I’ve recently been fascinated by the various forms of storytelling and not just the book. Anthropologically, the idea of story telling was a way to perpetuate a people’s history. We have that still, but not to the same degree. Currently, storytelling is embraced most strongly by child and parent.
There is one glaringly obvious reason. Storytime is bedtime, and what child doesn’t beg for just one more book or one more story? In my household my need of a glass of water was just a ploy for mom or dad to get another book to try to get me to sleep. Well…there was a point all the Beatrix Potter books, Winnie the Pooh stories, and Dr. Seuss had been read. So, my father, the adult in this situation, did what? I wanted to hear more about Peter Rabbit, there had to be another Peter Rabbit story, so what do he do? He made it up…and we are all grateful Beatrix Potter isn’t going to sue us for plagiarism. …Seriously, thank you.
This brings up the point, however, about what these stories are? We’ve all told them, if you have ever cared for a child, put them to bed, soothed them when the were crying you have made up one of these. Don’t lie, using one at this point would just be wasteful. No one would believe you. These stories are based on books, yes, but in my parents case, Beatrix Potter, the author of the idea, didn’t ink or publish them.
We like to think authors words will resound with us forever . It is a must to quote sources correctly for any kind of paper/article/etc. If you want to use a piece of music or a movie, copyright permission must be obtained. We like to think the art is owned by that author, studio, publishing company, etc. but lets look at a reality we can’t escape. Once we’re dead, whose protecting it? The family? The publishing company? Do they really have more of a right to it than the audience? Do they really know what the creator meant by it? —- Let the lawyers argue.
Back to these spin-off children’s story’s, my favorite were about Peter, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail…and don’t you dare forget Lulabelle. Lulabelle was clearly a character I made up as my dad was falling asleep trying to get me to fall asleep. He would patiently ask for character names etc. as he yawned. There were hundreds of these stories in my childhood and when my little friends slept over they would hear them. What happens next, parents? Megan, Sarah, Lesley, insert random child name here, etc. would go home and say, “Mom, read the book about Peter, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Lulabelle. I want to hear that story!” Ok, being a good parent, you find Beatrix Potter. “No, mom it’s not that!” Kind and diligent parent that you are, you search the library, bookstore, ask the book clerk and…. nothing. No luck. Now, as a harried and somewhat irritated parent, you go to preschool and wait for said parent who started this mess. Said parent says, “We ran out of Beatrix Potter stories, I just make them up.” You laugh with said parent, ask for the basics, and now ‘Peter, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Lulabelle’ is a standard in your home. It’s not the same, but its close enough that your child buys it. There are limitless versions of stories for millions of children’s books. – Good luck to the lawyer who wants take on this plagiarism case;)
This is innocent enough, and every parent/babysitter/grandparent/etc. does it. Everyone also has a blog. If we share these ideas on a parenting blog what does that mean? It’s written in a public domain and if we are lucky we remember to name the author, but these stories are all bastardized versions of the originals. Is there a lawyer and a children’s author that wants to troll the blogs, facebook posts, etc.? Maybe, but it sounds like a lot of work.
The reality is that art, the book, the story, etc. once it has been inked and published has left the artists/authors hands. It’s become completely separate. The authors perception or intent no longer matters. The thought, belief, view, and even pronunciation of a character name becomes the readers. This is nothing new. Susan Sontag told us,”One doesn’t need to know the artist’s private intentions. The work tells all.” —-Whatever that may be to the person. I personally can’t listen to some audio books because they mispronounce names. Actually, I mispronounce them, but I, like everyone else, prefer how it sounds in my own head.
So, if our world went crazy and became a totalitarian government that hunted down all plagiarism, and told parents they could only tell kids the exact tellings of children’s stories, we’d be painfully limited and bored. Once again, I’m not saying anything new. Roland Barthes said,”To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final significance, to close the writing.” Parents would also need a serious stack of books by their bedside table. The children would be cranky: children love to add characters and settings. It also happens to be good for their mental development to do so.
So let’s look at another quote by Roland Barthes, “The bastard form of mass culture is humiliated repetition… always new books, new programs, new films, news items, but always the same meaning.” Okay,the Twilight series (only an example folks) opened the door to countless vampire YA fiction. We know it, some of us love it, some of us are sick of it. I do, however, like repetition sometimes, and kids adore it. I want another similar but not exact ‘Mistborn,” Hunger Games,” and ‘The Once and Future King.” Most of us do, and I don’t believe I am attacking authors rights as I say this. We are all just looking for the next big thing. Children’s stories provide a great example, but I’ll let Cypress Hill, ‘(Rock) Superstar’ explain for me.
“People see rock stars
You know what I’m sayin
But you still try to
Get out’n work like, like… everybody else, you know
You know, it is a fun job but it’s still a job, you know
Save your money, man… Save your money too
Hit single don’t last very long
You know I’m sayin
I mean I’m lucky in this game too
There’s gonna be another cat comin out
Looking like me, soundin’ like me next year
I know this
It’ll be a flipside
Of what you did
Somebody’s tryin to spinoff
Like something serious”
One of my favorite childhood books is, ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses,’ originally a Grimms fairytale. My version was a far cry from the original. The princesses aren’t as mean, they aren’t as controlled, etc. It’s updated to fit a new time, new expectations, new perceptions of what is right, and what we want to teach our children. So, we call it an adaptation.
Parents/Guardians/etc. , I’m going to now decide that ‘Peter, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail…and don’t forget Lulabelle’ stories are adaptations. You may decide your own spin off stories are adaptations. I’m fully aware I’m playing in a world of gray and probably inaccuracies. Let’s bend rules so tradition can continue in a world of bureaucracy. I’m choosing to believe Beatrix Potter’s living family will not sue my father or me. “I am relying on the kindness of strangers.”