"Last summer, the F.D.A. approved the leech for use as a medical device, making this only the second time that the agency has authorized such a use for a live animal. (Maggots, which can be applied to wounds to consume infected tissue, were approved in January, 2004.)"I find this news exciting. When I first read about the maggots-as-medicine approval last year, I was elated. I hoped that more people would realize how interconnected everything is if doctors dumped maggots into their festering wounds. Unfortunately, most people feel very differently about composter species and the idea of squirming, white grubs eating their flesh - even dead, dying or inflamed flesh - will likely disturb them. Whatever...I'll just go sit in the corner and play with my leeches.
-John Colapinto, "Blood Suckers," The New Yorker, July 25, 2005
"It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way….It endures because young men love it and old men love it in them."In the early nineties, Operation Desert Storm was featured prominently on network television and in department stores. My Virginian neighbors proudly wore T-shirts emblazoned with the mission name, as though it was a World Series commemorative; to be without one was unusual or, worse, unpatriotic.
-Judge Holden speaking in Cormac McCarthy's novel, Blood Meridian
I was thirteen years old in 1991. I remember watching the green-tinted, "night vision" films of Baghdad air raids as I lay on the floor of my parents' living room, drawing pictures. I wondered, naively, why we still fought wars. After World War II, after the horror of the atomic bomb, I thought, we should know better.
And yet, five quick years later, I seriously considered military service. Being a good patriot requires some service to the country, I told myself, and, more importantly, I would not be "truly alive" until I had charged into harms way, guns blazing. I'm no longer so naive or bloodthirsty, but I think Judge Holden's answer accurate, no matter how damned distressing it may be.
"Children need the dark materials of fairy tales because they need to make sense - in a symbolic, displaced way - of their own feelings of anger, resentment, and powerlessness. Children also benefit from learning about violence and brutishness in fairy tales, Bettelheim writes, for it counters the 'widespread refusal to let children know that the source of much that goes wrong in our life is due to our natures - the propensity of all men for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly.'"I recently met a young girl - I believe she was six or seven years of age - whom I found especially intriguing. At a Long Island dinner party, the several children present announced that they intended to "put on a show" for the adults, mostly Long Island married couples and a few odd men and women out, myself among them. A few minutes later, this particular girl emerged with a wand, a vaguely ethereal tutu bottom and a wide, toothy grin to announce the name of her segment. "Evil Always Wins," she said, proudly. She proceeded to make her way around the room, lightly touching the heads of all in attendance with her wand, announcing, "Now you have been made evil."
-Margaret Talbot, 'The Candy Man," The New Yorker, July 11 & 18, 2005
I took an instant liking to the precocious girl and found myself pondering her performance for much of the party. I believe she intended to protect the adults from the cruel realities of the world. Because "evil always wins," she magically transformed each of us into evil beings, thereby saving us from future defeat.
Examining this logic from an adult perspective, it stinks of "selling out," an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude, but children don't necessarily view the world in this way. For example, when I was ten or eleven, I once longed to be a werewolf or vampire, not so I could surf down Main Street on the roof of a van, but so I could "infect" people I liked, creating an eternal community of kindred spirits. Sure, at twenty-seven this scenario seems dangerously cultish, but I also used to fantasize about tearing away the throats of my "enemies," and if I'm not going to condemn my childhood wants and desires for their violent content, I certainly won't do so for their lack of philosophical foresight. Besides, there are worse fates than lycanthropy or vampirism.
When I later recounted the story of this "evil," little girl, most listeners shook their head and said things like, "Wow, something is sure wrong with her" or "That's disturbing. She's a troubled kid, huh?" I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there is something amiss in the child's life, but most children wrestle with real world nightmares. It's a vital part of growing up. Scars, mental and physical, stay with us, an important part of who we are. An increasingly protective approach to child rearing, though, has taken hold. Disney, as far as I'm concerned, is the embodiment of popular parenting, making formulaic movies to entertain unimaginative children and adults alike. The animation is spectacular, certainly, but the plots are hollow and repetitive alongside those found in, say, Grimms' Fairy Tales.
I brought this up with a parent I know and she told me she would never give Grimms' to her daughter "because they are too frightening." But I agree with G.K. Chesterton, author of "The Ethic of Elfland," who writes that fairytales inspire in children a sense that life "is not only a pleasure but an eccentric privilege." What a marvelous way of putting it!