20 August 2007

The Story of Ferdinand

Author: Munro Leaf
Illustrator: Robert Lawson

The Story of Ferdinand is the much beloved story (one of my childhood and current day favorites) about a peaceful bull. While his peers indulge in the machismo-soaked culture of bull fighting, Ferdinand just wants to "sit just quietly and smell the flowers". His pacifist approach to life eventually leads the bullfighters to leave him be.

While the story itself is very uplifting, the illustrations throughout the story are surprisingly sprinkled with melancholy images of death. Take this image for example:

"As the years went by Ferdinand grew and grew until he was very big and strong."

Notice the vulture (nature's harbinger of death) perched atop the hollowed tree stump. Ferdinand may be growing big and strong, but in the end, the unforgiving embrace of death awaits him... as it awaits us all. Each successive day is another tick of the clock measuring our steady march towards the grave.

Look closer and you will see vultures appearing throughout Lawson's illustrations; mounted on a sign to Madrid, quietly observing the bull fights... death is waiting around every corner.

One's natural reaction is to question Lawson's sanity... why put in these disturbing images in a book for kids?! What is your deal, you sick, sick, man?! But if you take a moment to pause and consider it... death is not inherently disturbing, it's just a fact. It is only inappropriate if you are afraid to face the inescapable reality of death, which is in fact deluding yourself. Perhaps it is best to be honest with children and subtly introduce them to the unavoidable nature of their eventual demise.

As a wise man once said, "The day you first realize that your life has an end, is the day your life truly begins."

(Note: The man who said this is now dead. I guess he proved his point.)

Ferdinand's hidden message is also a valuable lesson in the limitations of pacifist ideology. While his pacifist stance may save him from violent death in the bullfighting ring, it will not save Ferdinand from death itself. Which is a valuable lesson to learn for anyone considering a lucrative career in pacifism. It's not all flowers and rolling meadows, kids. I mean, look at some of history's most famous pacifists:

Martin Luther King Jr: Shot
Gandhi: Shot
John Lennon: Shot
Mother Theresa: Posthumously Skewered by Christopher Hitchens
Jesus Christ: Crucified
Siddartha Gautama: Poisoned by Bad Meat

My Word... who would knew pacifism could be so dangerous? For those of you who say pacifism is for sissies, think again!

...but at least Ferdinand ends on a positive note: with the image of a beautiful flower; the very thing that brought so much joy to Ferdinand's life; a symbol of peace... DYING. Seriously, on the book's final page (see below) sits a lone flower withering away, its dried petals falling from the stem of its long forgotten glory.

Even the most beautiful things eventually die.

Including You.

The End.

Sweet Dreams, Kiddo!


Alkelda the Gleeful said...

There's something about pacifism that brings out the violence and hostility in other people. I grew up with a Mennonite background, and for a few years, once other kids found out I wouldn't hit back, they really zeroed in on me. It became too much for me while standing in line one day (when I was six), and unprovoked, I slammed my plastic lunchbox over the head of a boy who'd continuously bullied me. He was sent to the nurse with an ice-pack. Every few years after that, the rage would build up and I would slug someone else who was hassling me. I should've taken some sort of martial arts class to work out the aggression.

Lucky Ferdinand. He had visible pointy horns.

Minh Le said...

At least it was a plastic lunchbox and not one of those old school metal lunchboxes. That could have been deadly. You might be in jail right now serving out a few life sentences.

But then you'd get to work out your aggression by pumping iron in the prison gym everyday, so maybe you missed out on a golden opportunity.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Now that you mention it, the bully-boy had bragged that his metal Star Wars lunchbox was better than my plastic Looney Tunes lunchbox. While standing in line, then, I thought, "If that's true, then maybe it won't hurt him when I thunk him over the head." Six year old logic demanded I put my hypothesis to the test.

I now have one of those old Star Wars lunchboxes. A friend of mine gave it to me in trade for the Yoda READ poster. However, I have not thunked anyone over the head with my new (old) lunchbox... lately.

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Ladytink_534 said...

Wow great post! I just love Lawson though.

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