Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Are You Sitting Comfortably? Then I'll Begin.

Did you ever read a story as a child (or perhaps you had it read to you by an adult who wasn't thinking about the subject matter much and was probably more concerned with forcing you into Dreamland as soon as possible so they could go and relax) that didn't sit quite right? I remember several of these at different points in my childhood, and upon reading them again as an adult I found myself appalled at the tales that had entranced me as a kid,. Take Brer Rabbit for example. Brer Rabbit lived in a small village seemingly populated by only one of every species (even at age 5 I was aware that this didnt match up at all with the things I knew about nature) who were all, rather puzzlingly, named Brer (originally it was "Bre'er" - pronounced "bruh" - which meant "brother"). There was Brer Bear, Brer Fox, and Brer Something Stoaty that I can't find any reference to on the internet but am positive I haven't made up. I swear it's not a misguided attempt to force an otter character into this, despite how much better otters make everything.
The stories inevitably began, ended or somehow managed to weave in one or more animals trying to molest and/or kill and/or eat Brer Rabbit, not necessarily in that order. It seems odd that no one ever seemed to wonder why these animals were confined to this one place, or why none of them had mates or children, or why - even though they could all communicate to each other like humans, and hell, even dressed in human-ish clothes - morals went completely out of the window when the question of dinner was at stake. 
I'd given this a lot of thought recently, and came to the conclusion that the Brer animals were trapped in a kind of hideous, mutated universe. Unable to get out, unable to find comfort in others of their own species, they descended into an immoral, cannibalistic, crazed hierarchy where the only goal was to feast on Brer Rabbit, who was the obvious choice of prey, being weaker and not as predatory in nature as the others.
Now, I can kind of understand WHY they wanted to kill Brer Rabbit. He did kind of seem like an insufferable little dick, always outwitting the others and stealing their vegetables (even if he happened to be stealing back vegetables the other animals had stolen in the first place, in a pointless cycle of theft,). He always seemed to rain vengeance down upon them in some way, using his brains to outwit their brawn, and took great delight in yapping about his triumph. But whereas in other books, I have found characters that I love to hate, and characters that I hate to love (Umbridge from the Harry Potter books springs to mind), I never really empathised with any of the characters in Brer Rabbit. It wasn't the animal factor, I've read plenty of great books with animal protagonists that I encourage everyone to read - the Chronicles of Narnia, for example, or David Clement-Davies' Fire Bringer, and let's not forget my ultimate trashy thrill in the Warrior Cats series - but I always felt that Brer Rabbit just never quite made the cut.

1 comment:

  1. I've heard of Brer Rabbit, but never read it. In fact, I'm not really familiar with children's stories in general.
    Anyway, perhaps there is some hidden meaning behind Brer Rabbit? It's just hard to imagine someone sitting down and just writing something without any moral or meaning. It's almost painful to think about.