up-to-date these stories are.
Politically correct? I guess so. I feel as if the book focuses more on being humorous than educating people on racism, sexism etc. (although it certainly still does this). I think I would like to read some stories that are maybe slightly more subtle in their political correctness, though it probably wouldn’t be as much fun to read. We’re beginning to see this in YA with modern adaptations of these tales, but I’d really like to read a raw, PC retelling of one of these bedtime stories, to see how it would actually differentiate from the original.
A few words and phrases I enjoyed whilst reading this:
- logically unenhanced
- vertically challenged
- vertically gifted
- not at all unpleasant to look at
- temperament that many found to be more pleasant than most other people’s
- conceptual rather than linear thinker
- self-actualized harp