Friday, April 13, 2012

Why are Nursery Rhymes so Scary?

"Making toast by the fireside,
Nurse fell in the grate and died.
What makes the matter ten times worse,
The toast was burnt along with the nurse."
By reading some of the old nursery rhymes today, you would think that they were designed to give children nightmares. Why are they so creepy to read? When I was a little girl, there were several nursery rhymes that my parents had told me before I went to sleep at night, but I never found any of them particularly frightening. I guess if you think about it, some of them could end up worrying a child. Little Miss Muffet was scared by a spider, Humpty Dumpty fell off a wall and broke into pieces, and Jill got whipped for laughing at Jack when he hit his head.

Maybe they want to teach children a lesson; to not laugh at others, or to climb on walls. These rhymes however, are subtle compared to some of the other ones I have read myself.

For example, I’m sure glad that I was never told this rhyme as a child…

Mamma had scarcely turn'd her back,
The thumb was in, alack! alack!
The door flew open, in he ran,
The great, long, red-legged scissorman.
Oh! children, see! the tailor's come
And caught our little Suck-a-Thumb.

Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out - Oh! Oh! Oh!
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast;
That both his thumbs are off at last.
Mamma comes home; there Conrad stands,
And looks quite sad, and shows his hands;-
"Ah!" said Mamma "I knew he'd come
To naughty little Suck-a-Thumb."

…and this one…

Father heard his Children scream,
So he threw them in the stream,
Saying, as he drowned the third,
"Children should be seen, not heard!"

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