The Emperor’s New Clothes – Hans Christian Anderson

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point

This is obviously one of those classic stories “everyone” knows. It’s been retold and illustrated a million times and the version we got out from the library was different to the one linked above. Nevertheless, you all know the gist. Emperor is taken in by charlatan bullshitters pretending to be tailors who convince him and everyone else that their silk is so fine that it somehow manages to only be seen by worthy people.

Everyone is too afraid to admit they can’t see the not actually there at all fabric, for fear that they are the only ones who can’t, and so go along with the charade until a young child finally tells the truth.

The moral, like most of Anderson’s, is about as subtle as a battleaxe across the skull. If you don’t tell the truth for fear of looking like a dumbass, there’s a good chance it’ll come out and make you look like a dumbass. Also, innocence of childhood and all that jazz.

It seems a somewhat appropriate story at the moment – not believing the hype is a pretty important trait to have in this modern world. It fails on almost all our metrics though – every speaking character is a man, the illustrations in the version we had definitely only showed white people.

I do think that this story gives us a very useful analogy though, and it’s a great thing for kids to learn – the often con artists succeed by sheer audacity and the fact that no one has the gumption to call them out for fear of looking stupid. And that often asking the question anyway leads to greater wisdom, rather than just muddling along pretending.

Anderson’s particular brand of morality bugs me a little, just because he is so very unsubtle about it, but at least in this case I mostly agree with what he’s saying.   

Worth reading. But then, you probably have. 🙂

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