Bedtime stories got your goat?

Raise your hand if a youngster of your acquaintance ever fixated on an unlikable bedtime story, demanding this resented volume to be read nightly for weeks on end.

Now, raise your hand and say “Hmmmm” if you ‘ve ever pondered pithy questions inspired by a story for three-year-olds.   I’m doing that right now.  If only co-worker David had asked my views on the latest Edith Wharton-inspired fiction release.  But no, he had to bring up The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

David’s son currently favors this classic.  Amid one of his many renderings (David even does celebrity voices) doubts regarding the moral of the story arose–as in, is there a moral?

To review:  the youngest/smallest goat (with announced goal of attaining the hillside, eating, and growing fat) saves himself by convincing the hungry troll–emphasis on this creature’s unattractiveness–that his older, larger brother would be a more satisfying meal.  And so forth.  By the end, two goats have saved their hides by figuratively throwing their brothers under the bridge; the ugly troll perishes spectacularly.

Can’t you just imagine some of the conversations (can you say “revisionist history”?) in store for the three brothers as they’re grazing on that slope?   But I digress.

In The Moral Compass, William J. Bennett charitably observes that “This familiar Norse tale is about an age-old job for big brothers–looking out for little brothers.”   As I see it, the older brothers’ protection occurred solely by default.  Not that I was any more successful when David first posed the question.  I ventured, “Good will ultimately triumph after challenges have been faced.”

Oh, I know.  The concept of “good” doesn’t hold up for a minute if you take the troll’s POV.  Already facing discrimination for his unfortunate looks, he delays gratification by giving the smaller goats a pass (so is the moral “Good things DON’T come to those who wait”?).  In his own special way, the troll would have saved the goats from self-induced obesity.  He wasn’t underhanded, either; he clearly outlined his agenda.

The goats at least deserve credit for validating the dangers of eating red meat and asking rhetorical questions.  One hopes that the moral isn’t “Selfishness is OK but ugly isn’t” or even “Loyalty can be inconvenient.”  Perhaps David should render the troll with a Michael Douglas-in-Wall Street voice to underscore the warning against greed-and eating one’s fellow creatures.

Every version of the story I viewed narrated the sound of goat hooves on wooden bridge thusly: “Trip, trap, trip.”  Based on the number of internet references to this story, not to mention oft-used elements like the sequence of three, exacting a toll for proceeding, brains over brawn, etc. “Trope, trope, trope” could also work.

For divergent (and delightful) further takes on Goats vs. Troll, I recommend visiting that well-regarded source of the finest in literature.  I refer to the Children’s section of Round Rock Public Library, where you can enjoy, among other kinder, gentler renditions, gems like The Three Armadillies Tuff, The Three Silly Girls Grubb, and The Three Billygoats Gruff and Mean Calypso Joe.

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