Down the Rabbit Hole: a Daughter Story

I have always vetted song lyrics before playing music for Child; I have known magazines and books that have encouraged parents to “share the music you love with your kids,” but I remember far too well my unease and confusion when I was a child, listening to lyrics I didn’t understand, or thought I did and found disturbing…

No thanks. Child can wait to hear Depeche Mode and XTC until she’s older.

As she ages, though, I start exposing her to music with more problematic or complex lyrics. The latest has been Heather Alexander’s original music. And Daughter’s new favorite is The Duke’s Eldest Daughter (lyrics here).

…the amount of things I’ve had to explain about this song.

“Why do those girls want her to die?” she asks.

“They’re angry because they want to get married, and their father won’t let them marry until their oldest sister does first.”

I can just see her bewilderment. “Why?”

“Because he wants all his daughters to get married, and if the first one waits too long she’ll be too old and no one will want to marry her.”


“Because she’ll be too old to have babies.”

A pause there, but that’s accepted—Mommy has told her often enough how happy she was to have Child, after all—and we race down another track.

“Why doesn’t anyone want to marry her?”

“Because—” I pause, not wanting to get into ‘they think she’s ugly,’ and go with, “Because they don’t like the color of her hair and eyes.”

“What color were her hair and eyes?” Daughter wants to know.

“The song says she has brown hair and brown eyes,” I say.

“I have brown hair and brown eyes and I’m beautiful!” Daughter says, finding all this ridiculous.

“I know,” I say. “And Mommy has brown hair and brown eyes, and Daddy married me, so…”

“They’re dumb,” Child declares.

“Yes,” I agree, pleased that she’s internalized good things about her own appearance, while also pitying anyone who tells her otherwise.

“I like this song,” she adds. “Because the elves save her.”

At last! Something I can agree with without starting some new line of questioning. “Me too.”

“Why did the elves live so far away, though?”

“Because elves never live near humans,” Storyteller Mommy says before she even thinks about the words.


Uh, good question. Why’d I say that? “Because elves and humans don’t get along, much,” I say. “Usually.” And wait for the inevitable:


“Because they fight,” I say. “Usually the elves have something the people want, and they take it, and that makes the elves angry.” Is that accurate, I think? But I don’t want to explain the whole nature vs. civilization, tradition versus ingenuity, old world versus new world stuff. At least not in prose. That sort of thing needs a poem I am not up to improvising while driving 60 mph on the highway.

Later: “Why did she go out in the snow?”

“Because she wanted to die,” I say. A puzzled pause, and I realize my error. “Snow is dangerous, if you don’t have warm enough clothes. You can die in the snow if you don’t dress right, and you don’t find shelter. It’s like our bad storms.” Sort of, I think. Right. Southerner Mom has seen snow twice in her life. That’s two more times than Southerner Child, though.

“Oh,” she says.

I had thought that these songs would be accessible; most of them are based on fairy tales, or on fantasies, and books for children are full of fantasies. I hadn’t realized how much cultural context they need, context that’s not necessarily communicated anymore, like the fact that marriage and property used to be so powerfully linked that it was the prime consideration of people marrying in many cultures. But I spend a lot of these songs with my hand on the volume knob, turning it down while answering this question or that.

But at the end, I inevitably get one more comment:

“Play it again!”

We do. And I get a whole new round of questions. And she listens again with her slightly better understanding that inspires more questions.

And I am still glad I am not explaining Depeche Mode. Or Nine Inch Nails.

It can wait. -_-

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