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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Although I find it interesting that Babar went to see Thelonious Monk, I still must insist that the elephant king is an imperialist pawn. Let's look at the evidence: he witnesses his mother killed by European hunters, and flees to France. He becomes the pet of the Old Lady, who schools him in Continental manners, and returns to his home country, where his stylish attire and sophisticated manners so impress the elephants that he left behind that they make him king. "When I am King," he tells the toadying Cornelius, "You can have my hat." You bet. This is the history of Africa, without the extraction-based economy. Count on it: there are elephants working the mines in Babar land, and there are no petits-fours for them. I'll buy that Babar is not racist-- as a son of Africa, I wouldn't expect him to be. He is, however, clearly a colonialist. And his relationship with the Old Lady has always impressed me as exploitive. Did I read it to my kids? Sure-- I love it when the floorwalker tells him, "The elevator is not a toy, Mr. Elephant." I have never seen an illustration that made me want pastries more. And I like the spidery text, and the fact that some of the charactors speak in word baloons, and that when the old king dies from eating a bad mushroom he turns green, but not "a becoming shade of green"-- that's the color of Babar's suit. We always enjoyed Babar in our houshold, but I was always at pains to point out where the politial value system went off the rails-- just as I did with "Doctor Dolittle."

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