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If I were king of the foreeeeest
on February 15, 2004
Thank God for the French speakers of the world. Were it not for them, Babar might not have ever been created and we would have to live in a wretched Babar-less world. As it is, however, we are blessed to have this delightful story at our fingertips at any time. The story of Babar was originally published in 1933, and it has stood the test of time with dignity and flair.
The story of Babar is simple. After his mother is shot by a cruel hunter, the little elephant runs away to a metropolitan city. Once there, he is taken under the wing of a kindly older lady. Babar then proceeds to become the greatest dandy of children's literature today. Here is the section I love the most:
"Babar then buys himself: A shirt with a collar and tie, a suit of a becoming shade of green, then a handsome derby hat, and also shoes with spats".
Contrary to popular thought, an elephant in spats is the most dignified thing in the world. With these purchases Babar has transformed himself from rural rube to the original metrosexual. He becomes cultured, learning the rudimentary aspects of human civilization while regaling party guests with his tales of the forest (note his pin-striped pants and casual dinner jacket). Eventually Babar is lured back to his jungle home and is swiftly crowned King of the elephants.
The 1933 setting in which Babar acclimatizes himself has grown more charming over the years. And most remarkably? Most older picture books contain at least one racial stereotype somewhere in the midst of a picture. Not so our darling "Babar". I feel safe in saying that you might search through any future adventure of the winsome elephant and not stumble across a single picture or piece of writing that causes you a twenty-first century gasp of disgust. This isn't to say that there aren't some rather peculiar dated aspects to the book. I read this book as a child and had a vivid visceral memory return to me when I saw the sickly state of the former King of the elephants who passed away after eating a bad mushroom. That is a grotesquerie unknown to the kiddies today. But all in all, "Babar" is without fault. Certainly he's the essence of capitalism. One might believe the elephants crown him king as much for his pretty red convertible as for his brains. But Babar is still a unique and moving tale that will continue to entertain the masses of children for years and years to come.