X Close

What is Meghan afraid of? Her new book is an attempt to rewrite childhood

Children need to face their demons. Credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage

Children need to face their demons. Credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage


June 3, 2021   4 mins

Bath and teeth done, my boys climb into their pyjamas, snuggle under the duvet and demand a story every night. And they are a tough crowd to please. They won’t, for instance, be fobbed off with some shmaltzy tale of how much Daddy cares for them, or something improving about nature.

Their faces drop if I decide to pull out the story of Little Nutbrown Hare and all that “I love you as high as I can hop” stuff. They want mayhem, murder and destruction. And diggers, of course. Lots of diggers.

Which is why I don’t suppose there will be much of an audience in the Fraser household for the Duchess of Sussex’s new offering, The Bench, out next week — a book about the relationship between a father and his son, as seen from a mother’s perspective, all illustrated with some very gentle watercolour images.

Some have argued that it is a bit rich for Meghan to publish a book purporting to extol the virtues of the parent-child relationship when she doesn’t speak to her own father, while her husband has such a massively dysfunctional relationship with his. But I’m not convinced. Philip Larkin was wrong: misery does not cascade down the family tree as some kind of historical inevitability. Children of bad parents can make good parents themselves.

The problem I have with the book is the same I suspect my boys will have. It all looks just a bit too saccharine, too tediously nice. In fact, it doesn’t look like a children’s book at all, but more like an adult fantasy about what childhood should be like. Perhaps it is a work of kitsch make-believe about the kind of perfect childhood the princess wished for herself.

But the mind of the child is often darker and more troubled than adults find comfortable. And the stories we tell them should help them negotiate what is disturbing about the world, not push it away as though it doesn’t exist.

In 1315, a volcano in New Zealand erupted, spewing millions of tonnes of dirt and debris into the atmosphere. In the years that followed, agriculture in Europe and elsewhere was devastated. The city chronicles in Bristol described it as “a great Famine of Dearth with such mortality that the living could scarce suffice to bury the dead, horse flesh and dog’s flesh was accounted good meat, and some ate their own Children”.

It was from such conditions that terrifying stories like that of Hansel and Gretel were born. Abandoned in the forest by their parents, the young siblings fall into the clutches of a cannibalistic witch who is eventually forced into an oven by Gretel where she burns. The children then escape with her money.

The Brothers Grimm are famous for their 1812 collection of dark fairy tales, the origin of so many of our children’s stories. As well as Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood, their collection also includes Godfather Death, The Devil and His Grandmother, The Jew Among Thorns — and yes, they are as bad as they sound. Children’s literature often has a barely concealed dark side; they are horror stories covered in candy floss.

It’s no surprise, then, that many children’s authors have reached for much safer, more gentle territory. After all, what child could be reasonably expected to sleep well after a unsanitised rendition of Hansel and Gretel? Yet many children do love the darker tales. When Where The Wild Things Are was first published in 1963, libraries refused to stock it, believing its images to be nightmarish and disturbing. But parents soon discovered that children couldn’t get enough of it.

It was much the same with The Tiger Who Came to Tea. I read it to my boys in Hebrew. And though they are too young to understand why that makes the story twice as scary, the idea that some huge terrifying beast arrives at the door, demanding everything that you have, is nonetheless disturbing enough.

But childhood is itself inherently disturbing. And if the Freudians are right, we spend a lifetime in recovery from it. My four-year-old asked us the other day, over breakfast, who was going to look after him when we die. Of course, comfort and reassurance are the right response; Little Nut Brown Hare has a role to play, even though my boys would never admit it.

But the darkness needs to be represented, as much as anything to show them that it can be faced and defeated. That is why they sleep well at night, even after stories of Tigers taking their tea or Max finding friendship among the beasts. Naming these fears shows children how they can be spoken about without crippling terror. Nietzsche said we use art as a lens through which we are able to look at the truth without it destroying us. And nowhere is that more the case than in children’s stories.

Perhaps this seems a more dangerous truth for those of us who had dysfunctional childhoods, where cold, distant or absent parenting failed to lead us through our own fears — and so, as a result, we still find the darkness overwhelming and terrifying.

In cases such as these, it’s all too easy to imagine how a sentimental Hollywood tale of a princess who grows up to find her prince is preferred to Hansel and Gretel. Which is why I suspect that, even though Meghan has claimed that The Bench was inspired by her son’s relationship with her husband, the book will say a lot more about the Duchess than either of her boys.


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

giles_fraser

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

52 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

The book by Markle is a money making venture. Let’s not imbue it with anything deeper than that.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

”This is your bench / Where you’ll witness great joy.
From here you will rest / See the growth of our boy.”
vomit.
this is what she wanted to write…….
Where is the crown / I thought I was getting
Now stuck with this dolt / and all his bed wetting

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago

I like your version better, Annette.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

Meghan is just Sarah Ferguson Mark 11. As the palace failed to deal with the first problem , they can’t complain about someone else using the same route to money & fame. The spare of heir & spare seems to have trouble making genuine friends & is prey to anyone. They both like to use the title Duchess to appear on interviews ( Sarah Ferguson ‘poured ‘ out her heart to Oprah in 1996 , complaining about palace life) and sell increasingly ‘tacky’ products.

Al M
Al M
3 years ago

Shakespeare, I’m sure!

Christopher Elletson
Christopher Elletson
3 years ago

Ouch! But laugh-out-loud funny.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

This is your mansion / hypocrisy abounds
And here a private jet / lifting off from the grounds
Shed a tear for the Duchess / Montecito ain’t cheap
And go buy her book / lest the debt get too deep
Prince Charles cut them off / as to be expected
When from the firm / the Markles defected
Help! help! cried the Duke / along with his Duchess
and by the way / no critics can touch us
we just need some cash / we’re poor as church mice
so give till it hurts / that would be awfully nice
Wills and Kate have much more / and that’s hardly fair
its not Harry’s fault / that he’s just the spare

Last edited 3 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Eddie Johnson
Eddie Johnson
3 years ago

Wonderful.
Give this poster a weekly column!

Last edited 3 years ago by Eddie Johnson
Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
3 years ago

You have a real talent for satirical verse!

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Pete Kreff

Ah, thank you. A fairly easy target to satirize.

Rick Sharona
Rick Sharona
3 years ago

This is fantastic. The last line is brutally funny.

Peter Francis
Peter Francis
3 years ago

This is your bench / Where you’ll witness great joy.
From here you will rest / See the growth of our boy.”
So Harry is going to rest “from” the bench. To paraphrase Yoko Ono, she is the sort of poet who would rhyme “June” with “spoon”.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Francis

Markle would rhyme ‘Writing a book ‘ with ‘Make me more buck’

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago

Why call your new daughter /after the pet name of the Queen?/Against whom the ungrateful grandson/Has been lately venting his spleen?

June Watts
June Watts
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Francis

Oi!! Nothing wrong with that rhyme! “Moons and Junes (ok – not spoons!) and Ferris wheels / the dizzy dancing way that you feel / when every fairytale comes real / I’ve looked at love that way.” Perfect!

Last edited 3 years ago by June Watts
Peter Francis
Peter Francis
3 years ago
Reply to  June Watts

Well, Joni Mitchell lyrics bring back fond memories of my mis-spent youth! I was mainly baulking at Meghan making Harry sound like a high-court judge taking a career break.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago

Rather like Unherd, now a comforting read in a world teetering on the brink of complete chaos, where collectively the nations in the world carry a hundred Trillion of debt, and 400 Trillion of unfunded mandates ( pensions, health care, etc), and we suffer mass psychosis of fear from a 99.97 survivable virus, and continue to politically self harm on levels never seen before.

But on Unherd we can read of the disadvantaged Princess, of cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, Boris and the Remianers, Second Homes in Wales, Vaping, Clubs/raves, people not knowing popular political memes, tons on BLM, The National Trust, snorting speed with the Sex Pistols, and such fluffy stuff. Here on Unherd we can escape from the burden of harsh realities of the Globe, of China threatening USA with Nukes, of Fauchi funding ‘Gain of Function’ bio weapons/hazards, The Plandemic Response likely causing the economic destruction of the World, The West driven apart as the elites control social media, MSM, Politics, entertainment, education, money, and basically are creating a new Feudal Order with us as the serfs.

Coming back to Unherd is like finding an old copy of ‘Readers Digest’, a comforting banality in a frightening world.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

5,000 illegal migrants, equivalent to a Roman Legion, have crossed the Channel led by Sinbad & Co in the last ten days.

The farcical Border Force has been overwhelmed, but hardly a whisper is heard, as this outrage continues.

You maybe correct, Armageddon is closer than we thought.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
3 years ago

Blame the French and those pesky international refugee laws. Unfortunately we can’t just put holes in the boats or mines in the Channel to deter them. We have to be ‘civilised’ and that means allowing our own country and culture to be gradually eroded. In history books I am sure there are other examples of civilisations falling because they became too civilised while everywhere else did not.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Ancient Rome being the most memorable.

Eddie Johnson
Eddie Johnson
3 years ago

Well, that and imperial overreach.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Eddie Johnson

From say Zama to Alaric, not a bad run of over six centuries.

Frances Frances
Frances Frances
3 years ago
Reply to  Eddie Johnson

And, ironically, climate change.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

99.97 survivable virus

No it isn’t. It’s in the range 99 to 99.5%. If it were 99.97% then the 125,000 or so deaths in the UK would mean that the entire population of 66million had each caught it six times over, while the population of New York City would each have caught it eight times over.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Sorry, I meant 99.79%

7.6 billion people, 1.6 million deaths = 2.1%

And also, although it does not effect the numbers, the vast majority had some comorbidity which means their life was shortened. To destroy the education of the young, and possibly trigger the worse depression since the ‘Great Depression’ and to invoke Police State rules – the numbers alone are not a true reflection of covid costs.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

The only sensible meaning one can attribute to “survivable” is the chance of not dying if you get the disease. Taking 1.6 million deaths out of 7.6 billion would be to assume that everyone in the entire world had caught the disease and that is plainly not the case.
Oh, and 1.6 million out of 7.6 billion is 0.021%, but as I say, that’s not a useful calculation to be doing anyway.
Oh, and 100%-99.79% is 0.21%.
And so on …

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

The fairytale that they are spinning to get themselves out of their own self created covid story is quite interesting. Left wing people like Clinton administration staffers are suddenly pointing the finger at the ‘bad apple’ , ‘sacrificial lamb’ as found in every good fairytale ie the wicked step-mother in Snow White. As they created & were quite happy in 2019/20 to have a ‘how do you solve a problem like Trump’-they seem to have for gotten that if you introduce grey squirrels they will frighten all the red ones away. As one of the ‘baddies’ is named as Peter Daszak’ ( who ‘forced’ all those scientists to sign that letter to the Lancet ) used to work for the Gerald Durrell Foundation you would think he would be aware of that problem

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago

Another cynical form of self promotion and further enrichment.

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
3 years ago

The very reason children love dark tales is the same reason I now (age well over 8yrs), read crime novels. They give me the thrill of fear. Then the culprit is found and all is well again. I’m safe and sound in my own life.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
3 years ago

Well, at a guess, having cut Royal ties, she’s looking for royalties.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Very good. I saw what you did there

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
3 years ago

Ms Markle is a narcissist. Reality exposes her as a fraud, so she seeks to share a fantasy of herself with her husband, friends and fans in the hope that they will buy it, in both senses of the word.

Last edited 3 years ago by Martin Smith
kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

I’m surprised Giles Fraser takes both their claims that their fathers were poor at parenting at face value. They have both made public statements in the past praising their fathers-were they lying then for some reason? Apparently the new baby is due this Thursday on what would have been Prince Phillip’s 100th birthday. They do seem to gatecrash other’s celebrations & the way they treated him in life ( and Harry is now blaming him as a parent) would be height hypocrisy to call daughter Phillipa in memory.( should call her something like dollars ) This book ( which apparently bears similarities to work British author ) is there to give her something to add to her cv-royal , actress & now published author.

Louise Henson
Louise Henson
3 years ago

The book is a piece of virtue-signalling which the author sees as the best way to make herself some money. Happily she’s quite mistaken.

Anne Bradshaw
Anne Bradshaw
3 years ago
Reply to  Louise Henson

If only! There will be those who will buy it as written by ‘a Royal’, just like there’s an insane rush to buy the clothes that Duchess Kate purchases for her children. Can never understand the mindset that prompts these copycat habits. And, in reply to Kat below, they were classic and well-made before Kate decided to buy them. This is ‘my clothes make me akin to royalty’ thinking. Sad, really.

Last edited 3 years ago by Anne Bradshaw
Kat L
Kat L
3 years ago
Reply to  Anne Bradshaw

The reason why people buy those clothes is they are classic and well made.

Frances Frances
Frances Frances
3 years ago
Reply to  Louise Henson

And there’s some “stolen valour’ in it as well, as she depicts the father as a soldier returning from a mission to meet the son he barely knows. That’s not Prince Harry’s experience.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago

In fact she never knew Harry when he was in the army and why has the illustrator made him look like an American soldier? Where has he returned from? This book is apparently based on a poem she wrote for Harry so if this is what they believe is their reality – some recollections really must vary

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago

The Brothers Grimm are famous for their 1812 collection of dark fairy tales […] — and yes, they are as bad as they sound.

But it’s not their original first-edition collection what cemented their fame, but the second (1819) & subsequent editions, in which they sanitised / altered many of the tales to make them palatable to contemporary sensitivities.
Folk / fairy tales weren’t intended to entertain children in particular, they became “children’s literature” only as they became recorded (collected and printed). And at that precise moment they got de-fanged, sanitised and moralised in order to make them more acceptable for the discerning literate parents, much to the dismay of children who would have preferred the oral tradition’s full-fat, full-sugar version.

Ludo Roessen
Ludo Roessen
3 years ago

Like her and him…. otiose….

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  Ludo Roessen

Totally agree. Totally otiose

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago

Totes otay, man.

K Joynes
K Joynes
3 years ago

Spot on, Giles. C.S.Lewis didn’t shy away from depicting darkness – genuinely nightmarish moments in all the Narnia books as I remember…

Alex Delszsen
Alex Delszsen
3 years ago

Questions: How does Meghan know she has a daughter? She announced to the world she would be raising her children gender neutral.
What happened to “linked not ranked”? She seems to want only A list playmates for Merchie and Smirchie (Merchandizing,and ruining the specialness of the nickname of the woman who raised her husband’s son badly.)
Why would she name her child after the Queen, who values her faith, only to want spiritual guides for the namesake of to be determined gender, rather than a christening,which would be in line with the Queen’s values?
How could Meghan and Harry really be this low EQ? What is Meghan hiding? Scary and sad, and the world seems to be their enablers, for fake Royal stardust.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Delszsen

Exactly -the last person to use that very special family name was Prince Philip & a link for the Queen to her childhood. As called first child the un-royal Archie , why not just choose Lily & leave it at that. They registered the domain name for child between its birth & public announcement. They also told the press-BBC radio announced it before the palace. Hopefully Archie & Lili will write a Mommie Dearest book in the future & we can all have a laugh.

Shyam Singh
Shyam Singh
3 years ago

Sitting on my bench I feel confident saying that she must have not written a word in that magnum crapus. I don’t doubt a second there is not an iota of literary bent in her that can put even decent paragraph together.
I can imagine her giving a sermonising instruction to a group of interns and here we are.

Pierre Whalon
Pierre Whalon
3 years ago

Just brilliant, Giles.

Eddie Johnson
Eddie Johnson
3 years ago

Great piece, Giles. Which has prompted some hilarious comments.
Cheers.

Last edited 3 years ago by Eddie Johnson
Jane Purcell
Jane Purcell
2 years ago

I used to work in children’s publishing. Without fail the books children loved were slightly subversive and cleverly aimed at both the child and the parent who had to read the story over and over. But we would be besieged with stories from people who because they were parents, assumed they knew what children wanted to read. ‘My children loved it!’ bleated the accompanying letter to which I could only imagine they had little choice but listen to ‘Finger wagging moral lesson with bad illustrations.’ or ‘Soppy book about an Owl afraid of the dark/inanimate object learning to use its imagination.’

Natasha Felicia
Natasha Felicia
2 years ago

We only need to reflect on the continued popularity of Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling to know the kind of stories children really love to hear and read.

Gill Holway
Gill Holway
2 years ago

Meghan should pop down to the plastic surgeon and get those anger lines erased……

Gill Holway
Gill Holway
2 years ago

Meghan should pop down to the plastic surgeon and get those anger lines erased……

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
3 years ago

We don’t need any sort of commentary from professional supernaturalists. Brights only please.