Saturday, March 15, 2014


I'm currently reading Marina Warner's NO GO THE BOGEYMAN, which covers a wide variety of what might be called "cannibal ogre" myths.  Some of them appear in actual myths, as with the tale of Polyphemus in Homer's ODYSSEY, or Kronos' devouring of his children.  Some deal with literal folktale ogres, while others deal with human beings who act like ogres, such as the evil stepmother in the Grimms' recounting of "The Juniper Tree" and Titus Andronicus in Shakespeare's play of that name.

Many though not all of Warner's examples deal with hostilties between the generations, so in the first chapter she deviates from the cannibalism theme to address the question of "dangerous lullabies." (The book's subtitle reads: "Scaring, Lulling, and Making Mock.")  Surprisingly, she does not reference in this chapter what may be the famous one:

Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

Rather, in Chapter 1 she concentrates on lullabies that include what notorious psychologist Frederic Wertham termed the "injury to the eye motif."

Bluebeards,. ogres and child-snatches are close cousins to other wandering and hungry spirits, spirits that nurses-- and mothers and fathers-- have invoked to scare, cajole, or bully children into obedience and quiet...The most notorious of night visitors, the Sandman, comes through the window and throws sand in wakeful children's eyes. (Warner p. 31).
And a page later:

 There is an echo of this horrific fantasy in an anonymous German lullaby of peculiar shivery menace. Bird feathers appear, logically connected at first to the baby's eiderdown or duvet, but they slip into metaphor and evoke the child as a nestling in danger of being blinded:
Close your little eyes, my child,
For outside blows a terrible wind,
If the child won't sleep at all
Blow it will right into his bed,
Blow everyone of the feathers out
And end by blowing his eyes out!

As I don't believe that I was exposed to this "injury-to-the-eyes" lullabies, I have to wonder about their efficacy.  I would think that if I had heard any of them, they would have made me more rather than less wakeful.  I suppose the basic idea is that if the song can get the kids to shut their eyes, instead of looking around with the customary energy of the young child, then nature will take over.

I note with interest a version from Japan that may or may not be a literary creation, from the humor anime HAPPY LESSON.   Going by the presumably accurate English translation-- and without getting too much into the specifics of the story's concept-- the scene I reference involves a maternal figure singing a very "dangerous lullaby" to a son-figure.
Go to sleep, go to sleep,
Hurry up and go to sleep,
If you don't sleep
I'll dig your eyeballs out with my fingers!

The comic result is that the "son" hearing this song is utterly unable to sleep that night.

As I don't know too much more about Japanese folklore than what I've seen in manga/anime, it's certainly possible that this sinister song has no basis in real Japanese lullabies.  Just the fact that the "parental figure" herself threatens the "child" sounds less normal than the practice of evoking a bugbear who will be responsible for attacking the too-wakeful child.

On the other hand, the anime-song may rewrite a real lullaby, much in the same way Lewis Carroll rewrote popular Victorian verses like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

My reading of further chapters will probably disclose other observations Warner makes on "lulling."

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