June 2013


Scarry Stuff

This post has been percolating in the back of my mind for years, and I’m just now finally getting around to writing it. Why has it taken so long? Give me a break — I have twins! But seriously, ever since we first started reading stories to the girls, I knew that eventually I’d get around to writing this. Some of you may already be aware of the children’s book author Richard Scarry (and yes, it’s pronounced just like scary). Most of his books seem to be set in the world of Busytown, and they are populated with cute little talking animal characters. So far, that all sounds like great children’s book material, right?

So, what’s with all the cannibalism?!

You heard me right — blatant references to cannibalism abound throughout Scarry’s children’s books! Well, I think we only own three Richard Scarry books, but each of them contains examples of what I’m talking about, so I assume they’re all the same in this regard. Exhibit A is from Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever. This one was actually my book, which my parents gave to me when I was a kid — and I remember thinking this page was rather odd even way back then.

Everything about this picture just seems wrong…

Now, this might seem rather innocuous with a casual first glance, but notice how the piglet’s beady little eyes are staring longingly at the bacon! Perhaps he’s thinking, “Grandpa! They told me I’d never see you again, but you look more delicious than ever.” Very likely, there are also bits of other distant relatives mixed into the frankfurters and bologna… I suppose in the world of Busytown, where everyone is a talking animal of some sort, the best way to avoid being butchered is if you’re the one doing the butchering. (This must drive the PETA people crazy! Err, I mean crazier.)

But like I said, there’s more where that came from. Exhibit B is from Richard Scarry’s Busiest Fire Fighters Ever, in which the world’s most incompetent pigs are somehow tasked with keeping Busytown safe from fires. They also rescue someone’s keys from a drain and get a cat out of a tree, but the big finale of the story has Sparky, Smokey, Snozzle, and Squirty hosing down the Greenbug family BBQ. When they realize their mistake, they invite the Greenbug family back to the fire station for a different kind of “family BBQ”.

I’m pretty sure this is Smokey, which is probably a nickname based on the flavoring he prefers with his pork products

Exhibit C is Richard Scarry’s Animal Nursery Tales, and it’s a gold mine — if you’re into pigs indulging their dark desires to consume the flesh of other pigs. As you can see in the next image here, Scarry answers the age old question, “Why did that first little pig go to the market?” To buy a sausage from Mr. Butcher Pig, of course.

How many baby piglets were ground up into that sausage, I wonder?

If you’re only going to draw one picture of the little pig who went to market, why show us a Butcher Pig slicing up a giant sausage? Why not show us the produce section? Because Richard Scarry is obsessed with porcine cannibalism, that’s why.

Here’s yet another image from the same book:

Sausages, ham, pork chops…

In this story, four robbers are gorging themselves on a massive feast. But as if showing the thieves surrounded by gold and jewels and all the rest of their plunder wasn’t enough to establish their low morale character, Scarry really drives the point home by depicting yet another gluttonous pig chowing down on sausages, ham, and pork chops.

And lastly, I will leave you with a couple images that illustrate just how absurd Scarry’s pork fetish really is. In the story of The Three Wishes, a poor woodcutter pig is granted three wishes by a little fairy pig for some reason. He’s so excited, he goes home and tells his wife the good news. But of course, as with all fables involving wishes, things do not turn out so well.

“How I wish I could have a nice fat sausage…”

Now, I ask you — is it necessary to the plot for the pig to wish for a nice fat sausage? Couldn’t he have wished for an ear of corn, or perhaps a cucumber, or almost anything else? But with the total freedom of an author writing about magical wishes, where anything at all is possible, Scarry nevertheless chose to write about an axe-wielding pig who wants to eat sausage for dinner. Hmmm…

So he wastes his first wish on the sausage. What happens next? His wife berates him so mercilessly about the wasted wish that he ends up shouting without even thinking about it, “Oh, I wish that the sausage was stuck on the end of your nose!” Now, this strikes me as a rather bizarre thing to say, even in the heat of the moment, but even the absurdity of that wish pales in comparison to this illustration.

Seriously, what kind of caption could possibly summarize what’s going on here?

Just stare at it for a while and really soak it in. Ask yourself what Scarry is really trying to convey here… I think you’ll come to the same conclusion that I have — Richard Scarry just has some weird fetish about cannibalistic pigs. Or perhaps it’s even more disturbing than that; since the animals in his stories are so extensively anthropomorphized, the logical conclusion is that he’s really talking about human cannibalism! But of course that’s taboo, so the only way to really explore those dark and twisted fantasies and advance his agenda was by cleverly incorporating his pro-cannibal views into these otherwise charming children’s stories.

And if you’re curious how that story ends…  Naturally, after trying everything to get the stupid sausage unstuck from the wife’s nose, they finally resort to using their final wish to get rid of the sausage, and so they end the story no better off than when they started. (Well, almost everything; I might have expected the woodcutter to haul out his axe and just lop that sausage right off and then gobble it up.  This is, after all, a Richard Scarry story.)

1 comment to Scarry Stuff

  • Jennifer

    So I just have to say that I noticed the same thing when I was a kid and it scared me terribly. My mother never bought another Scarry book. It’s funny. I’m a vegetarian now. I wonder if this had any bearing on it.

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