February 28, 2013

Recently I read a blog post in which a mother had taken a Sharpie to “The Giving Tree” to radically alter its message, in order to make it about gratitude and politeness. The boy asks the tree politely for use of its arms and trunk, then comes to visit often and tell the tree how much he appreciates its gifts. It’s a wildly different story.

I did not know you could do this to a children’s book, but the temptation was too much to resist. If you’re going to edit “The Giving Tree,” edit it right!

Here are some excerpts from my edited version of the Giving Tree.

You remember the story. In short, there is a tree and there is a boy. They love each other. How much?

 

Then time passes and messes with their idyllic relationship, as time usually does. The boy grows older. He carves someone else’s initials into the tree’s trunk. The tree passive-aggressively drops some leaves on him but otherwise tries to pretend that everything is still fine.

And then, one day …

The boy does. More time passes. Not a word out of him!

You know the rest. The boy comes back demanding a boat. Evidently the boy is experiencing some sort of midlife crisis. Instead of telling the boy to go away and take up volunteering, the tree offers its trunk.

And the boy takes it! He actually cuts down the tree and makes it into a boat! This, when you consider it, is incredibly creepy, and not at all what you signed up for when you decided to read a book with an anthropomorphic main character. Never mind the fact that any boat you could construct from a tree trunk probably will not fill the hole in the boy’s life that needs filling.

The boy returns to the tree at long last with more demands, and the tree mutters irately about how it has already given the boy everything it has to give. The boy mistakes this for genuine concern …

The trouble with children’s literature, when you actually go back and read it, is that it is much deeper and more disturbing than anything you have read in the past decade that is not by Cormac McCarthy.

But cutting those parts out of it misses the whole point.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.