A Cautionary Tale of Flattery

I don’t recall being read to very often as a young child.  A couple books stand out in my mind, but most of them I remember hearing in school.  It wasn’t until I had my own children that I really became aware of the vast array of children’s books out there.  I came to realize that you can write the most ridiculous books and somehow they get published.  I remember reading one book recently and recalling the scene in Elf when Buddy’s Dad, who works at a children’s book company, is talking with one of his employees.  The dialogue is as follows:

Buddy’s Dad:  A reprint?  You know how much that’s gonna cost?
Employee:  Two whole pages are missing.  The story doesn’t make any sense.
Buddy’s Dad:  What, you think some kid’s gonna notice two pages?  I mean, they… all they do is look at pictures.

Well, maybe the kid won’t notice, but us parents do.  I wish I could remember the book that I was reading.  I seriously kept checking to see if pages were ripped out because the ending of the book made zero sense.  Gru, from Despicable Me, said it best when it comes to these ‘less than optimal’ children’s books I am referring to, “This is literature?  A two year old could have written this…Ah, I don’t like this book.  This is going on forever.”  I think we’ve all experienced these types of books.  Thankfully, there are children’s books out there that are fully worth adding a book award badge to their cover.  These are the books that I will gladly read to my children one hundred times over, not because my kids ask me to, but because I genuinely enjoy getting lost in the book.

The Spider and the Fly is one of those books that I can’t help but read in the best of my character voices because it deserves to be read with feeling.  It’s based on the 1829 poem by Mary Howitt with delightfully eerie illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi.  It’s a darker book than you expect to read to a child, but it gets the message across.  Don’t expect a happy ending, as situations between spiders and flies rarely end in such a manner.  But expect the opportunity to teach the lesson from this tale, which is, “To idle, silly, flattering words I pray you ne’er give heed.”  This is something I feel our children need to learn in today’s society.

How cunning the world has come at flattering us into falsehoods.  Not that spinning things to lead people astray is anything new.  Obviously, it was a concern worth warning about in 1829.  I personally fell victim to such “idle, silly, flattering words” during my teens and early twenties.  I suppose I was too trusting.  I believed that people always meant what they said.  I hadn’t fully grasped that people will tell you what they think you want to hear to get from you what they want.  I don’t mean for this to be a depressing topic, but I suppose I want to share the counsel that Mary Howitt did so eloquently nearly 200 years ago.  We must teach our children and, if necessary, ourselves to be weary of such flattery.  To be able to see flattery for what it is.  I don’t suggest that we should become cynical and untrusting, but rather cautious.
Perhaps evaluate such a situation with Jacques Bainville’s quote mentioned in my earlier post Making Tomorrow’s Headlines Positive Ones, “One must want the consequences of what one wants.”  For example, once upon a time I would be what I perceived others wanted me to be instead of being myself.  I would receive flattery from a guy, which would feel exciting at first.  Then flattery would evolve into flirting, which can be fun and innocent enough until it’s not.  Suddenly, I would find myself in uncomfortable situations.  Was that what I had intended when I first got wrapped up in the flattery?  Certainly not.  But we can get caught into these webs and soon find ourselves stuck.  I had to learn that to avoid the web entanglement, I had to forego the belief that those first words of flattery were sincere.  I had to understand that I was perfectly fine being exactly who I was.  I didn’t have to prove that I was fun by being flirtatious, I had to realize that I am fun because I am me.
I have had my eyes opened more with age, but I still have to fight daily to separate the truths from the half-truths, as the latter are trickier than lies.  Both The Spider and the Fly and my own experience above are proof of that.  The Spider says many true things to the Fly to coerce her into trusting him.  The same goes for my situation.  The issue really begins when the truths become half-truths.  If I struggle with this at the age of thirty-three, then how can I expect my children to be equipped for such a world if I don’t help explain it to them?  Sure, The Spider and the Fly is a darker tale than most children’s books, but perhaps it’s a tale that our children need to hear before they have to learn it the hard way.  Or worse, what if they never realize the web they have become entangled in?
“And now, dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly, flattering words I pray you ne’er give heed;
Unto an evil counselor close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.”
– Mary Howitt

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4 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale of Flattery

  1. I love this post. I am going to have to get that book. I’m a grandma now, but I was big on reading Aesop’s Fables to my children. I have given their children the books, and hopefully they will be read. There is a reason books and poems like this endure!


  2. I’m curious as to how you teach your children this lesson? Is it just from reading the book? Or do you go more in depth with it after you read the book. And what do you say to them? -SH


    1. I go more in depth after I’ve read the book. Normally if there is a big kid message in a book, I ask them about the characters. Once I can get them to understand that we are the characters in our own lives, then I give them examples that they can relate to to illustrate the stories message. We have to do this a lot with our family scripture study. All of the stories in the scriptures are applicable to today, our kids just need to hear an example with specifics that relate to their daily life.


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