Playwright and screenwriter Topher Payne decided the ending of Shel Silverstein’s book The Giving Tree was just too problematic for kids, so he rewrote it. Maybe the author was just being funny, but many people, such as LitHub’s Emily Temple, are taking him seriously. Thanks to Mr. Payne, we now have a didactic, discussion-squashing diatribe that parents can print and paste into their own copies of the original story. For example, where the story once read:
“Can you give me a house?” “
“I have no house, said the tree.
“The forest is my house,
but you may cut off my branches
and build a house.
Then you will be happy.”
Payne has rewritten it to read:
“Can you give me a house?”
And the tree said-
“Okay, hold up. This is already
getting out of hand.”
“Look, I was fine with giving you the apples
to help you get back on your feet.
They’ll grow back next season anyway.
But no, I’m not giving you a house.
You know, I’ve seen boys like you
pull this nonsense
with other trees in the forest.
First it’s the apples, then the branches, then
the trunk, and before you know it
that mighty beautiful tree
is just a sad little stump.
Well, look here, Boy, I love you like family,
But I am not going down like that.”
Excuse me? Perhaps this is just par for the course in our current climate, where books such as Antiracist Baby fly off the shelves. But this blatant dismissal of a child’s intelligence is shameful.
Silverstein was an internationally acclaimed author. His books and poems moved readers because of their oddness, lyricism, and emotion. Calling The Giving Tree “problematic” because it doesn’t explicitly spell out some moral you want it to have and changing its ending to fit your worldview ruins its literary merit and robs readers of the opportunity to learn from and discuss the story.
I personally always enjoyed The Giving Tree, finding it a helpful reflection on friendship and sacrifice. Perhaps it could also be seen as a metaphor for the true self-sacrifice it takes to be a parent, though Payne’s rewrite, if he read the original as this kind of metaphor, still misses the point, as there’s a distinction between his preachy screed and true tough love.
If you find the original Giving Tree tale upsetting, that’s a perfectly acceptable reaction. But true intellectual integrity requires us to engage with the story, not cover up its questions with silly moralism.