I’m slightly surprised that Politically Correct Bedtime Stories was published in 1994, but I guess the politically correct joke bit has been going around for quite some time. The book is a humorous re-imagining of 13 “fairy-tales” by James Garner, of whose other work I have no familiarity with, but he seems to be riding this one pretty well and perhaps for good reason. The joke, of course, being that he has rewritten these classic tales for a more “enlightened” modern audience with higher standards of… something. But is it successful?
The book is fairly short; 80 pages for 13 stories, including several blank pages. The average story is about 5 pages and Snow White takes up most of the rest. Going over the stories wouldn’t be very helpful because you and I probably already know them. And even ones like Rumplestiltskin and The Pied Piper that I’ve never actually read or watched have been absorbed through a kind of cultural osmosis. The cultural awareness of these stories also helps with the brevity of their retelling, which is a strength of the book. Garner has it down which parts of the stories to overrun with political correctness for maximum effect, but had he continued at the length of the original stories it would quickly have grown stale (Snow White was almost too long for me). And, of course, the humor comes from seeing these culturally-engrained stories changed by modern cultural preferences dialed up to the extreme. In some cases the moral is lost and in some it is retained; in some cases the plot is as predictable as the story we know, and in others it jumps off the tracks and heads spiraling down a cliff of ridiculousness, but in all cases they are recognizable.
The vast array of areas from which we get our folklore means that the only common thread between these stories is Garner’s extremely “politically correct” veneer and as such the book isn’t really a cohesive experience. Again its brevity helps here, making it easy to pick up and put down, reading a story at a time; or to make the massive changes in pace fly by. It knows what it wants to be, and that is an overblown parody of political correctness juxtaposed with stories never meant to fit that mold. And it is quite funny, not outrageously my-favorite-humor-book-ever funny, but more than funny enough to justify its reading time (and probably its price too). Exaggerated political correctness is just funny when applied well and not overdone. So is the idea that when using language that supposedly offends no one to tell a story, so many people will become “offended”. Most fairy tales are based on common sense (if perhaps containing outdated moral practices simplified for ease of retelling) and as one reads on they get the feeling that their common sense is being assaulted. And that, as so often it is, is funny. Still, I was consistently (and pleasantly) surprised by the directions the stories took (the 3 little pigs setting up a “porkinista” government after violently retaking their homeland is my favorite). It seems so easy to simply replace the language with “politically correct” alternatives, but continuous story variations keep one guessing and the book interesting.
I liked the book, and if you read the title and thought “that sounds funny”, you probably would, too. It’s well-written satire that is just offensive enough to both parties to be a bestseller while not alienating its audience. If the sequels are about as good I might have to pick them up as well, but until then, this one was a short, fun read that should appeal to anyone looking for its type of humor.