The Disturbing Thing About Fairy Stories

Posted on Wed, Jan 30, 2008 @ 04:03 PM
From a spectator's viewpoint . . .
Alena and the Favorite Thing

Toby Young's tongue-in-cheek rant in today's Spectator may be an amusing read, but it makes a serious point.

As Young notices, "The disturbing thing about fairy stories is that the father is always a useless weed." If he's even in the story at all, that is.

Among other questions Young asks, "Why does the King do nothing to protect Snow White from the Wicked Queen? Why doesn’t she ask him for help? Why is running away her only option?"

And to think we've sometimes believed it's only modern media that relegate fathers to second-class citizenship.

But no, the phenomenon is so pervasive that Eric B. Anderson, a father who finally reached the end of his tether after searching through a bookstore for an appropriate story, finally decided to write for his daughter himself.

"The humorous books tend to depict fathers as bumbling figures and the sentimental books tend to mythologize the role of the father," says Anderson, "I felt neither bumbling nor God-like, so I decided to write about what the relationship means to me."

Unfortunately, the big publishers haven't caught on yet to this millennia-long gap in the children's book market, and Anderson wasn't sure how much longer it would take for them to notice it. So he published the book himself using an illustrator he found through a freelancing Web site. The Polish artist, Jakub Kuzma, has illustrated more than 150 children's books, although Anderson's Alena and the Favorite Thing is his first foray into the American market.

But here's the really interesting part: Anderson's marketing strategy follows what he calls "the Radiohead model."  Just as that rock band has offered one of its albums for free download online to encourage sales, so also is Anderson making his first Alena story in the planned series availablefree and in fullonline.

"I've realized that I've never purchased a book for my daughter without being able to read it first, so why should I expect that other parents will?" Anderson points out. "I'm confident that once readers get a look at the book, they'll go ahead and get a copy. It's a leap of faith, but one that I believe will pay dividends."

This may be true, not only for Eric Anderson, but also for fathers in general. As long as cultural media ignore the important role of fathers, fathers themselves will hardly be motivated to do otherwise.

Tags: Eric B. Anderson, Fairy tales, fathers, Jakub Kuzma, Toby Young