Fairy Tale and Picture Book Farce- The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales
The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka , Lane Smith
Perhaps one of the most unique picture books ever created this book is made up of differing farcical and humorous stories of various fairy tale stories. These stories begin oddly enough on the end paper with an obnoxious and loud hen who yells at the narrator, who gets the hen to be quite by bringing in the title page in big bold letters.
By utilizing the structure of the book as an actual story element, and by discusses this as a book the narrator adds a new level of humor and wit rarely explored in picture books, though common in farces of fairy tale stories. Though Scieszka and Smith add a new layer of playfulness to this, telling us that no one ever reads the acknowledgments and so they put these upside down, so if we want to read them we can always stand on our head. This form of communication appeals as much to older readers as to young children, so it is not uncommon for people who are in their twenties to talk about how funny they find this picture book. In some way's Smith and Scieszka's books all seem to appeal to older audiences, though they still send little kids into irrepressible giggles.
Part of the uniqueness of this book is its illustrations which are certainly not cute, rather they are a form of modern art, often looking like cut out collages, the characters are warped, prompting children to comment that Chicken Licken's eyes are wrong, or on some other part of the picture. This art works well for a number of reasons, first it lets the reader know instantly the unique nature of this picture book, it is a warping of the story telling tradition in fairy tales and picture books. Second having the art warped helps to expose children to the often warped nature of modern art, such exposure helps them expand their own understanding of the visual languages. It is also important to realize that the weird nature of the art in this book adds to the humorous nature of the stories within it.
Once the book starts, with the first story of Chicken Licken, it descends into an almost chaotic verse, in which the Narrator of the book repeatedly tries to get the attention of the overly excited characters in this first story, until at last the Table of Contents falls and squishes all the characters.
Later stories leave this interaction with the third wall and the books elements, relying on wry humor and surprises based on our understanding of the fairy tale stories which they farce. In the Ugly Duckling for example the humor comes both from the look of the ugly duckling ant the fact that The Ugly Duckling says he will grow to be a swan but instead grows up to be just a really ugly duckling. Similar plays on our expectations occur in The Other Frog Prince, in which the frog gets the princess to kiss him by telling her that he is a prince. However rather then transform tells her he was just kidding and leaves her to wipe the slime off of her lips.
One could course ponder the social ramifications of these stories as they do so often with fairy tales. The frog in the story leaves the princess to wipe the slime from their short lived relationship from her lips. This is the nature of most relationships; they end, not with people even living together until death, but with divorce, or a break up long before anyone even thinks of marriage. In many cases there was no intention of staying together by one party or the other, rather the relationship was itself a farce, like this fairy tale it was merely one party lying to the other for the sole purpose of having the short lived relationship.
Further one can question the nature of the original Ugly Duckling fairy tale as does to the Really Ugly Duckling story. The story derives some of its humor from the fact that we are all aware that most people will not grow to be swans; most people are failures in achieving their dreams. The harsh reality is that the fairy tales moral does little to alleviate the problem, why after all should children presume that someone would grow to be wonderful and great. The truth is no such presumptions are normally forth coming or justifiable. We must then find a way to be nice despite the fact that someone will likely grow to be no better off, no different from they are at any given moment.
Certainly such readings of the stories goes beyond their initial purpose in humor, however what is funny within a society is based in part on the underlying thoughts, events, and emotions of the society. The Stinky Cheese Man relies on societies understanding and thinking to be funny. For this reason though the meaning of the stories may not have been direct they do indeed tell us something about ourselves, and our emotional state, even as they provide insight into the fairy tales themselves.
This is exemplified in the final page of the book when the narrator Jack runs away from the giant leaving the hen to be eaten. Within the fairy tale story Jack was a very greedy person, robbing the giant many times, much more then truly needed, and when the giant attempts to punish him for the theft he kills the giant. Deceit in fairy tales then is something to be respected and this trend has come over into picture books as well.
Ty Hulse has degree's in art and psychology with both with a children's and a cross-cultural focus. He is currently working to create the site www.Zeluna.net which discusses Picture Books, as will as Fairy Tale Stories.
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