Sunday, February 21, 2010

Do You Know What I'm Going to Do Next Saturday? (1963, Helen Palmer)

From 1963, here's an I-Can-Read-It-All-By-Myself Beginner Book, Do You Know What I'm Going To Do Next Saturday?, by Helen Palmer (wife of Dr. Seuss himself, Theodor Giesel. She also authored the popular A Fish Out of Water.)

Unlike A Fish Out of Water (and most books that bore the famous Cat-In-The-Hat imprint), the text of ...Next Saturday is embellished not with illustrations but with black and white photographs.

On the surface, ...Next Saturday is an imaginative boy's fantasy of all the exciting things he wants to do and see when the weekend finally arrives, unencumbered by the dull limitations of reality.

But some people see in ...Next Saturday another message entirely, a window into the psyche of a lonely and disturbed little boy, whose boastful plans mask his true intention of taking his own life.

Yes, some see in ...Next Saturday a child broadcasting his plan to commit suicide.

...Next Saturday opens with the boy (unnamed in the book, but I'll refer to him by the model's name, Rawli Davis) warning a playmate (who is much too young to be in Rawli's peer group...a red flag for any child psychologist) that he plans to do something "big" this Saturday. Is this a last, awkward attempt to reach out for help?

He'll start by eating a lifetime's worth of breakfasts in one sitting.

This is followed by visions of grandeur. On Saturday, the world will finally know he's special and important.

Rawli will then indulge in the kinds of pleasures his limited experience of the world affords... unlimited rounds of bowling and water skiing.

At this point things start to take a turn for the weird. Rawli next fantasizes about forcing his "friend" Sam on some kind of endurance march into the wilderness from which only Rawli will return (Sam being, no doubt, a close friend who failed Rawli in some way at his most desperate hour, and must now pay).

I'll make him take a walk.
I'll make Sam walk
about a hundred miles.
After a walk like that,
I'll have to eat a little something.
Sam won't keep going,
but I want to keep going.
Feelings of persecution and low self-esteem surface, with Rawli claiming the adults will try to foil his plans, then toss him in a trash can... ...dirty garbage boy!

They will try to stop me.
They may catch me.
They may take me away
in a big tin can.
They may dump me over a wall.
But I'll pop up again.
No, those authoritarian figures who fail to recognize Rawli's humanity won't stop him from executing his final act.

It's not hard to see why the book stirred controversy when it was first published and was ultimately banned.

Or was it? The only reference to the alleged suicidal subtext of ...Next Saturday and its subsequent banning is this page on Snopes.com that thoroughly debunks it as an urban legend fueled by a single Web page.

So is there really something strange going on under the surface of ...Next Saturday? Other than cultural shifts in what activities are considered appropriate for young children, and modern sensitivities towards certain figures of speech, the answer is NO.

The gun-handling, you see, is occurring on the shooting range of a U.S. Marines training depot that Rawli is visiting, supervised by uniformed adult soldiers.

And the phrase "I'll blow my head off" refers to the child blowing a tuba to the point of exasperation.

But I must admit, once the idea has been planted in your head that this innocent book is some kind of children's suicide manifesto, it is a little creepy...

In Memorium
Rawli Davis
1952-1963
(not really)

3 comments:

senski said...

I'm deriving an unusual amount of pleasure imagining this as a Book-On-Tape narrated by Orson Welles.

Brother Bill said...

Senski,

It would have that vaguely disturbing "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" vibe... nice.

prof. grewbeard said...

now i have to have a copy, thanx a lot! i'll put my own suicide note in it and make the evening news(just kidding, ha ha)...