The Indian Quarterly
Through the Looking Glass Image Credit: The Indian Quarterly
Through the Looking Glass Image Credit: The Indian Quarterly

Through the Looking-Glass

And what children find there. Paro Anand reflects on the ugly families of children’s fiction and why it’s important that they be portrayed.

Paro Anand

CINDERELLA HAD AN AWFUL stepmom, evil ugly sisters and a spineless dad. Fathers, in many fairy tales, are portrayed as good, kind but gonad-free men who will do whatever dastardly act their sexy young wives deem necessary. Take, for example, Hansel and Gretel’s dad who was to kill them at his wife’s behest, but was so kind-hearted that he left them to fend for themselves in the wild, witch-infested woods. (And we’re supposed to feel sorry for him!) Then there’s Snow White’s dad and stepmom—we all know how that turned out. Most of the time, the stories are about kids coming good in spite of their wicked stepmoms and abject dads.

Fairy tales are relatively heterogeneous about how they portray family, but they rarely paint a cosy image of a family sitting together by the fireside eating a peaceful meal. Scratching my head for examples, nothing really comes to mind. Which is strange. Do children’s stories try to make their young readers feel insecure? Are they meant to panic them so they understand the importance of staying close to their parents? So that they are not lost? Or abandoned even, in case of transgressions?

Closer home, the Panchatantra, though not written for children even if popularly considered to be, features shrewish women who harass their husbands as shrilly as possible. Happy homes? Nope, nothing here either.

As an author of several books for children and teens myself, I decided t

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