Once upon a time, not all that long ago, it was perfectly acceptable (and by “perfectly acceptable” I mean “not totally unacceptable”) for parents to tell their children stories to shut them up. Those were the days of “children should be seen and not heard.” A tot riding in a car might ask (ask = nag) her mother to tell a story, and this is the story she might hear, “once upon a time, a long time ago, a pretty little girl was going for a ride in a car on a beautiful spring day. Birds were singing, wildflowers grew along the side of the road. The little girl wanted to hear a story. Suddenly, the driver of the car slammed on the brakes, the little girl went flying through the windshield, and she died. End of story.” Requests for stories would then cease.
In today’s political and social climate, telling a young child that story would incur intervention by the Department of Children’s Services (or its equivalent, by geographical location), termination of parental rights, and criminal child abuse charges resulting in a long incarceration. Ah, for the good old days…
For those of us nostalgic for such stories (and were they really worse than accounts of being eaten by a wolf?), there is a collection of fairy tales for adults, These Children Who Come at You With Knives, and Other Fairy Tales. Within its pages, author Jim Knipfel tells delightfully warped stories about talking animals, gnomes, elves, and the people bedeviled by such creatures. If a story does have a happy ending — a few of them do — it’s happy for the wrong character.
In These Children Who Come at You With Knives, and Other Fairy Tales, brilliance is rewarded with torture, beauty is its own punishment, and outrageous good fortune always turns to crap. The only thing worse than being the victim of some of the malevolent creatures in these fairy tales is to be their beneficiary. Twisted? You bet! Entertaining? And how!
In the preface, the reader is introduced to a world created by Satan out of boredom. In this world, crafted with great irony, people are designed as entertainment for their creator and, unsurprisingly, they go about their lives exactly the way people do. (Fundamentalists, take note: you do not want to read the preface.) Knipfel uses this tale to set the reader up for the amusements (some might say “horrors”) to come.
Without giving away too much, titles like “Plants Ain’t No Good,” “Rancid the Devil Horse,” “Maggot in a Red Sombrero,” and “Stench, the Crappy Snowman,” are clues to their twisted narratives. Filled with nasty creatures doing unpalatable things, these fables feature “heroes” who are mentally deficient or greedy (or both!), who are mere pawns of both the nasty creatures and the storyteller.
Knipfel weaves his sagas into a loathsome tapestry from which one cannot look away. His sardonic wit and caustic style take absurd situations and turn them into compelling, often cautionary, tales. In looking for morals to these stories, one that might apply is “This is what happens to people who are born.” Should the reader begin to imagine that These Children Who Come at You With Knives, and Other Fairy Tales is simply an imaginative exercise in creativity, a lesson of sorts will present itself. Generally, the lessons are reflections of our own ugly carelessness and irresponsibility.
All of These Children Who Come at You With Knives, and Other Fairy Tales is darkly humorous, heavily ironic, and mockingly intelligent. Fans of satire and sarcasm will find it to be a treasure, fans of syrupy sweet, happily-ever-after endings should look elsewhere.
Bottom Line: Would I buy These Children Who Come at You With Knives, and Other Fairy Tales? Of course I would; I’m that twisted.