Deconstructing Fairy Tale Enigmas and Conundrums

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Once upon a time there was a town that had a rat problem.  It decided to hire a Pied Piper who could lure the rats away from town with his magic flute.  Okay, you probably know the rest of the story.  He got rid of the rats, but the town managers refused to pay him.  So the Piper got out his magic flute and lured all the young children away.  They were never seen again.  Incredibly sad.  But is it plausible?  Let’s examine a few questions here:

  1. What kind of a flute could lure both rats and children? Wouldn’t the frequencies Rattenfaenger_Herrfurth_Pied-Piperrequired be different?  Could children hear the same frequencies as rats?
  2. Where did he take all the rats? What would stop them from coming back again?
  3. Why did he steal the kids? Why not lure the town managers away?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get rid of our politicians that easily?
  4. Most importantly, what happened to the kids? If they survived, how would the Piper feed hundreds of kids?  If they did not survive, how did he kill them?  Would the Piper really have been nasty enough to murder hundreds of little children?  And if he did, who would ever hire him again?

Lots of questions but we simply accept the story as it is told.  And that my friends is the problem.  We go through life simply accepting fairy tales without ever questioning them.  For instance, the Trickle-Down Fairy Tale.  This tale says that if we give lots of money to the rich, the money will somehow work its way down to the poor.  Most poor people I know believe this fairy tale.  Most poor people are still waiting for it to happen.

Deconstruction is defined as “A method of critical analysis of philosophical and literary language which emphasizes the internal workings of language and conceptual systems, the relational quality of meaning, and the assumptions implicit in forms of expression.”  I am going to use this concept loosely to look at several old and new fairy tales.  We will look to see if we can find the obvious truths that we take for granted.  Searching for the truth often requires us to cast common myths and assumptions aside and pursue the dangerous and mysterious.  I am going to apply deconstruction to the enigmas (“A person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.”) and conundrums (“A confusing and difficult problem or question.”) that are inherent in most fairy tales.

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Cinderella:

Once upon a time there was a lonely and mistreated girl named Cinderella.  Cinderella is a popular fairy tale with its stereotypical evil step-mother and beautiful but hapless heroine.  Cinderella lived with her two stepsisters and her evil stepmother who made her life hell.  But along came a fairy Godmother who turned things around for Cindy.  Throw in a handsome prince, money and a giant castle and you have the stuff of a fairy tale that still thrills young girls and would be princes.  But I have a few questions:

  1. Ok, I will give you the fairy Godmother with superpowers to transmute organic material into other organic material (mice to horses) as well as pumpkins into a carriage. But if she has such powers why can’t they work past 12 Midnight?
  2. What was Cinderella’s plan after the prince fell madly in love with her? Was she going to get anything else from her stepmother to help with next steps?  It does not 618bdeaaba384270870seem like there was any long-term strategic plan here.
  3. Do you really think that the King would let his heir apparent marry a commoner, no matter how beautiful she was?  If that was the case, why couldn’t the fairy Godmother give Cinderella a million bucks or at least make her a princess?
  4. Where would Cinderella learn palace etiquette? Would she be accepted in court with the manners of a scullery woman?  I doubt it.  I think divorce would have been pretty quick.
  5. What about the poor stepsisters?  So they were ugly.  Doesn’t this story smack of discrimination on the basis of looks and beauty?  Where was the Godmother for the two ugly stepsisters?  Seems to me that they were the ones who needed the most help.  All Cindy needed was a makeover and a gown, but the two sisters needed extensive plastic surgery.

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Anybody Can Be President in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave:

This is a wonderful fairy tale.  It is one that we all grow up hearing and ultimately believing.  “In the USA, anyone with drive, passion and a vision can be President of the USA.”  But let’s be realistic.  Looking at the statistics, we see that:

  • 44 out of 45 Presidents have been white
  • 45 out of 45 Presidents have been male
  • 36 out of 45 Presidents had a net worth in today’s dollars of >$1,000.000
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Latino
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Asian
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been female
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Native American

Not since Harry Truman (1953) have we had a president worth less than one million dollars net worth.  Now if there are 328,000,000 people in the USA and we subtract from the total amount of people living in the USA those with little chance of becoming President, (I list each of the above characteristics that do not seem to play well with one’s odds of becoming President) we can see how many people really do have a chance of becoming fulfilling this fairy tale.

328.2 million people in the USA (2019)

-76.29 million Black and White men under the age of 35.  (Must be at least 35 to be President.)

-73.29 million Black and White women under the age of 35

-85.1 million Black and White women over the age of 35 (Not good odds since none have made it yet)

-27 million Latino women

-15.4 million Latino men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Latino men over 35)

-9.7 million Asian American women

-4.66 million Asian American men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Asian American men over 35)

-3.2 million Native American women

-1.77 million Native American men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Native American Men over 35)

I have not forgotten LGBTQ people, but I have not found a way to eliminate them by ethnicity or gender from the general census data.  I did not subtract Asian American, Latino or Native American men over the age of 35 who I think may still have a better chance of being president than a woman.  African American men over the age of 35 are also included since their probabilities are now somewhat higher since President Obama’s election. 

Subtracting the groups that are not likely to see a presidency in the near future we are left with:  31.79 million men over the age of 35 who have a chance of being president.

We will assume that you will likely need to be a millionaire to be elected President.  5.8 percent of the US population are millionaires.  Let’s estimate that between 3 to 4 percent of all millionaires are either males over the age of 35.  The rest of the millionaires being either female or males under the age of 35.  Then we multiply 31.79 million x 5.8 % to find the Final Total number of people in the USA who may rightfully feel that they have a chance to be president.  Trumpets please.  The final number is:

1.113 million

Thus, if you are born in the USA, and you are a male over 35 who is rich your chances of becoming President are about 1 in a million.  White males will no doubt continue to hold an advantage for the foreseeable future.  Well, at least that is better odds than winning the lottery.  However, the lottery pays a lot more.

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Goldilocks and the Three Bears:

Once upon a time there was a mischievous and naughty little girl named Goldilocks.  Goldilocks was spoiled rotten by her parents who gave her everything she wanted.  They named her Goldilocks because of her bright yellow hair.  One day Goldilocks decided to go out for a walk in the woods.  She soon came upon a small cottage and decided to peek in the windows.  She was a very nosy child.  Upon looking through the window, she spied a table with three bowls of hot porridge just sitting there.  She did not see anyone inside and decided that she was hungry and that she was entitled to a bowl of cereal.  She held the belief that everything belonged to her and that included the porridge.  She tried the door and upon finding it open, she entered the home.

Have you noticed that Cowboy Stories, Comedy Romances and Fairy Tales all have happy endings?  For the rest of us, it’s death and taxes.

At this point, I am sure that you remember the rest of the story.  She eats three bowls of porridge.  Do you think she was maybe obese to begin with?  She breaks the little bear’s chair when she tries to sit on it.  Proof that she was too fat!  And then messes up all the bear beds and finally gets caught by the bears when they come home.  At this point, Mama bear would probably have messed up the kids face for messing with her nice clean beds.  But as far as I know, Goldilocks gets out alive and runs home where her parents continue to spoil her rotten.  So a few questions to deconstruct things if you will indulge me.  I will give you the anthropomorphic bears as a gift even before we begin.

  1. How did a fat kid get so far into the woods that she found a bear den or cottage?
  2. Where did the bears purchase their furniture and porridge? Do fairy tale bears shop at the same stores as humans?
  3. Bears can run at speeds upwards of 30 mph, how come they could not catch Goldilocks?
  4. Why were the bears eating porridge? Is that a traditional bear food?
  5. If the bears lived that close to other human dwellings (Assuming a fat kid could not walk too far) how come no one warned Goldilocks about the bears?
  6. What is the moral of this story anyway? Spoiled kids should not mess with bears or eat porridge that does not belong to them?

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The United States of America is the Greatest Democracy on Earth:

This is one of my favorite fairy tales.  According to this story, there was this exceptional group of people who banded together to form a more (and almost) perfect nation where democracy ruled.  It would be a government of the people, by the people and for the people.  According to the Fairy Godfather, who was named Thomas Jefferson, everyone in this country would be free except: Black People, Indian People, LGBTQ People and Women.

This country would be based on a democratic form of government where each person had one vote (Except Black People, Indian People and Women).  Representatives would be fairly elected and would make great and wonderful decisions for the people based on their superior knowledge and intellect.  Democracy would be a rule of the majority with CONCERN for the minority.  Thus Black people could continue to be happy down on the old plantations, women could continue to stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and Indians could happily walk many miles to their new homes on the reservations.  What a great place America would be.

There was only one snag though.  Jefferson said that you could not really have a Democracy without two things:

  1. An educated citizenry who could make informed decisions.
  2. A free press which would keep people informed.

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Now, in the fairy tale, voters are all given equal opportunity to vote.  There is no voter suppression, Jim Crow laws or gerrymandering.  A vote is a vote is a vote.  Also in the fairy tale, the government is “for the people” not “for the Corporations.”  Representatives are looking out for the best interests of the people and not big business.  There are also no bad guys in the fairy tale.  These are the things that make the fairy tale so great and insure a happy ending.  In real life we have the greedy lobbyists, the corrupt politicians, the sycophantic followers and the corporations who buy votes.  Real life does not have happy endings.

But before we finish with deconstructing this fairy tale, we must say something about Jefferson’s two conditions for a democracy noted above.  In the fairy tale we have great public education systems where people are taught to think for themselves and to be able to tell lies from the truth.  In real life of course, schools do not teach critical thinking and students cannot distinguish lies from truth.  However, they are excellent at finding the right answers to exam questions.

Turning to the issue of a free press, in the fairy tale, we have courageous journalists who seek out the truth and who will print it regardless of the consequences.  In the fairy tale, journalists are motivated by a desire to inform the public and to ensure that information about critical issues is widely available.  In real life, most journalists are hacks whose major skills involve writing good clickbait lines to draw you into an extensive amount of advertising designed to make money for the corporations running their newspaper.  Profits and not information are the motivators in real life for newspapers and media.

So there you have it.  I have deconstructed some major fairy tales.  If you live in the USA, I am no doubt sure that you have read or heard of all of these.  Just to be clear, I love fairy tales and the fantasies that they give us.  Without fairy tales, we would have to live in the real world 24/7 and who could do that without going out of their minds?

“There must be possible a fiction which, leaving sociology and case histories to the scientists, can arrive at the truth about the human condition, here and now, with all the bright magic of the fairy tale.” — Ralph Ellison

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs:  Well, Not So Little!

pigs and wolf

This is the true story of the three little pigs.  Actually, they were not so little at all.  Each of the three pigs weighed at least 400 pounds but that is about average for a real pig.  Now we all know that pigs are very smart and these three were no exception.  Joanne, the youngest had a Ph.D. degree in physics.  Paul, the middle in age had a Ph.D. in world literature and Jayla, the oldest sibling had a Ph.D. degree in philosophy.

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They lived in a beautiful neighborhood and each of them was smart enough not to build their houses with straw or wood.  All had sturdy brick houses that no wolf in the world would have been able to blow down.  Nevertheless, the mean old wolf who lived one block over was always plotting on how he could eat the three “not so little” pigs.

One day the wolf, whose name was Jack, was searching the internet for ways to trap pigs.  He was spending quite some time on Facebook and LinkedIn to search for personal information on Joanne, Paul and Jayla.  He believed that the more he learned about the personal habits of each pig, the more chance he would have to catch them.  The internet was very helpful in his efforts.  He noticed that each of the three pigs loved to play on-line puzzles and word games.  He found that they seldom lost a contest with any other on-line gamers.  They won so many games that they had become very conceited about their intellectual prowess.  This gave Jack an idea.

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Jack thought he could create an intellectual challenge for each pig.  He would trap them when they lost the challenge.  First, he would need to create a fake internet persona and a fake game site.  He had just the idea that he thought would work.  He would call himself “Jack the king of online gaming pigs.”  This arrogance would be sure to annoy the conceited pigs.  He would then issue on on-line challenge but he would only accept the challenge from the three pigs.

He would bet each of them that they could not correctly answer three of his questions.  If they did get all three right, he would work for them for a week for free.  If they missed any one question, they would have to work for him for a week for free.  Of course, when they came to his house to work for him, he would grab each pig and eat them.

wolf eating the pig

A week later, Jack had set up his website and a picture of him that showed a large handsome looking male pig.  His banner had all sorts of pictures of gold coins, silver coins, jewels, exotic cars and exotic locations.  Right in the middle of the banner was the large words “Jack, King of On-Line Gaming Pigs.”  To the right side of the page was the picture of a large flashing gold treasure chest.   Inside the chest, were the words printed in bright colors: “I challenge you.  I know more than you do about anything.  Click on to accept my challenge.”

social networking pigs

Upon clicking on the treasure box, the description of the challenge and the rewards were printed.  It was stated very clearly that the challenger would have the right to select the subject matter.  Jack felt that this latter stipulation would insure that the bait would be taken since each pig would be sure to think that no one could be smarter than they were in their specialized area of expertise.  Jayla would no doubt select questions on philosophy while Paul would select questions on world literature and Joanne would select questions on physics.

Joanne was the first one of the three pigs to notice the online challenge.  “What”, she thought, “Who is this arrogant joker that thinks he is so smart.  I will show him.”  She sent back a message which said “I accept your challenge.  The subject is physics.  Send me your questions.”

Jack sent the following questions.  Each question had to be difficult so as not to arouse suspicion but not too difficult.  At least, until the third question.

First Question:  Do heavier objects fall more slowly than lighter objects?”

Joanne’s Answer:  No. If an object is heavier the force of gravity is greater, but since it has greater mass the acceleration is the same, so it moves at the same speed.

Second Question:  What is the difference between energy and power?

Joanne’s Answer:  Power is the rate of energy being generated or consumed.

“Well,” said Jack “you have been correct on the first two questions.”  Now thought Jack, I will give her the most difficult and impossible question to answer since my thought question is a paradox.

Third Question:  We place a living cat into a steel chamber, along with a device containing a vial of hydrocyanic acid. There is, in the chamber, a very small amount of hydrocyanic acid, a radioactive substance. If even a single atom of the substance decays during the test period, a relay mechanism will trip a hammer, which will, in turn, break the vial and kill the cat. Is the cat dead or alive?

Joanne’s Answer:  That’s not fair because it is a paradoxical question.  According to quantum theory, the cat is both alive and dead until I open the box and look.  You cannot know which state the cat is in without opening the box.

Jack’s Reply:  Well, you agreed to the questions and now you must work for me for a week.

Well, Joanne thought, he’s not such a bad looking pig so maybe it will be fun.

She went to the address that Jack gave and knocked on the door.  Just as soon as Jack opened the door he pounced on poor Joanne and in a few bites entirely gobbled her up.

Next to reply to Jack’s challenge was Paul.  Jack had changed the picture on his web site and now presented himself as a young very attractive looking female pig.  He changed his internet name to Jacqueline.  Paul saw the picture and even without the challenge was rather intrigued by the picture of Jacqueline.  Paul replied to Jacqueline’s challenge and requested world literature as the subject for his three questions.

First Question:  Who wrote the book “The Importance of Living”?

Paul’s Answer:  That’s easy.  It was Lin Yutang

Second Question:  How many lines does a Shakespearean sonnet have?

Paul’s Answer:  Another easy one.  It has 14 lines.

Now thought Jack for the paradox question.  Paul thinks he is so smart.  I can hardly wait to have more roast pork for dinner.

Third Question:  This sentence is not a paradox. – True or false

Paul’s Answer:  There is no way I can answer that question.  First, the sentence cannot be false. If it were false, then it would not be a paradox, since any sentence that is a paradox must be true.  But it says that it is not a paradox, so this would mean that what it says is the case, and hence it would be true.  This is a contradiction.

Jack’s Reply:  Well, you played the game and you could not answer all three questions.  So you lost.  When do you want to come over to my house and start working?

Paul thought, well Jacqueline looks pretty cute and I would like to meet her anyway and so he replied “How about I come over to your place tonight and we have dinner together.”

Jack replied “Great, I love the idea.  I will make a wonderful meal for us together.”

That was the last that anyone saw of Jack the pig with a Ph.D. in world literature.

Two more weeks went by and Jack changed his website back to a picture with a handsome young male pig with his own name of Jack.  He felt sure that with the challenge and the picture of a good-looking pig, he would soon entice Jayla to take up the challenge.

Now Jayla had not seen her siblings for the past four weeks.  She knew that they loved to play on-line games and she had not seen them around any of the usual game sites.  She surfed the web each day but could not find any games they were playing.  It appeared that the last game any of them played was at the site of some arrogant guy who billed himself as the King of On-line Gaming Pigs.  Her web skills showed her that both of her siblings had accepted his challenge.  She pondered the coincidence that since accepting the challenge, she had not seen either sibling again.  This raised some suspicions in her mind.  Nevertheless, she decided to accept the challenge but with a bit of caution.   She posted her acceptance on the website and stated her chosen subject field as philosophy.

SmartPIG

Jack was overjoyed.  He loved roast pig and was ready for his third pig of the year.  He would be very cautious and not try to tip his hand so he researched his three questions very carefully.  He was quite sure that the third one would be unanswerable.

First Question:  Do states have moral authority over their citizens?

Jayla’s Answer:  Only over those citizens who make an uncoerced decision to give that authority to their state, which I think is almost never

Jack Replies:  Ok, I will concede that one to you. 

Second Question:  Plato’s definition of knowledge was?

Jayla’s Answer:  Justified true belief.

Jayla had gotten the first two right but Jack was now ready to spring the paradoxical question on her.  There was no way she could get the right answer.

Suddenly, Jack noticed a text that appeared on his computer screen.  Jayla was requesting a short break before the next question.  Jack could not believe his eyes.  Jayla suggested that Jack come over to her house tomorrow night for dinner and bring the third question with him.  This was too good to be true.  He would get a free dinner before he ate his third pig.  He agreed and Jayla texted him her home address.

Now, if you know anything about philosophy, you know that it means the love of wisdom.  Jayla, was the wisest of the three pigs and she had prepared for the unexpected.  Jack the wolf came dressed up in a pig disguise but Jayla saw right through it.  She was not entirely surprised since she had long suspected some treachery was involved.  She invited Jack in.

“Jack,” said Jayla, “can I give you a drink before dinner?”

“Sure” replied Jack.  Jack thought he might as well eat a free meal before he ate Jayla.

Jayla, knowing full well that Jack was a wolf disguised as a pig prepared him a special martini mixed with some knock out drops.  Jack would not know what hit him.

Jack took the drink thinking all the time that this was too good to be true.  The next thing Jack knew he was waking up with a splitting headache.  As he tried to move his muscles, he found that he was tied by all four legs to a sturdy oak chair.  Jayla stood over him with a baseball bat.

We have now come to a tricky point in my story.  We have two dilemmas to solve before we can reach a conclusion.  The first problem is how do we bring Jayla’s two siblings back?  We know the wolf ate both but that is beside the point.  We can’t have a fairy tale where two siblings get eaten and do not return.  It’s just not done.

The second problem is what do we do with the big bad wolf?  Do we kill him, let him go, castrate him or what?  We need to have some type of fitting denouement for Jack the wolf.  Again, since this is a fairy tale, we probably need to rule out killing him or castration but I don’t think we can just let him go.  Not much drama in that anyway.  Well, let’s tackle first problems first.  We will start with getting Jayla’s two siblings back.

Jayla took the bat and whacked the big bad wolf right in the stomach.  Lo and behold, the wolf gave a big burp and out popped Paul.  One more smack to the stomach and out popped Joanne.  The siblings were all so happy to see each other and Jayla that they hugged and hugged for a mighty long time.

Ok, so they were eaten.  It’s a fairy tale and I can do anything as implausible as I desire.  I mean you did not complain when a wolf ate a 400-pound pig, so don’t start nitpicking now. 

Once pleasantries were over, the three pigs sat down to discuss the fate of Jack the big bad wolf.  Paul wanted to cut him into many pieces and scatter him all over the neighborhood.  Joanne wanted to skin him alive and use his fur for a rug.  Jayla cautioned restraint.  “Remember”, she said “This is a fairy tale and we can’t do any such gruesome things to the big bad wolf in a fairy tale.”  Jayla suggested that they all do an internet search and see what kinds of options for dealing with pig eating wolfs they might find.  They would each Google some strategies and then discuss ideas.

A few hours went by and both Paul and Joanne each came up with an idea.  Jayla was still undecided and had not found any that really thrilled her.  Paul suggested that they put Jack in a box and ship him to Antarctica.  Joanne thought that maybe through behavioral modification they could convince Jack that he did not want to eat a pig.  Jayla thought both ideas were not a fitting end to a good fairy tale.  She then had a brainstorm.  We will have a contest.  Here is Jayla’s idea.  Our readers will help us find a fitting conclusion to this story.

Everyone who reads this story is invited to suggest a conclusion.  We need you to take a few minutes to think of what the three pigs can do with Jack the big bad wolf so that we will have a fitting end to this tale.  Put your idea or ideas for an ending in the comments section.  The three “not so little” pigs will select their favorite reader suggested idea.  If your idea for an ending is selected you will win twenty-five US dollars.

If you submit an idea, be sure to include your name, address and/or PayPal box number.  We will send you a check or deposit the money in your PayPal account. 

We look forward to getting your ideas as to what we should do with Jack, the big bad wolf.  We cannot keep him tied up forever, so please write soon.

Time for Questions:

What will we do with the big bad wolf?  Do you remember how this story ended in the original version?  Do you like fairy tales?  Why or why not?  What is the point of a fairy tale?  Is there a point to this story?  What is it?

Life is just beginning.

“If you happen to read fairy tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of them to the other–the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition.  This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery-tales.”  ― G.K. Chesterton

 

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