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05/20/2005

Sad rabbit, bad habit

I am not ashamed to say I love Goodnight Moon. It's a sweet book, a lulling book, a gentle story with lovely illustrations. I read it to Charlie frequently. But there's something about it that bothers me. Something mysterious. Something...upsetting.

I approve of the other pictures in the room. Yes, yes, we like the cow jumping over the moon. All well and good. And the three little bears sitting on chairs? Fine, fine. Perfectly fine. But a rabbit. In hip waders. Fishing for another rabbit. Presumably using a fishhook?

That just doesn't seem right.

Once the full horror of a fly-fishing hare looking to snag itself a young'un had dawned on me, I scanned the book carefully for other hidden evils. You know, like maybe a pack of condoms carelessly left on the nightstand. A bong in pride of place on the mantelpiece. The face of evil peering out of the dollhouse. That kind of thing.

I was relieved when I found nothing — nothing, that is, but a clue.

On the bookcase behind the quiet old lady, I found a clue. Amid the well-ordered ranks of books I spied a copy of The Runaway Bunny, another children's classic penned by the same writer and illustrator as Goodnight Moon. Intrigued by this shout-out, I got all sleuthy with it and pulled out Charlie's copy.

I am here to tell you that that is one messed-up story.

It's all about a sad little bunny who wants to run away. He tells his mother so. Now some would have you believe that what follows is a testament to the comforting warmth and protection of a mother's enduring love. But others — okay, I — find the message a little, well, creepy. No matter how cleverly the bunny imagines eluding his mother, no matter what fanciful means of escape he conjures, she thwarts him by insisting that she will always find him. No matter what.

There is no escape, little rabbit.

Now, I know what the intended message is. The mother engages the young bunny's rebellious desire to be out on his own and assures him that she'll always be watching over him, no matter what. I understand that a child might find the story comforting — whatever you become, wherever you go, whatever choices you might make in your life (see condoms and bong above), your mother will love you. I know I'm reading the story through the eyes of a 21st-century smartass instead of the less cynical lens of the 1940s. I know.

But come on: "I will become a fish in a trout stream"? "I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you"?

Creepy.

Or is it just me? I don't exactly think like an uncorrupted child. I see weird things in just about every children's story. It's a bad habit. I know. I need to try harder.

I promise I will contemplate the error of my ways as I go back to paging peacefully through Goodnight Moon. And I will try very hard not to wonder what the old lady's knitting.

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