Perhaps you remember, as I do, reciting lily-white rhymes full of innocence and grace when you were young. Gentle, undisturbing words like “Mary had a little lamb, whose fleece was white as snow, and everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go” passed by your lips without a thought or the least hint of childhood stress. How about “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail (or bucket) of water . . .” You know the rest.
These nursery rhymes did more than burn themselves into your cerebral wiring—in many cases they taught us language concepts, like simile: “fleece white as snow”, or “Twinkle, twinkle little star . . . like a diamond in the sky.” In others we were exposed to history in a conveniently sanitized form, such as in Jack and Jill. That little ditty is thought to have its origins in King Louis XVI (Jack), and his queen, Marie Antionette (Jill), both whom were beheaded—Jack “lost his crown” and Jill came “tumbling after.”
Cute, right? As kids we were shown rich illustrations of Jack and Jill with a pail playfully cavorting up a hill, then somersaulting back down. Probably better than the harsher truth.
But here is something I came across in some reading I was doing. Consider this more modern wordplay from a man named Dick King-Smith:
If you fall into a river that’s full of Pirahna
They’ll strip off your flesh like you’d skin a banana
There’s no time for screaming
There’s no time for groans
In forty-five seconds you’re nothing but bones
How many nightmares might this endgender if it entered the collective childhood consciousness as Jack, Jill, and Mary?