Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A new take on an old fable

The kids wanted a story featuring a crocodile, and feeling particularly unimaginative, I rehashed the story of the monkey and the crocodile. They chuckled when I told them about the monkey throwing apples into the crocodile’s mouth, loved the part where the unlikely pair become friends, and thought it was a great adventure when the monkey climbed onto the crocodile’s back to go to his home to play.
But when I got to the part where the crocodile confessed that he was actually trying to trick the monkey so he could feast on his heart, and the quick-witted monkey made him turn back by telling him that his heart was actually hidden at home, my five-year old got distinctly uneasy.
“The monkey was very bad”, he declared.
“Why do you say so?”, I asked.
“Because he lied to his friend the crocodile”, he said.
“But the crocodile was trying to eat him up. He lied only to save himself from the bad crocodile.”
“The crocodile was not bad. He did not eat the monkey. But the monkey lied to his friend.“

I tried telling him that the crocodile was no friend of the monkey, that he was trying to harm the person who had been nice to him, but the kid was just not convinced. He clung onto the fact that the monkey lied, and lying was bad. I could have told him that lying to save your life, or the life of someone else, was allowed. That if someone tried to cheat you, you could be excused for not playing by the rules of right and wrong. But I kept quiet because I was not sure if his mind was mature enough to grasp it.
What would you have done in my place?

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Galen Kindley--Author said...

I'm not a parent, so, not a good background to comment. Seems like you did the right thing though. Right now, maybe a firm grasp of lying is wrong is not a bad place to be. Plenty of time for nuance later.

Best Regards, Galen
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Marjorie said...

hmmm That's a tough one for sure. He's 5. I might have said that crocodile was lying by pretending to be the monkey's friend. The Monkey lied also, but as he was going to be eaten otherwise it was okay. I think if my 5 year old brought up this topic he is mature enough to grasp that lying to save one's own life is okay. But all children are different. You have to judge what topics you think your child is ready for and what he is not. I'm not sure my son would have had the stomach for a story about eating hearts out.

Carnimire said...

@Galen - Just what I thought. Enough time for nuance later. Guess I should be happy that that he knows that lying is not something 'good'.

@Marjorie - it is tough, isn't it?

And maybe you nailed the real issue - I am pretty sure my son doesn't even understand what the crocodile was planning to do, which is why he fixated on the lying bit.
The story is an old Indian fable which the kids have been hearing since they were really young, so maybe they just thought the crocodile was taking the monkey home on a play date.


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