Gill returns to look at a topic we’ve covered before. This seems like a good example.
Have you ever been curious about the origins of those stories and rhymes we read, sang and chanted as children? They may leave you with nightmares. So from sleeping beauty being violated to some very racist songs, here are some childhood ruining things.
- The Sun, Moon, and Talia – Sleeping beauty in it’s more toned down form sees the prince kissing her awake after 100 years, but the original has a king who, taken by her beauty, violates her in her sleep. She only learns of the violation when one of her newborn twins sucks on her finger, breaking the curse.
See Saw Margery Daw – I honestly don’t know much of this one, other than it basically details an impoverished family having to put their children into child labor and seems to be generally insulting to the poor, especially in the later verses.
- Pop goes the weasel – There are many different theories about where this song came from and what it means, one of which is that it tells the story of someone drinking away a family’s meager funds and having to sell his jacket.
- Turkey In The Straw – This one seems like a fun little ditty bluegrass bands would play to encourage square or round dancing at a barn dance and for the most part it is, but a version in 1916 was insulting to people of color stating “N word likes watermellon ha ha ha!” I know I will never look at this one the same way again.
- Ring Around The Rosie – If you went to nursery school or your parents had a book of nursery rhymes, that was probably a favorite. The truth is much darker and far less fun. It talks of the plague and a lack of germ knowledge, and at the end the death rights by a Catholic Priest.
Note from Steve: I’ve heard this for years and had no reason not to believe it, but there are reasons to believe that it’s probably wrong.
- Here we go round the mulberry bush – Sounds like the recipe for good parents giving their youngsters instructions about how to do things. No such luck, it was actually a song prisoners in a British women’s prison sang to their children while in the exercise yard.
Jack And Jill – I don’t mean the one where they go up the hill with a buck and a quarter. I mean the mother goose version. Here are two possible versions of how it came to be. One involved two untrue spouses in early 17th century England who conceived an illegitimate child, while another later version talks about the French Revolution and the deaths of Louis the 16th and his wife.
- Peter Peter pumpkin eater- I thought little of this one as a child, but now in researching this it smacks more of Dateline or one of those crime scene shows. A theory is that Peter was fed up with his wife’s cheating ways and murdered her putting her remains in a pumpkin shell.
The Blue Tale Fly – I, not fully understanding the meaning of it, had this particular ditty on a record when I was small. You know “Jimmy cracked corn and I don’t care?” Well, let’s just fast forward the clock thirty-five years when a grown me finds out the meaning. This is actually a mockery song performed by some white dudes in blackface pretending to be slaves in the pre-civil war southern US. In essence what it’s trying to convey is that sadistic master would have slave slap flies from him as he rode his horse, and one day master was knocked off his spooked horse and met his end. Oops.
- Peter Pan – Written by J. M. Barrie around the dawn of the 20th century, it talks of a boy who doesn’t age or grow up. My mother saw an incarnation on TV at her grandmother’s home in 1954, but what the Mary Martin classic left out was the fact that Peter saw Wendy as a mother figure, but Wendy had developed romantic feelings for him.
- Snow White – The 1937 Disney movie is a far cry from the original. In that version, the wicked queen successfully kills Snow by poisoning, and rather than a kiss the passing enchanted prince bargains with the dwarfs to let him take her body home. As the prince’s servants carry her coffin made of glass, they drop it, dislodging the apple from her throat and bringing her back to life. She then goes off to marry the prince and live happily ever after without even considering how weird it is that he tried to buy a dead body.
- Mary Mary quite contrary – It seems innocent enough. A poem filled with pretty things. But wait, I am about to ruin this for you. Mary is thought to be the devoutly Catholic queen of England, the garden talked about smacks more of a killing field, and the bells, shells, and maidens are all torture devices. A thumb screw, genital mutilator, and early beheading device.
- London Bridge – You probably played this with some friends or in a group with linked arms trying to trap people, but you may not want any youngster playing it now. One theory is that the song and actions refer to the tradition of sacrificing children by encasing them in structures to ensure their safety and stability. Yes, when you dropped your arms you didn’t know that you were symbolizing that, did you?
- Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your long hair – Where do I begin with this? Well, a witch kidnaps a young girl, locks her in a tower, a prince rides by, knocks her up, and she is banished. The prince is pushed from the tower, blinded, and forced to wander the desert. When he finds his beloved, her tears restore his sight.
Goosey Goosey Gander – I was never read this one as a child, but in researching this it did come up. About 450 years ago in England there was a push to convert everyone from Catholicism to Protestantism, and Catholics were forced to take desperate measures to practice their faith. This meant hiding priests in priest holes. Catholics were referred to as Left Footers, but that’s not what it meant when it said “I grabbed him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs.” The punishment was a gruesome form of death.
Never Laugh when the hearse goes by – Often a little rhyme spoken at Halloween, this actually hearkens back to WW I and possibly even earlier. Its purpose is to remind children albeit in a gruesome way to respect the dead.
Do you know much of the dark or sordid origins of your favorite childhood song or rhyme? What was your favorite book as a child? Are there any cartoons, books, or movies from when you were a kid that probably would at the very least be frowned upon now?