Monday, March 17, 2008

Mah Goose!

Ever since Diane gave a copy of a Mary Engelbreit book of Mother Goose rhymes to William, we've been reading a handful of verses to William at least once or twice a day. "Mah Goose!" William says with an air of finality. He declares it, we, in the immortal words of Jon Luc Picard, Make It So.

Some of my observations, upon completing my six zillionth reading of Mother Goose:

Have you ever noticed how many Mother Goose rhymes involve fiddles? I've counted at least three: Hey Diddle Diddle, Old King Cole, and Cock-a-doodle-doo. Why the fiddle, I wonder? Are fiddles easier to draw than other instruments? Is it because "fiddle" is just a funny word? Is "piano" inherently less funny as either a word or a concept, or both? "Fiddle" is definitely a funnier word than "violin," even though they're the same instrument. And what, exactly, rhymes with "violin"? Er, that would be a big fat nothing. Is it because "fiddle" rhymes with "diddle," which is also a funny word?

Also, there are an awful lot of sheep and pigs in Mother Goose rhymes. Lots of pies, too. Simple Simon tries to weasel a pie out of a hard-working pieman because he's flat broke because he was simple (I'm projecting there); Little Jack Horner eats his Christmas pie one plum at a time and doesn't worry about getting his fingers dirty; the Three Little Kittens narrowly avoid losing out on pie because they were careless with their mittens, which makes them, in my estimation, the first animals to ever voluntarily wear and keep up with mittens; and a whole flock of blackbirds met its bitter (yet savory, buttery, and tastes-oddly-like-chicken-y) end in a pie in "Sing a Song of Sixpence." Why pie? Why not cake? You can make lots of good rhymes with "cake": lake, take, rake, bake, partake, forsake, make, wake. I mean, it's just as absurd for kittens to get to eat pie. Why not just (fire up the guillotine) let them eat cake?

Just like in movies and television shows, the name Jack is very prominent in the Mother Goose oeuvre. The aforementioned Jack Horner, Jack and Jill, Jack be nimble, etc. Seriously, think about all the times that there's a character named Jack in a Mother Goose rhyme. And now think about the last two dozen years' worth of movies. And we can't blame it all on Tom Clancy and his Jack Ryan character, either; there are plenty of others. See: Jack Bauer on "24." It's like the default male name. Especially in Sandra Bullock movies. Well, I guess now we know where that little convention came from. When in doubt, take a clue from Mah Goose. Name the guy Jack. He'll be nimble, he'll fetch water, he's your general all-around, go-to guy.

Here's one Mother Goose-related problem that David and I occasionally run into. Our minds were poisoned in the early 1990s by a raunchy old fat-guy comedian named Andrew Dice Clay. If you don't know who he is, well, just be glad that you can enjoy reciting sweet little nursery rhymes like "Little Miss Muffett" with absolutely no worries, snickers, or troublesome stutters. (For the record, that particular rhyme ends up more or less PG, but some of the others are Not Fit for This Blog.)

But you know, despite the fact that Mother Goose, whoever she was, could have used a thesaurus or a baby-naming book, I still actually enjoy reading the verses. I always turn "Wee Willie Winkie" into "Wee William Wyckoff." I love "Old King Cole" because it just rolls off the tongue so nicely, and I always bob my head back and forth while I read it like I'm a jolly fat old king myself. I love the fact that MG sometimes calls the subjects of her rhymes "knaves" because when was the last time you heard that word? I love the fact that the old woman in a shoe clearly had money worries but was doing the best she could, feeding her children, just like any good mama. And I love the way that William always finishes a reading with a sweet little "Night, night, Humpty Dumpty" because the back cover of the book has a picture of Humpty Dumpty on it.

And even when I get tired of reading my least-favorite rhymes, I always tell myself: this is so much better than reading "The Little Engine That Could." And if that means nothing to you, pick up the unabridged version of that book sometime and see if you think you could read it over and over without going just a teensy bit crazy. My solution to that book, however, has been to gloss over the first three-quarters as much as possible and concentrate on the last few pages. You know, the "I think I can/I thought I could!" part. That's the important part anyway. The "instill good values and build character in your child" part.

Well, it's long past 8 o'clock. Wee William Wyckoff has long since run through the house in his nightgown. He's fast asleep in his little bed, and hopefully I'll be fast asleep in my little bed soon, too. Night, night, Humpty Dumpty.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad Wee William Wyckoff is enjoying his Mother Goose book! I will speculate that most of the male MG characters are named Jack because that is the nickname for John, which was the name of about 80% (give or take 5%) of Englishmen at the time MG was writing. The rest were named William!
Our William, in fact, has two grandfathers named John, one Uncle John, one Great Uncle Jack (whose formal name is John), and John greats and great greats going way way back on his Dee Dee's side of the family!
With Love, Dee Dee

Anonymous said...

Whoops! That should be one Grandfather named John!

Dee Dee

Jennifer Larson said...

See, that's just one of the things I love about Diane. She KNOWS things like the fact that so many men were named John back then. That never even would have occurred to me!

Jennifer Larson said...

Oh, and my father emailed me to ask why I didn't discuss any of the historical and political undertones that permeate so many of the MG nusery rhymes, a la The Lion and the Unicorn. Sigh. Okay, here you go. Ring Around the Rosy is about the plague. George Orwell wrote an essay about the Lion and the Unicorn. Many nursery rhymes were not-so-subtle attempts to make fun of the royalty. That's all I've got off the top of my head, though.