Category Archives: The Producers

Parody: A Lesson

 Don and Alleen Nilsen

An essay based on a lesson, the Powerpoint of which can be found (along with many others) here

In the New Yorker, Wolcott Gibbs wrote that parody is the hardest form of creative writing because the style of the subject must be reproduced in slightly enlarged form, while at the same time holding the interest of people who haven’t read the original.  Further complications are posed since it must entertain at the same time that it criticizes and must be written in a style that is not the writer’s own.  He concluded that the only thing that would make it more difficult would be to write it in Cantonese.

Obviously, it is easier for people to enjoy a parody if they know what the original was.  In our increasingly diverse culture, memories of “classic” children’s books may be one of the few things we have in common.  Advertisers, broadcasters, cartoonists, journalists, politicians, bloggers, and everyone else who wants to communicate with large numbers of people, therefore turn to the array of exaggerated characters that we remember from childhood books.  Chicken Little represented alarmists; Pinocchio stood for liars;The Big Bad Wolf warned us of danger; Humpty Dumpty demonstrated how easy it is to fall from grace; The Frog Prince gave hope to women of all ages; and Judith Viorst’s The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day lets us know that we all have really bad days.

Some of Lewis Carroll’s parodies were just for fun.  When Lewis Carroll wrote a parody of the poem “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star.  How I wonder where you are,” it became, “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Bat.  How I wonder where you’re at.”  This is merely fun word play.  But some of Carroll’s parodies had a deeper significance.  Lewis Carroll lived in a time when the Victorian poetry tended to be filled with sentimentality and didacticism, so many of Carroll’s poems parodied that sentimentality and didacticism.  G. W. Langford wrote a poem that not only preached to parents, but also reminded them of the high mortality rate for young children:  “Speak gently to the little child! / It’s love be sure to gain; / Teach it in accents soft and mild; It may not long remain.”  Carroll’s parody turned this poem into a song for the Duchess to sing to a piglet wrapped in baby clothes:  “Speak roughly to your little boy. And beat him when he sneezes. / He only does it to annoy / Because he knows it teases.”  The  poem “Against Idleness and Mischief” by Isaac Watts read as follows: “How doth the little busy bee / Improve each shining hour / and gather honey all the day / From every opening flower!”  Lewis Carroll’s parody is much more fun, and much less didactic: “How doth the little crocodile / Improve his shining tail / And pour the waters of the Nile / On every golden scale?”

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