I thought to start off I’d paste in an article that I wrote for teens. From what my teacher friends tell me, it might be enjoyed particularly by Year 9 students, when teens are at their most voracious, vociferous and basically feral. See if you can spot the subtle reverse psychology.

“I wish you wouldn’t watch that awful show! It’s so violent. Why don’t you something else? Read a book.” Have your folks ever said anything like that to you? Without movies or video games, what are we going to do on a rainy afternoon? Read? How about some classic stories? Faery-tales? Surely there’s nothing violent or objectionable in them, surely?

Some movies and games are violent, definitely. But that doesn’t mean that books and stories are nice and happy. Take the story of Cinderella and the glass slipper for example. When Cinderella’s half-sisters try on the glass slipper, they find that it’s too tight. At the bidding of her mother — “when you are Queen, you won’t have to walk anymore” — the elder cuts off her big toe. But she gets rejected anyway. Then the younger sister tries the slipper. It’s too small. Again at her mother’s urging, she cuts off her heel so the slipper will fit. But it’s for nothing: the prince chooses Cinders after all.

Charming story. And there’s plenty more where that came from. Like “The Goosegirl”. A princess is travelling to her fiancé’s castle, and loses her magic handkerchief that has drops of her mother’s blood on it. As a result, her maid steals the princess’ identity. When they get to the castle, the maid has the princess’ horse killed; because, like all the better animals in faery, the horse (named Falada) can talk. The princess begs that Falada’s head be hung in an archway. Every day she goes through the archway to tend the castle geese, and every day Falada’s head — which can still speak — tells her how unhappy her mother would be if she knew.

The prince finally discovers what happened. He tests the maid by asking: if someone steals someone else’s identity, what punishment should they get? The maid says, stick them in a barrel and drag them around the streets until they’re dead. Then, cries the prince, you have pronounced your own fate! And all ends happily for everyone, except for the maid. (But I don’t suppose Falada would have been particularly thrilled with her lot, either.)

One of the most ghoulish stories is “The Red Shoes”. A girl, who thinks she’s oh-so-pretty, finds a pair of red shoes. She puts them on and starts to dance. But the shoes won’t let her stop. So she gets a woodcutter to cut off her feet. The shoes dance off into the sunset; but every year until she dies, they return to haunt her.

Most people know Robert Louis Stevenson for his adventure stories like Treasure Island and Kidnapped. But RLS wrote a few creepy tales too. Like The Curious Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, about a doctor who develops a formula that separates his evil nature from his good. Stevenson also wrote The Bottle Imp: a demon trapped in a bottle grants your every wish; but if you die while you own the bottle, you go to Hell forever. Wholesome family entertainment.

Or maybe you prefer stories about the supernatural? How about Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the original vampire story? Or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, about a doctor who kills a friend to steal his brain, which he then sticks in the skull of a dead body, before bringing it to life.

So the next time your folks get on your case about violent entertainment and suggest reading a book, surprise them and do it. They’ll never know what they’re missing.

copyright Troy Grisgonelle 2006.