I just finished my last college class everrrr, and I wanted to share part of the work I did for it. The class was called "Domesticating the Wild in Children's Literature." My assignment was to read The Story of Babar and come up with discussion questions for the class. I think half of my readers might be amused by / in agreement with (the other half being my mother) the interpretation I did of this text, which I read as celebratory of French Colonialism and The Patriarchy at large.
Anyway, here is part of my submission. It addresses Babar's ascension to kingship in the land of the elephants, after having spent time in the humans' city. The previous elephant king died after mistakenly eating a poisonous mushroom.
Goodness, and even greatness, in The Story of Babar is present when forest characters employ certain productive tools typically associated with the human physical capacity. The first example appears when Babar is described as a “very good little elephant,” apparently because he is using a shell to dig in the sand.
When Babar goes to the city, he is disciplined for not using the elevator correctly in the shopping mall. He appears to have learned from this experience because later in the story, Babar proves to be a “good pupil” because he studies hard under the tutelage of a “learned [human] professor.” He also learns to drive an automobile. Babar's acquired skills in these respects make him eligible to be king of the elephants when the former king dies. It may be said that the former king dies because he did not have the tools, skills, or knowledge to distinguish poison from non-poison, or bad from good (at least by the human models of these concepts).
What is the significance of Babar’s ability to use tools and have knowledge in this way, with respect to his rise to power? Is this goodness something objective, or can it be construed as threatening to the established order (or the elephants)? Why might the city humans be invested in Babar’s acquisition of certain knowledge and skills?
I was interested in this conception of knowledge-as-power, because it seems to be inverted in Babar. That is, Babar's knowledge of the human world allows him to ascend to power in the elephant world. This type of outsider "knowledge" and, by extension, power have proven disastrous for elephant/colonized systems the world over.
Let me know if anyone's interested in starting a kids book series for the red-diaper baby set. We need some safer didactic texts.