The Corner

Here There Be (No) Dragons

From my column today on How To Train Your Dragon:

My long-standing complaint against this sort of story — aside from its being a complete cliché — is that it teaches kids there’s no such thing as monsters. No, I’m not keen on telling kids that there are things that go bump in the night or beasts in the closet — particularly when that means I have to spend half the night with a terrified kid in my bed.

But monsters once served an important purpose. The word’s Latin and French roots mean a grave warning or omen. Monster stories once told us that evil exists and that we shouldn’t assume all motives are good and kind.

Sure, kids today are taught to yell “Stranger danger!” or some such when approached at the mall, but you won’t find that sort of lesson in popular children’s books and cartoons. And, let the record show, some of those strangers really are a horrific, soul-sickening danger and not merely misunderstood.

It was no trivial decision to populate Sesame Street with cuddly “monsters.” Even Oscar the Grouch is really just a softy. And a few years ago, they rewrote Cookie Monster’s telos; he now says that cookies are merely a “sometimes food,” causing some, including Stephen Colbert, to ask whether Cookie Monster had “abandoned the pro-cookie agenda.”

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