A Babar Controversy
January 15, 2013
I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic lately and was reminded of one of my favorite childhood characters, Babar the Elephant, who first appeared in Histoire de Babar by Jean de Brunhoff. The English language version of the Babar we know and love was introduced a few years later by A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh.
As a young elephant, Babar escapes the jungle after running from a hunter and visits a big city. There, he learns all the benefits of civilization and takes what he’s learned back to his jungle friends. Because he has had this experience, Babar is named king of the elephant community and he and his queen, Celeste, teach their subjects and their children valuable life lessons.
But is Babar as innocent as he seems? Surprisingly, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this well-mannered elephant. Recently, I read an article in The New Yorker that introduced the idea that Babar’s story is an allegory of French colonization. The civilized elephants become the "trustees of the system" and rule over the other uncivilized animals. If this is all getting a little too complicated for you, I understand. I’d rather just see Babar and Celeste as well-dressed elephants living in a house near a park. It seems a lot less dangerous than the jungle, doesn’t it? What do you think? Can you read these books for their beautiful pictures and sweet stories or do they bother you?
Colbern Road Branch