The Museum of Cultural Waste: Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories
When I was a child I had a fairly good nose for moralising that masqueraded as entertainment. I'd see it coming. I'd spot the signs. A tingly sensation warning me that the adult world was trying to insidiously slip one past me. Disguising their nasty medicines with a spoonful of sugar (see "Educational Board Games" for more of same).
Occasionally, however, I'd lower the guard and gobble up the goods without really checking what I was consuming. Only later, when I saw, say, Christians sniggering behind their hands and elbowing each other would I realise I'd been had. Such was the case with the Narnia books. It was a grim day when I discovered that Aslan was really just Jesus hiding inside a fancy-dress lion suit. Still, at least those swarthy, scimitar-wielding baddies were creatures of pure fantasy, and in no way, shape or form a baleful example of Orientalist demonising…
But, by and large, my instincts and suspicions were sound. My daughter, sadly, has yet to develop these deductive skills. In her defence, she is only two, and thus not to be judged too harshly for recently finding this in a second-hand book shop and insisting (in a way only toddlers can) that I buy it. Immediately.
After flicking past the yummy Battenberg-ian cover – and a title page telling us that this is Volume 43 (!) in series that has, apparently, sold 30 million copies – we arrive at "Uncle Arthur's Letter". A 2-page missive from the bespectacled and avuncular man himself. There, in the final paragraph, are words that would, and should, chill any lively and imaginative child's heart.
"Readers may rest assured that every story is true to life, and that every one contains some uplifting, character-building lesson."
True to life? Character-building? Noooooo! This fucking sucks!
Happily, the contents page lightens the mood slightly with a list of titles that are so transcendently banal they become the stuff of high hilarity. Who, for example, can resist the exotic lure of "The Boy with a Bag"? Who can fail to be seduced by "Peter's Pyjamas"? Or the Hitchcock-ian thrills and intrigue of "The Unclipped Ticket"? Or "Daddy's New Watch"? Or (gasp!) "How Barbara Went to Sleep"?
Though the text may be tedious (and stuffed with "Jesus is amazeballs!" platitudes), the images, throughout, are glorious. Especially if (like me) you don't bother reading the associated tales and just view them as decontextualised things of creepy beauty. Enjoy.
June 9, 2011