Peter Lawrence Little Red Riding Hood Special
The following appeared in the Ventura County Star. The citation is Johnson, Brett (2001-07-21). Oddly ever after - Ojai author turns Brothers Grimm fairy tales into glib, often absurd, funny yarns. Ventura County Star.
Oddly ever after - Ojai author turns Brothers Grimm fairy tales into glib, often absurd, funny yarns
The Big Bad Wolf in "Little Red Riding Hood" is actually a vegetarian who likes to knit. He doesn't eat Grandma but gets blamed for it anyway.
Little Red's mother is a shiftless Valley-girl type with a "pink princess phone welded to her ear" an extension cord that stretches for miles behind her and a desire to be at the mall. Little Red is a strong savvy girl who needs no escort through the spooky forest; rather the evil forest foes have to survive her.
Like-wise Snow White is an artist and fiercely indepen-dent woman who wants nothing to do with the prince who shows up at the castle riding all his vanity on the wheels of a Ferrari. So the prince literally runs off with the equally vacuous beauty-conscious evil stepmother. And the seven dwarfs -- er below-average-height miners -- are not at all lovable.
Some fairy tales!
Welcome to the Brothers Grimm set on their collective ears -- courtesy of Ojai-based author and children's TV show veteran Peter Lawrence. It's yet another revisitation and adaptation of the German duo's early 1800s classics that have enchanted for years and still are read and enjoyed in more than 160 languages.
Lawrence's first two takes on the Brothers Grimm are thoroughly modern playfully irreverent a bit satirical slick-moving and in his words "definitely not politically correct." In the future he will update three other well-known Grimm characters: Tom Thumb Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
There's a point or two to these books the author insists. Lawrence wants to take children away from programs and books that are "little more than com-mercials designed to sell a toy or product" and reintroduce them to the art of storytelling. And taking a page or two from the likes of Mark Twain Rudyard Kipling and James Thurber he wants them to be enjoyable for adults too.
He's betting children will be entertained judging by a recent reading at Topa Topa Elementary School that he said left kids "mesmerized."
"Kids really really appreciate great stories and great characters and are more sophisticated than we give them credit for" Lawrence said. "I've seen how we devalue children's intelligence. We treat them quite moronically."
Most people are familiar with the Brothers Grimm from the softer and sweeter Disney adaptations. The original tales Lawrence noted were dark fearsome weird and brutal. His versions fall somewhere in between -- nothing brutal and fairly clean but keeping the absurd off-balance feel. And Lawrence believes the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm would prefer his.
"Anyone who could write stories that macabre and dark would really be ticked off at Disney because they are so cleaned up" Lawrence said. "Everything is being cleaned up for kids. It's no wonder they are going out into the real world and don't know what's going on."
Lawrence's books are full of contemporary social commentary. In "Little Red: The Wolf's Story" the main character Wolfie is in a 12-step program with a support group trying to overcome that he is not carnivorous or violent. He unloads to them how he was falsely accused of eating Grandma's livestock (and later Grandma herself).
At trial he's represented by a vulture who raises an objection -- that the pizza he's eating is undercooked. The judge replies: "You're a vulture. You eat anything. Overruled." When Wolfie questions the vulture's allegiance he replies "I'm a lawyer. I'm on my side."
Upon parole Wolfie's probation officer assigns him to community service -- escorting Little Red to Grandma's house through the forest. But it's not the forest Wolfie remembered -- there's less of it and "houses and malls and golf courses everywhere" -- and Little Red doesn't wait for him.
When Grandma disappears the police again blame Wolfie. When she reappears and Little Red shows up the bumbling detectives invent a story that they killed Wolfie opened him up and found the two women inside to make themselves look better.
Similarly in "The Princess formerly known as Snow White" the seven dwarfs are cold calculating executives who no longer mine tin themselves and complain about the cost of electricity.
When Snow White collapses in their office from one of the stepmother's poisoning attempts one of them replies "Get her out of here. She's bad for business."
For another poisoning attempt the stepmother uses an insecticide banned in Western countries "but still sold extensively in Third World countries where people were apparently more resistant to toxic chemicals."
She also buys off government inspectors.
When the coroner mistakenly pronounces Snow White dead because he's in a hurry to get to the opera one of the townsfolk says "He's the mayor's cousin. That's how he got the job."
In the end Snow White doesn't find love but becomes a successful painter. Lawrence concludes the tale with this: "Some people even call her a genius but Snow White is far too sane to believe that kind of flattery. She does what she does because she loves it and if that ever changes then she'll do something else.
"That way she'll make her own fairy tales come true."
Lawrence's stories are remnants of a failed TV venture to update the Grimm classics that was to air on the BBC and elsewhere in Europe. Lawrence adapted 10 such Grimm tales into one-hour screenplays; he considers these five to be the best of the lot.
The others will have similar flavor. Of his version of Tom Thumb Lawrence said "It's 'Die Hard' in the forest with a 2-inch Bruce Willis."
Lawrence 54 grew up in Zambia and went to university at Cambridge in England. He started out as an advertising copywriter made a few short documentaries and wrote books. Soon he was writing screenplays for producers in both Europe and the United States.
In 1980 he went to work for Rankin Bass on an update of "The Sins of Dorian Gray." That led to writing other kids' TV shows such as "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest" "Thundercats" and "Peter Pan and the Pirates." He eventually moved to New York and later to Los Angeles.
On "Thundercats" Lawrence was asked to include in the story a superfluous monster -- based on a defunct Rankin Bass toy the company wanted to revitalize. He screamed but lost the battle. To Lawrence the realization was that kids' shows were "extended toy commercials" and he decided to change his focus.
To that end he has formed the Smart Kids Studios which aims to bring intelligent entertainment to children and parents. Similarly his Grimm Brothers adaptations are being published by Literary Associates Press; longtime agent and author Barbara Neighbors Deal also an Ojai resident is the publisher.
"Great storytelling doesn't come from toys" Lawrence said. "Now everyone is looking for a marketing niche rather than the storytelling. There's got to be a place for great talent that doesn't mean millions and millions in sales."
Another of Lawrence's recent books "Fishing For Crocodiles" is part autobiography of his Zambia childhood. In it Lawrence and a black childhood friend -- with obvious parallels to Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" -- run away from home and set off on adventurous trip through Africa to meet rock star Eddie Cochran a meeting that never was going to happen. In real life Lawrence and his black friend did run away from home but didn't get very far. They did however fish for crocodiles.
Lawrence is well aware his offbeat versions of Grimm might rankle a few people.
"Some people who take things very seriously might be offended" he said. "But I can't think like that; if I did I'd never write anything. I bet Mark Twain didn't think twice about who he was writing for."
Peter Lawrence's books are available at Local Hero bookstore in Ojai at Amazon.com or by mailing a request to Literary Associates Press at P.O. Box 1174 Ojai 93024. For more information call publisher Barbara Neighbors Deal at 646-0565.
Brett Johnson's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the Net: www.literaryassociates.com;www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm.html.
Photo courtesy of Peter Lawrence
RIDER: Peter Lawrence, an Ojai-based author and children's TV show veteran, had taken the tales written by the Brothers Grimm and put a thoroughly different take on them. Lawrence is shown here several years ago on his motorcycle in New Mexico.