Spank me. I Dare you.
(Oh, I’m getting fucking lazy. Another from the tart-chives, & it’s not even bio-sexual. Well, hardly. But there are bears. And lipstick.)
When you have a kid, & you think reading is useful for more than just identifying the titles of porn films at at the video store, you cannot avoid the insane world of children’s literature. Go on. Have a kid & you’ll find I’m not wrong. I’ll wait.
Some of the books are good. Some of them are even fabulous. But most are just added effluent to the septic tank of kid lit. Genuinely horrible. Written by people suffering Mad Cow Disease, obviously, or by people who hate children. Or by people who think they love children but will find out much too late that children hate them. Or worst of all: celebrities.
(Dare Wright is a blog-post-and-a-half herself. Not to mention a radio piece. She was the subject of a story in 2000 on This American Life that is a must-listen.)Published in 1957, the book tells the story of an oppressively lonely doll named Edith who lives by herself in a large house (apartment? condo?) within an unnamed city. The house is not a doll house, it is human sized, fully furnished, accessorized. Where are the humans? Dunno. Eaten by the zombies, maybe.
She prays each night to be given a friend, and then one day — joy! At the door are two teddy bears, one large, one small, luggage in tow. The large one introduces himself as Mr. Bear and the small one as Little Bear. And yes, Edith, be careful what you pray for, because they have come to stay.
The Lonely Doll is an exploration of their relationship dynamics, ending in a . . . well, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Now I must describe the illustrations, because this is central. Each scene is a posed black & white photograph, starring a felt doll with a molded, sweet face, strangely tempered by her painted blue (one can only assume) eyes that always point left. She has long blond hair, tied back in a pony tail, and hoop earrings.
The bears are, well . . . they’re teddy bears: cute and furry.
The scenes are meticulously blocked, the characters in evocative poses. The environment is rife with detail and props.
Comparatively, the writing is stiff & formal. Spare. Non-sentimental.
All this adds up to a book with a strong & emotional, yet deeply unsettling vibe. There is something dissonant in the dynamic of these three characters.Edith and Little Bear are obvious children. Mr. Bear is an adult — see the neck tie? Is he Little Bear’s father? That is unclear. But he certainly plays the father figure to both youngsters. He is distant, firm, but kind. Proper, and with mysterious unexplained adult habits. The three friends have fun, but Mr. Bear makes sure to set limits, and he must scold them when they act foolhardy.
The book reaches it’s fevered climax when Mr. Bear announces that he must go out for some time — where the hell does a teddy bear go in a city by himself? And what errand is he running? We never know.
So Little Bear & Edith find their way into a room they had never before visited (really? never?) filled with formal clothing, jewelry boxes. They have an orgy of dress-up. But when Little Bear finds a tube of lipstick and tries to convince Edith to use it, she is wary, sensing that Mr. Bear wouldn’t approve.
Suddenly Little Bear gets sassy! Grabbing the tube, he scrawls across the mirror Mr. Bear is just a silly old thing! Oh my, Little Bear!
This convinces Edith, and she begins to lipstick her mouth. Suddenly, in the mirror’s reflection she sees an open door and the figure of Mr. Bear watching.
“I may be a silly,” Mr. Bear answered, “but I know when a naughty little girl needs a spanking.”And he does. & we get to watch. Edith is across his lap, her dress pulled up revealing her frilly undies, her head turned to the side facing us, yet her strangely aimed eyes seem to be looking back at her abuser. Mr. Bear’s arm is raised high, about to inflict the punishment. Little Bear sits in the background, his fuzzy paws held over his eyes, though not quite enough to miss the action.
And accompanying the illustration is perhaps the most chilling text I hope to ever read to a small child.
Little Bear couldn’t watch. He was afraid his turn was next. He was right.
That last sentence: He was right.
Get out of there while you can, Edith!
She doesn’t, alas, and in true codependent form Edith is terrified that her transgression will make Mr. & Little Bear leave forever. She begs his forgiveness. He grants it, and assures her that they WILL NEVER LEAVE!
& they lived happily ever after. As documented in the 9 subsequent Lonely Doll books.
Good fucking gawd.
Here’s my back-cover quote: “A transgressive tale, with a between-the-lines dark caution for any young child unlucky enough to sit on your lap during story-time.”