Babar’s Travels – Jean de Brunhoff

More in the Series – Babar
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 1 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  1 point.
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points.

Oh Babar. You almost had me until the savage cannibals. Seriously. *facepalm*

I remember reading a thing during my MA about how incredibly colonial these books were, and reading them now I can totally see the point. There is something profoundly colonial about Babar as a character, and the ‘travels’ he goes on.

There is definitely no Bechdel pass – Celeste is the only female character – and in fact, even “the Old Lady” who is very beloved by Babar is never named.

The portrayal of the ‘savage cannibals’ is pretty extremely racist, in a cringe-worthy almost caricaturish way. Of course it is a product of its time, and I get that, but it did result in me having to have a conversation with my five year old about how innaccurate it was and why portraying people like this is really not okay.

And then there’s the whole war with the rhinos thing. They go to war over what amounts to a child’s prank. I mean it’s a bad prank, to be sure, and I certainly don’t think Arthur should have gotten away with tying firecrackers to someone’s tail, but a whole war is a bit excessive. This story arch feels like the worst kind of over the top colonial jingoism. It’s laughable, like children playing at soldiers, and I could almost believe it’s meant to be a bit satirical, except that I really think it’s not.

Even the women pitching in as nurses thing feels vaguely jingoistic, and the fact that the book was published in 1935 kind of lends weight to my impression that we’re not meant to read this as satire. I think we’re honestly supposed to see Babar as some sort of war hero. Which… well, you know, his great plan is to paint faces on the elephants butts and scare the rhinos away. Which works. I don’t buy it.

I wasn’t entirely sold on the first book, and I’m even less sold on this one. C gave it a thumbs up, but you know, he’s five and it does have some cool pictures, and there’s that butt-gag. I was disappointed.

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